Monday, November 15, 2010

Are Short-Term Mission Trips the Answer?

Americans spent $1,600,000,000 on short-term missions (STMs) in 2006 alone.  The phenomenal growth of STMs over the past decade is accompanied, or fueled, by much positive press.  Reports claim that STMs accomplish much in the host community and have a positive impact on those who go, especially in terms of their becoming further engaged in missions through giving and becoming long-term missionaries.  While there may be some truth in these reports, a different story line is also emerging, one that is questioning whether STMs are as good as advertised.  (When Helping Hurts, 161)

A few years ago, if you would have asked us, "Can mission trips be a bad thing?" our church-going, party-line answer would have been, "No.  Never ever.  Mission trip, good.  Grunt.  Grunt."  We may have even talked about what a jerk you were to raise such a ridiculous question.  Now, we're always a little leery of people who are threatened by questions, and our thoughts on mission trips have morphed a bit.

When Helping Hurts and living in Haiti have both caused us to rethink short term mission trips.  We read When Helping Hurts before moving to Haiti so it has also been a great resource for us as we seek God about what ministries to serve alongside and advocate for in this country.  The ideas we learned from this book, and several other resources have erased the happy go lucky thoughts we had about missions, and in their place, a lot of fear of God, and humility now reside in our souls as we consider the topic of mission work.

When Helping Hurts does not advocate that all short term mission trips are unhealthy or hurtful.  Living in Haiti we see where teams come in and do a lot of good alongside healthy, gospel-centered ministries in this country.  Many people who live in Haiti long-term will admit that a short-term trip to Haiti was part of their story that God used to move them to Haiti full-time.  Lots of long standing, incredible missions organizations  have seen some people come, serve, and then become strong advocates for ministries here, and the first ones to send money or raise it when there is a great need.  Not all short term mission trips are bad. 

However, we also have a front row seat to a lot of possibly harmful things done in the name of Jesus in this country we love.

With all of those thoughts swimming around in our mind, here's where we have personally landed as a couple:

Do we think STMs are bad?  No.  But sometimes they are.

Do we think STMs are good?  Sure.  But not always.

Do STMs need to be rethought?  Definitely.

Do we think churches should be better informed and more cautious about how trips are planned, what the goals are, and who they are partnering with when they travel?  A very emphatic yes.

We love missions, we believe God's people need to cherish the Great Commission, be willing to go, and that we all need to be better aware of how other people are living (maybe surviving is a better word) in other countries.

But here's what has changed for us...if we lived in the States, and our church was planning a short-term mission trip, we'd definitely not feel bad for approaching the mission trip issue with a lot more caution and prayer.  Gone are the days when we'd be guilted into signing up for a mission trip, because gone are the days when we hear the words "mission trip" and immediately assume that means something healthy is automatically about to go down.

"...defenders of STMs argue that such trips should be seen as an investment that yields large returns for the kingdom by producing increased missions giving, more long-term missionaries, and profound, cross-cultural relationships.  At first glance this argument seems plausible.  Many returning STM team members declare:  "My life has been changed, and I will become an active participant in God's mission movement.!"  Indeed, it is common to hear long-term missionaries report that an STM experience was part of what led them to pursue a longer commitment.  And many STM teams report that the deep relationships they formed with people in the recipient communities were the most significant part of the trip.  While no doubt these statements are sincerely made, there is growing evidence that these reports seriously overestimate the long-run impacts of the trips on those who go.

   Kurt Ver Beek, an assistant professor of sociology at Calvin College with more than twenty years of experience in Honduras, has conducted research into the long-run impacts of STM trips on team members looking beyond their initial statements to their actual behaviors.  Ver Beek's data indicates that there simply is not a significant increase in long-term missions giving for either the team members of the sending churches.  It is also hard to support the claim of increase in number of long-term missionaries, given that the number of long-term missionaries is fairly stable despite the explosion of STMs.  And as for all those great relationships that get developed, the reality is that only a small percentage of STM team members ever have any contact - at all - with their new "friends" after the trip ends (When Helping Hurts)."  

