Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Short-Term Missions?

This video is over the top and goes a little too far, but it raises some good points.
I'm a huge fan of avoiding conflict through the use of humor. 
For that dysfunctional reason, I enjoyed this video.

This week The Gospel Coalition published a post called, "Why You Should Consider Cancelling Your Short-term Mission Trips."  We're grateful these difficult and oftentimes controversial conversations are beginning to take place in public arenas. 

"The money spent by one campus ministry to cover the costs of their Central American missions trip to repaint an orphanage would have been enough to hire two local painters and two new full-time teachers and purchase new uniforms for every student in the school." -- Darren Carlson

We are indebted to our time spent in Haiti for a vast number of ways our minds have been changed.  Missions and the issues specifically surrounding short-term mission trips top the list of areas where we thought one way pre-Haiti and now think differently post-Haiti.

Like many Jesus-loving people, we grew up in a church culture that valued taking the love of Christ and the gospel to the ends of the earth.  This is good, obviously.  Jesus said pretty clearly this practice of advancing the Kingdom is an important one.  I think the problem arises when we take the principle of making the gospel available to all nations and decide we, as uninformed Americans, know the best method for accomplishing the Great Commission in cross-cultural missions.  Usually the method we employ to take the gospel to the ends of the earth is to encourage our church bodies to participate in short-term mission trips year after year after year. 

"Contrary to popular belief, most missions trips and service projects do not: empower those being served, engender healthy cross-cultural relationships, improve quality of live, relieve poverty, change the lives of participants [or] increase support for long-term missions work." -- Toxic Charity

Shortly after we moved to Haiti, we sat down with an educated, Haitian couple who are working to make a difference in their country.  "Be honest.  Does it make you crazy to see so many Americans and foreigners in your country attempting to help?  Do you think we should be here?"  There was a long pause.  His response went something like this, "I wish I could remind every Haitian that we fought long and hard for our freedom.  We are the only slave nation to overthrow its slaveholders.  But we're not free.  We've traded slavery to the French with slavery to the Americans and Westerners.  We're slaves to foreign aid." 

The book, When Helping Hurts, calls this idea "poverty of self."  Whether we mean to or not, when Americans (and other foreigners) enter a country and a group of unemployed national men stand by and watch a short-term mission team paint walls and construct buildings - one of the messages we're sending is this:  "You are such incompetent idiots, you can't even paint a wall.  It takes 32 white people in matching shirts to fly across the ocean (and an unheard of amount of money and mosquito spray) to turn this building from grey to island blue."   How much would it cost to hire those same unemployed nationals to paint the building?  Not much.  How much value and self-worth do we give a poverty-stricken country when we allow them to be a part of restoring their own community?  The answer is probably immeasurable.  How good does the American church get to feel about the building changing colors if they didn't physically paint it?  Not very.

Bingo - I think we've reached the heart of this issue.

We could talk all day (and many people are) about how noneffective and destructive (worst case scenario) most short term mission trips are to the countries hosting the teams.  We've seen stressed out long-term missionaries who despise teams, but keep hosting them because money only comes when Americans actually see with their own eyes and experience firsthand the issues surrounding a foreign ministry.  In order to get what they desperately need to effectively love and serve the people around them, missionaries feel trapped and forced to allow teams to come visit in the hopes that these visitors go home and start giving money.  A lot of well-meaning churches partner with foreign ministries, agreeing to send money, and supplies - but with one catch - the church gets to send teams throughout the year.  There are strings attached and those strings usually look like a group of white, unskilled people who land in a foreign country, need a lot of care and attention, who ultimately interrupt the real day-to-day ministry that would be taking place if the foreigners had stayed home and simply sent a check or bag full of much-needed supplies. 

Here's a question that begs to be asked:  If a mission really needs a lot of teams to come visit, is that mission actually effective during the time when it's not summer, Christmas break, or Spring Break?  Isn't one of the markers of a healthy in-country ministry one that is sustainable and able to run well even without teams present?  When we support a ministry financially, we want to feel confident that the group we are partnering with is willing and able to run a healthy organization during the many weeks of the year when no outsiders are there to lend a helping hand.  "How often do you host teams?" is a great question to ask an organization.

Not many missions organizations will tell you this, but when a team is coming, it's not uncommon for the long-term missionaries to have a meeting to "figure out what to do with the team."  "Well...that wall is kind of ugly, they could paint that - and what about a mural?  Heck ya.  Nothing keeps white people busy like a mural."  Assuming a church is always going into a country to perform much-needed, necessary, we-can't-live-without-this kind of work, is often a hilarious assumption.  In reality, a lot of the mission organization's time is spent babysitting visitors who need to process their own culture shock, the climate, the language barriers, cultural complexities, and gastrointestinal issues.    

The sad reality is that many churches have created an expectation that "good Christians" should all go on these short term trips ... annually if possible.  The result is that people who do not go on these trips feel like B-team Christians.  A large part of our life in Haiti was spent coming to grips with not only the poverty and desperation we were experiencing on a daily basis, but grieving the American church's role (and our role as former church leaders) in either not doing enough to help alleviate the suffering - or worse - harming the poor in the name of Jesus.  I wasn't able to look at the issues in Haiti without thinking about the problems and possible solutions through the lens of the American church.  "If we went back to America today, after what we've seen, how would we help steer the conversation about missions?  We understand pastors have good hearts and they ultimately want to engage their congregations in the Great Commission and care for the poor and the orphaned.  But how do church leaders spark love and concern for the lost and desperate without insisting that every Tom, Dick, and unskilled Harry show up in a foreign country to experience the truth themselves?"

We have no answers.  What we do have are a lot of uneasiness and questions- and unfortunately most churches we've experienced are highly uncomfortable being a body filled with questions.  Most American churches feel the need to be a group of people cranking out the answers.

Here are some ideas we want to be quick to admit when it comes to foreign missions:

1.  If we're honest, the American church isn't all that sure how to reach our own culture and meet the needs within our own borders.  Without cultural differences and language barriers, we're still pretty confused and unsure our methods for loving and serving our communities are working or effective - at all.  So maybe we should be extra cautious and humble when it comes to  the best way to further the Kingdom in foreign countries.

2.  I'm not going to propose that all church staffs operate the same way, but our experience on church staff and our connection to friends employed by the church has taught us that some churches feel pressured (for whatever reason) to organize short-term mission trips.  When doing so, the questions on the front end of the trip usually sound more like, "Is this organization doing good work (and ironically the sending church is usually the expert on the subject). "  