Obviously, we don't think that churches or God's people mean to do harm in the countries where they go to serve and share the gospel.  We don't think that churches want to use money to fund a trip or experience, instead of using that money in a more positive, useful, long-reaching, Kingdom building way.   After living in Haiti, we simply recognize that serving a country like this is complex.  People who have lived here for 20 years are still struggling to understand how best to love and care for the people of Haiti.  So obviously, planning a healthy, short-term mission trip, from the States, thinking through all the ramifications, and making sure the trip's end result (for the Americans going, and the people in the country they are serving) is beneficial is also going to be complex.  Probably more complex.

Lots of ministries in Haiti need money.  Orphanages need generators.  Children's homes need new roofs.  So, sending a team of people to play with orphans, instead of sending money for a generator is a hard call to make.  If two team members stayed home and sent the money it would cost them to actually go, an orphanage could have a generator.  Complex issues to think through.  Sending a team to build a roof on a children's home in a country where local men are in desperate need for work, is again...a hard call to make.  How can a short term team pour into Haiti in a sustainable, healthy way?

We believe it's a legitimate question to ask..."Should we send money, or people or both?"  We believe STMs should be approached as complex, and that through prayer and information gathering, churches can ask for wisdom from God to know how to wisely lead their congregations to be a part of missions, by either going or sending money.  Maybe a short term trip will be the answer to do something like construction work for a missions organization.  Or maybe a church will access the situation and decide it would be best to send a foreman and enough cash to employ and train a handful of Haitian men for an entire year while that foreman also disciples Haiti's husbands and fathers as he works alongside them on projects. 

We agree that traveling to a third world country (like Haiti) has a way of opening up our eyes to the poor and to issues related to poverty.  But after our eyes have been opened, do we always need to sign up for another trip every time the church pulls out a sign-up sheet?  Instead, after we've already been on a short-term trip, do we need to ask God to help us to live faithfully and wisely in the States so that we can send more money to organizations already on the ground fighting spiritual and physical poverty?  Do we need to become better advocates in our own sphere of influence for ministries that God is using in other countries?  Sometimes going on a mission trip is admittedly about us.  I don't think that's necessarily bad.  Sometimes the person who got the most benefit out of a trip is the person who went, whose eyes were opened.  We get on a plane thinking we're going to serve a country and yet we come home realizing the opposite happened.  We learned so much from the people we went to serve.

But on the other hand, perhaps becoming a "short term mission trip junky" is a little silly and possibly even detrimental.

When it comes to orphans, I'll get a little more strong in my language.  Please forgive me ahead of time.  I'm not always sure it's healthiest for team after team to come in, hold babies, semi-connect with children who are living in an orphanage, and then leave.  Yes, the American holding the baby may be changed by the experience.  The baby or child left in the orphanage?  Another rip.  Another tear.  Another moment when connection was jump-started, only to have the kill switch pulled.  Healthy?  I'm having a hard time seeing how that could be good for a child.  This is a tough situation, because we want hearts to hurt for the orphan, and seeing a child in an orphanage is a sobering moment.  But I find myself asking, "Would it be better for churches to fund higher ratios of native nannies in orphanages who will love the kids, every single day, and connect deeply to each child?"  Connection. A sense of belonging.  Consistency.  These are things an orphan is longing to have.  So I wonder if it would be better for churches to spend time at an orphanage training nannies about the importance of bonding and child development?  To find ways to help orphanages stay small, well-run, and equipped with the tangible items they need to care for Haiti's orphans?

We want hearts to be broken for the orphan, but never at the expense of the orphan.

To sum it up, we think When Helping Hurts is a must-read for church leaders and/or people who plan mission trips.  It won't give all the answers, but it raises great questions, and in the least helps churches think through the idea of short term missions with a lot of seriousness, weight, and dependence upon the Lord for wisdom and vision.

After raising some valid concerns, the authors of the book go on to give practical ways to make sure a short term mission trip is healthy and doesn't harm the people being served.  They give tangible, clear advice for planning a trip that will be a blessing instead of a burden.

If you are planning to come to Haiti specifically, the authors of When Helping Hurts have made available a webinar about serving in this country. You can access that information here.

Desiring God has an entire series on Rethinking Short-Term Missions.  Very helpful and very practical.

We echo what Bill Walsh says in the introduction to the series:

"Please don’t receive these challenging articles as admonitions to drop short-term missions as a strategy. Rather, use them to think carefully and prayerfully about how your team should approach this task in a way that will honor the Lord and serve the cause of expanding the Kingdom."

Since many of you are involved in church leadership, and many more of you are involved in churches, as we continue to humbly and fearfully think through the idea of short term missions as a couple, we'd love for you to share any ideas, approaches, or screening processes your church uses as they make decisions about how and where to lead God's people to be involved in mission trips.

Related Posts:

Short Term Missions

When It's About Us


Why You Should Consider Canceling Your Short-term Mission Trip


Teri said...

Excellent, thoughful post. I am part of the mission team at my church and have often wondered about this.

I have seen lives changed (on the mission team side - I'm one of them).

But I also see the need to get some hugely needed cash flowing in the mission country.

Perhaps it isn't so much STM as a whole, but rather how they are run. Maybe a plan of hiring local workers and working along side of them would be much more 'profitable' for both the STM team member and the host country native.

I'm going to send this post to my senior pastor and mission pastor... it is worth their time to read it.

Thanks for posting!

dreamingBIGdreams said...

Great blog. Thanks for writing. I struggle with this lots and lots. I know my life was forever changed by a STM trip in 2006. Led us to adoption. Led us to adopt in Haiti. Led us to tell people about Haiti. Led us to ..... lots of other stuff.
BUT on the same hand I feel dirty just taking teams there to view the orphans and destruction and take lots of pictures. Feel dirty doing dirty work for someone could be employed to do this. BUT yet ... i want people to see what I've seen and be changed as well.
What a hard line to walk.
Thanks for your post. After reading this and hearing from Livesay's about this book I need to get it on my list to read soon!!

Hendrick Family said...

I know. Such a fine line...and so complex. So hard.

This book gave very few answers, but definitely took the blinders off our eyes. It led us to greater dependency on God's spirit, and gave us a huge dose of humility.

You'll love the book.

It's also great for people loving the poor in the States too. I probably should have mentioned that.


Aaron said...

If anyone is interested ...

The authors of When Helping Hurts did some "webinars" where they discuss the material in the book and give some application to specific mission trips.

They have a section devoted specifically to mission trips to Haiti.

You can find links to the audio, video, and ppt files here:

Anonymous said...

I have had this lingering feeling of dread in my heart about the very thing you mentioned -

We are planning a trip in May for a week to love on orphans at GLA. Yes, we can give them some love and attention and laughter. But at what cost? I know that I will likely bond with at least one child...and then I will leave and go home. I will have created another attachment issue for that child. As an adoptive mother of a child with attachment issues, the last thing I want is to damage a hurting child even more.

We feel called to Haiti. We feel that we will be there long-term (however long that will be). This trip to the orphanage was going to be our "scoping things out" trip. I think we better make sure that's what God is calling us to do. You are so correct. It needs to be very well thought out. I guess I'll be heading to the bookstore today to find that book. Thanks for your insight. -Allison in KY

Brandon and April said...

Extremely well worded blog! I struggle with this as well. I know that a STM trip is what drew me to career missions, but that being said, I know that even without the STM God would have put me overseas long term anyway.
"...never at the orphan's expense."
I think I'll remember that line forever.
Thanks for the blog. :)

Amy Bennett said...

Thank you for posting this. I've just gone through David Platt's book Radical and was fired up to go somewhere. Maybe I just need to send my money...I feel like my heart is already bent towards the orphans and while I'm sure it would eye-opening to see it first-hand, I wonder if my money is better sent, not spent.

Brandon and April said...

and if it's ok, Heather, I'd like to link to this post on our blog... ? :)

Hendrick Family said...

of course, April.

All of it is so complex, isn't it?

Praying God gives people hearts that will respond, go, and give...but with wisdom.


Jessi said...

Excellent post and opened my eyes! I am planning a trip to an orphanage in Africa next summer but struggle with this very thing.

However we do sponsor a child there and skype him and everything so I do want to go see him and hug him in person...but I know the ministry has great needs there.

What is best?? I just don't know but I'm off to read this book.

And your thoughts on the orphan were uncomfortably real and raw. So glad I can count on brothers and sisters in Christ to give it to me straight. I need never look through rose-colored glasses to the vast needs around here.

This isn't about me. (And that is hard to remember sometimes...)


Megan@SortaCrunchy said...

oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh.

I *just* stumbled across this book over the weekend (thank you Amazon suggestions, you know me so well). It is going in my next order from them.

EVERYTHING you addressed here is what I have been thinking about so much lately. Like, really, really wrestling this stuff down to the ground.

Thanks so much for the insights on both the book and how it applies to what you are living out right now. I cannot wait to read it.

Megan said...

I keep deleting parts of my comment because it is just repetitive or way over drilling a point. So, I will stop trying and just say...

This couldn't have been said better!

Love you!

Aislynn said...

Do you have any names of organizations that thrive for what you talking about through STM? I would love to know. We are planning our church's first STM, and what better way to start it, but the "right"/better way.

Hendrick Family said...

How exciting, Aislyn,

Are you wanting organizations here in Haiti that are doing gospel-centered work, sustainable, healthy ministry here? Or are you wanting some organizations that help you partner with healthy ministries?

As you are starting to put together your first trip, we highly recommend reading When Helping Hurts, or those articles from Desiring God (or listening to the will help as you plan a trip here or anywhere).


shelli said...

Hi there! I have been reading your blog for awhile now with much interest as our family of 5 is moving to Haiti December 4th.

I read this book awhile ago, and love your post on it. I couldn't agree with you, or the book, more! Anyone who is involved with short term mission trips needs to read this book... for their own good, and for the good of the organization they represent and are hosted by.

Thanks for sharing!

Best wishes,
Shelli Elliott

Robert said...

I am SO grateful that you wrote this. I have always had misgivings about STM trips, and you make some good points about local men needing work, and the pain for orphans left behind, and also the friendships that just don't last long after the mission. I am sure there are many other concerns as well.

I would agree any kind of giving has to be very carefully thought out and prayed about and discerned so that the greatest good is brought about, most especially for those in need.

Thank you so much for your forthrightness.

thoughtsbyryan said...

Definitely well put and much needed discussion. I think the first question that needs to be asked is what our motivation is for wanting to go on a trip. I think for many of us, we would see a selfish answer in our hearts. We love the high we get from being reminded how sad most of the world is (kinda ironic). We love feeling like we are part of something world changing. Most of the time the answer will come back to the fact that WE love how it makes US feel.

The hard part is not throwing the baby out with the bath water (I feel kinda old for saying that statement). We need more people in our churches who have experience and insite into what is detrimental and what is helpful. And we need more church leaders who are willing to listen to those people and make unpopular decisions based on that evidence.

I think that the issue that you touched on with trip to play with orphans is one of the hardest things for me. For a long time, I have been bothered by the trend of paying hundreds of dollars to travel across oceans to play with an orphan (as if it were the new Six Flags amusement park trip for youth groups to take). I struggle to see the benefit of having an American come from thousands of miles away to play soccer with a group of kids for 5 days and then return back to their home. And the more I'm learning about things like attachment disorder and the psychological issues related to orphans, it makes me even more sad to think of what the church is ignorantly doing to orphans around the world just because we are being careless... not malicious, but just careless.

So, those are my thoughts... hopefully this conversation will cause churches to take a step back and think before just doing.

Kristin said...

My MIL went to Haiti after the earthquake with a disaster relief team from Louisiana; she was devestated by what she witnessed and how money was mis-handled. My husband's first question when I suggested a missions trip to Haiti was why would we spend money on airfare and lodging and food when we could just send the money to Haiti and have the men there do the work. Makes sense except, according to my MIL, sending money to Haiti is not a solution because there is no certainty that the money will get where it is supposed to go. Just wondered about your thoughts on this.

Flower Patch Farmgirl said...

You articulated answers to questions I didn't even know I had. So much insight here. Thank you for having the guts to share.

Hendrick Family said...


While there are some questionable things being done in Haiti, I want to encourage you...

There are also a lot of great organizations doing amazing work here. I think it really matters who churches partner with when they come to countries like Haiti.

And, organizations here have a lot of ways to ensure that your money goes directly to their bank account to meet needs and share the gospel.

Pay Pal is a wonderful tool for missions!! :)

So please don't be discouraged. God is doing beautiful things in Haiti, and there are lots of organizations who are here helping in ways that are NOT hurting Haiti. Those are always a blessing to serve with.


Kristin said...

Thank you so much, Heather, for answering so quickly. My church is planning a trip to Haiti in June 2011. I forwarded this post to our minister so that this would atleast get us thinking about making sure we're doing the right thing.

Susan, wife of 1, mother of 4 said...

Oh my gosh, Heather, you've done it again! What a thoughtful and well written post. I think that we tend to think we are "giving" when we go on a mission trip, but I've learned that somehow God grows us as well, and it's kind of a shock to realize that perhaps we gained more than we gave.

Ryan said...

Heather, this is a great post. I serve as a missions minister and continually wade through these complexities.

We have begun using When Helping Hurts in our training for STM's that are focused on mercy ministry.

I think a good question to ask for all potential planners of STM's is, "What is the outcome that I desire from our involvement?", or in other words, what's your goal?

The problem is there are so many definitions of STM out there it is hard to nail down the discussion to one thread. I believe once someone is able to define the intended purpose of their involvement, then they have the starting point to evaluating whether or not their plans are healthy.

I believe, like you mentioned in your post, that the key component to successful STM's (in the context covered in this book) is strong partnership with healthy long-term ministry on the ground. There's simply no replacement for a true collaborative relationship for long-term results. It is in the context of those relationships that the tough questions of whether to give money or send people are worked out.

This is healthy discussion, thanks for stirring the pot!


mbs said...

This is such an excellent book. Thanks so much for sharing it on your blog and giving these ideas that much more exposure. This should be a must-read for anyone even signed up for a STM.

Thanks for sharing the prespective especially of the orphans.

Holly said...

Thanks for this discussion. One model of short term missions that I am encouraged by is when there is a church plant in a city, and our church sends a group or groups of people to sow seeds broadly in sharing the gospel with people.

Long-term church planting teams have been blessed by these powerhouse teams that help them find the people who are hungry... 10x faster, since there are 10x as many people sowing.

They are then able to connect the people who are hungry for God with the people on the long-term team who can continue discipleship relationships with them, and through the process train these to be leaders so that the long-term team works themselves out of a job, and the locals step into leadership.

B said...

I struggled with this very issue this summer when talking to a church that supports us and the poor planning they were doing to come to Haiti (while we were resting in the states).

As your neighbor and partner here I emphatically agree with everything you said.

Angela said...

There were several things here that are definitely food for thought for me: issues of unintentionally harming orphans, whether sending money is sometimes preferable, doing jobs that unemployed locals could do, and making it more about ourselves than about accomplishing the eternal goal. I appreciate your thoughtfulness in presenting this difficult subject.

However, I'm curious if you still think (or if the book communicated) that these wide-sweeping statements/cautions about STM would still hold true for mission trips that are not to impoverished areas and/or are not orphan-centered. The reason I'm asking is that the church I attend has had long term relationships (through multiple, serial STM trips) to a closed area in Asia. These trips are headed up by our pastor, who returns to the same area several times per year (for the past 10 yrs). He has taken various groups from various churches, but they always visit the same group of people. He knows them by name, and they know him. He focuses on university students who are eager to learn English and are often open to spiritual conversations. Discipleship takes place, both during the trips, as well as through email communications after the STM teams have returned to the US. Through these trips, house churches have started and a couple from the area who became believers have come to the US to seminary so that they may be trained spiritually to return to their home country, equipped to serve the Lord there in full-time ministry.

My question is whether you see some obvious drawback(s) to this, as you have pointed out with the other types of STMs? Thanks for the perspective.

Brandon and April said...

This is Brandon, April's husband. A good resource that I have come across on STM is "Striking The Match" by George Robinson. Dr. Robinson was my Missions and Evangelism professors at SEBTS in North Carolina. He served as an M overseas and is not a professor.

In this book he connects STM teams with the larger strategy of the long-term team. He shows how the STM team can impact Church Planting and uses the analogy of "Striking a Match" to starting Church Planting among a target group.

This is a great resources and I highly recommend it to anyone I hear going on STM. In fact, it is hardly on my book shelf because it is constantly being passed around and read by people who are going.

Thanks for this blog and your faithfulness to our King.


TG said...

Thanks so much for your blog. I'm challenged by every post I read. I'll have to read this book over Christmas break. said...

Thank you for this. I recently applied to go on a trip in January to Uganda. I know God has been working out the details of this trip for a long time in crazy, only-God-can-do ways. I have heard so much about this book and even have scheduled to go to a book club soon to read it. The Uganda trip is one to love on orphans and I do want to be careful with hurting them, especially as I am an adoptive mom myself. In Fields of the Fatherless Tom Davis talks about a father who made a difference in his life after spending time with him for just one day.
I'm sure there is damage that can be done and want to just glorify God and obey his calling, but I also believe that sometimes that little bit of love might make a difference.
Anyway, thanks for posting this, I feel like I have lots to think and pray about before this trip, provided God enables me to go.

Hendrick Family said...


I don't want to pass any judgment on the sort of trip your church is involved in to Asia. It sounds like good things are happening. However, every culture is complex, every community different. So I think it would be a healthy thing to read When Helping Hurts, or see if your pastor would want to read it. Worst case scenario, he might see some areas where some things about the trips may not be as healthy as he'd like them to be. Best case scenario, he could be encouraged that his team's strategy has been thought out with much sensitivity and wisdom.

Rebekah Forbes said...


So many people have said that this book is so awesome. Nathan and I are actually going back to the states in two days for two weeks and I'm hoping to get it while we're there.

You're part about going to orphanages is sadly, very true. After now living at a orphanage for 4 months, I've seen teams come in and really do a great job of bringing the gospel and much needed work that Fundaninos simply could not afford to do on there own. But I've also seen kids crying days after the teams leave, not being able to eat because they're so sad that this person who gave them love for a week is now gone. Teams that have promised that they'll write or that they'll come again, and the kids never hearing from them, but still waiting, still hoping they'll write. It's heart breaking.

I also see the workers who work here, who are SO overworked. Working 100 hours a week, and receiving $150 a month... that's right, a month. Even in Guatemala, that's nothing. How can you feed yourself and your kids for $150 a month? You can't. So much money is spent to come here that could be spent to help our workers feed their babies, and maybe hire some more so they wouldn't be overworked.

Can't wait to read the book. You're blog has been such an encouragement to us in Guatemala. We love you guys.

Rebekah and Nathan

Aiming4Simple said...

I agree wholeheartedly with this post. Trips are much more glamorous than prayer, the forgotten activity in this rush-rush pace of today. I am guilty of prayerlessness too.

But I wonder, how many now-elderly women and women who have never been on a plane has God used to unleash his power and change the world? Untold thousands I should think. Their reward awaits...

Dorean Pope Photography said...

Feeling so convicted. I have never thought about it from this perspective. Thank you.

Also - what is the best way for me to buy a generator for an orphanage? I would like to do a fundraiser to raise the funds. If you can point me in the right direction, I'd appreciate it!

jody said...

oh the number of times i have had this SAME discussion with people. This is so my heart, and we too are working through that book and are trying to get others to do the same, to CHANGE their view of how they are to serve, not with a "we are Americans and here to rescue you!" attitude, but how can we enable people within their own culture and with their own love for Jesus and their people to serve. Sometimes, yes, STMs are needed to maybe bring resources that cannot be found otherwise (job training, engineering services that will eventually be turned over to natives, etc), but so often they are mishandled out of carelessness and self-focus. Sigh... thank ou again for stating things that NEED, desperately, to be stated!!

Anonymous said...

Thank-you for sharing this post. I was so encouraged to read it. I never comment on blogs but when i saw this post i felt convicted to throw in my hat. I have lived overseas working in international aid and development for 9 years so far. As soon as I received Jesus at the age of 24, i hd left my world behind within months to follow him. I am a Christian and engaged with my church and run my own ministry in the country i live in. If I may be so bold, short term missions break my heart. I have only very very rarely seen them done well. Although i agree churches and STM attendees come with good intentions, they cause so much damage. In a village near mine, a group came in to 'love on orphans' and hand out goods like toothbrushes etc. The local shopkeeper, himself poor, sat with tears in his eyes and he saw all of his potential sales wiped away. The team made him poorer. And while the kids had fun, they didnt care when the team left. I heard some children say 'those forigners are so stupid, they come all this way just to bring a toothbrush!' One team organised a worship concert and did an alter call. No-one responded. they had only invited kids from churches and they were all christians. one kid got confused when they kept calling so he put his hand up, thinking he was getting something for free. The visitor near him broke down weeping praising God for saving this boy. This boy had been a passionate follower of Jesus for 3 years already. everyone just scratched their heads and stared at the girl.

Some of the ugly truths about STMs is that everyone loves the cute orphans, but no-one will go and share a meal with the drunk traumatised man down the road, or stay long enough to know the woman who hides in her house cause she is beaten everyday and could really use a hug and a friend. I know it sounds harsh, but most STMs fall into the category of poverty porn. Its ugly, I'm sorry, but i see it constantly.

i just cant help but think, if God leads you to live overseas to serve, but you dont trust him enough until you try it a few times - how much faith are you putting in His plan? We all leave a footprint when we are a guest in someones's land, and it is our duty to be wise about it. It is not our right to 'see' everything for ourselves in order to trust. choose partners wisely and have faith in them. I get STM visitors weeping at my home for girls, promising the world and a changed heart. 1 in 100 only every really do anything. They take my time, they treat my community like a zoo, and they are always forgotten, and often ridiculed once they leave. I'm so sorry for sharing such harsh words, but if Jesus wants you to love the poor there isnt a compromise - you dont get the american dream and get to help the 'poor' twice a year. if the gospels rock your world, they call us to change everything, for some to leave our nations and families, and for others to change our own nations. Not to 'look' at someone else in the suffering and take a photo with a camera that costs 2 grand. it is a frightening to witness to how we really value the poor. becuse injustice seems like a $2,000 trip to deliver one week of fun and a lifetime of silence.

thank-you once again for touching on this issue that burns my heart and brings me shame as a missionary.

we can honour God by being wise.


Leslie said...

Wow. What an excellent post. I have a lot of the same thoughts living in Costa Rica - we see countless teams come through, and it needs to be re-thought. Just wanted to touch on your comments about orphanages. We work with children at risk and I wanted to recommend an excellent blog for people working with children - about deep and wide solutions. Seeing that you are thinkers and questioners, I think you will get a lot out of this site that will challenge your work - explore the blog as well as the CasaViva website. Wonderful food for thought about re-thinking solutions for children.


dan and rachel said...

As a former missionary kid (I'm now 42) I saw many, many short term mission groups blow through West Africa. At the least, the logistics challenges and the often embarrassing ethnocentric comments they would make made life very difficult for the hosting missionaries. I can honestly say that none of the short term mission trippers made an impact, although folks who would stay a 1 year or so, could. If you have a rare and valuable skill and you can solve some practical problems in a short time period, go for it. If you're planning on a trip that is more or less limited to giving out hugs, candy and a few bible verses, I would suggest you send money instead.

Kristen {RAGE against the MINIVAN} said...

Sooo many good points in this post. I have a real cognitive dissonance about short-term missions. Like Jamie, it really did set our lives on a different course. But having lead several trips in the past, I really do cringe at the amount of money raised for 12 people to go to a village in Africa, and how better that money could have served those people.

I have to say, in this internet/blog age, I'm also a little tired of people going on mission trips to "raise awareness". I get that this could be a by-product, but I don't like the tragedy tourism feeling I get when people just go, snap pictures of themselves with impoverished people, shake some hands and hear some stories, and then come home and post it to their blogs. Icky feeling for me.

I have some strong feelings about the "playing with orphans" scenario, too, despite having thought that was a really important mission in the past. We definitely see the effects of a rotating door of visitors on our adoptive son's behaviors. It's hard because I'm sure visitors were the bright spots of their week, but I do think it has a rough long-term effect.

momwithfaithandhope said...

I am a blogger but was convinced to join FB. One of my bloggy pals posted a link to this and I felt God at work. (I was actualy thankful for FB.) I had just finished praying (again) about what He would have me do. I have been looking into STM Trips, and as an adoptive mama, was leaning towards a country where I would have the opportunity to work in an orphanage. So funny, I heard our worship leader speak to how "sending money" isn't the answer, but there again, neither are STM Trips. There are so many things to consider when truly helping a country in need. It's a complete web of issues - one leading to another, and no one solution solving all. To your point about another rip or another tear. . .wow. . .perhaps cuddling an orphan isn't really serving others, is it?

This is a thought provoking post. One He knew I needed. I have taken your words to heart. Will look further into this book, and continue to sit in this and pray. Thank you for sharing.

Irene said...

What a great and thoughtful post! I have thought these same things so many times. I travel for work to Latin America a lot and when I see the groups in the Miami airport, with their matching t-shirts, I just cringe. You make so many good points, especially about the money that could be used for SO much needed equipment, or to hire local labor. And it is indeed traumatizing for children to experience people come in and get attached to them and then leave as quickly as they came.

This comment from Hope also rings very true:

"Some of the ugly truths about STMs is that everyone loves the cute orphans, but no-one will go and share a meal with the drunk traumatised man down the road, or stay long enough to know the woman who hides in her house cause she is beaten everyday and could really use a hug and a friend. I know it sounds harsh, but most STMs fall into the category of poverty porn. Its ugly, I'm sorry, but i see it constantly."

Flower Patch Farmgirl said...

This post has been stuck in my gourd ever since you wrote it. I have thought about it so many times. Odd, since I had no intent of doing a STM anytime soon... Anyway, I'm here, reading it again. Just sent the link to a virtual friend of mine. And I thought that while I'm here, I might as well say hello. Again.


Anonymous said...

I am a missionary and have spent many moments in tears after hearing STM members complain about not having enough shopping or tourism time or missing their families after three days. I watched half a youth team huddled around an iPad watching youtube videos as we all rushed to set up for Sunday morning service.

STM is not a chance for "Christian Tourism." We have had a couple teams leave us feeling encouraged, but most leave us feeling drained and exhausted. It's counterproductive.

I agree with everything you've said, thank you for saying it.

Pam in Colorado said...

I was part of a STM team to Haiti 20 years ago. The time there made a huge impact on me then, and still now. I so appreciate what you wrote, as it was apparent then and more so over the years.

Since I know that I will not be returning for a STM or LTM in the near future I have wanted to know how to know where money could be sent to do actual good. If you could list places/groups that you know would receive the money I would truly appreciate it.

Teresa said...

Oh Heather, this makes so. much. sense. How could it not cross my mind that my lofty orphan baby holding dreams could do more harm than good? Probably because I was only thinking of myself and my love of babies and how good it would "feel" to give a caregiver a break. Didn't really consider a child who needs something more than a revolving door of short-term mommies.
Thanks for the perspective, Heather. It truly is a blessing to follow along on your Haiti journey. Especially fun for me to read about your boys....I have three of my own ages 16 to 23 and it brings me back to their younger days. Just know, the shenanigans continue as they get older - just on a much bigger scale. Boys are so much fun!

Amber said...

Thank you!

Tay said...

Thank you SO much for posting this!!!

I spent a month last summer in Ukraine, and one of the things that our group did was work almost exclusively with a local church that has a national pastor. We took our cues from the national pastor as to what his congregation needed help with and couldn't find anyone to help them. We did help them in their Children's camps and did lots of work projects in rural churches that no one but aging men and women kept up, but a big part of our ministry was also to the youth IN the church, helping motivate them to continue on in serving the Lord where they are. The friends I made there are still people that I talk to on a weekly basis, and it has been wonderful to continue to see us all grow towards Christ. So like you said, its a "trend" in our churches to have very expensive trips with little long term results, but there are also alot of great opportunities for people to be involved overseas in VERY profitible ways! It all depends so much on listening closely to the Lord's voice and doing what HE shows is profitible, not what gives us the emotional "high".

Again, thanks for the thought provoking post!


hopeinbrazil said...

Thank you for your excellent post. My husband and I are missionaries to Brazil and we've hosted many STM groups. Sounds like we need to read this book!

Laura Parker @ Life Overseas said...

Awesome post here! I am talking about this today over my way and have linked your article! Thanks for sharing this-- totally hear you on all fronts!

Laura Parker
currently living in Thailand

Rachel at Stitched in Color said...

We have been thinking about putting together a short term trip for our family of 4 to a Belize orphanage that we know needs assistance. When an orphanage says they need help, it's still better to send money, I guess, for them to hire local help. I see the point, but I also find it so discouraging. Sometimes it feels like there is nothing I can do. Raising money to send to an orphanage is harder to accomplish than raising money to go.

As an aside, does your work in Haiti need clothing for the children in the way of simple dresses and/or shorts? Would you like to be on the receiving end of something like Dresses for Africa, but for Haiti?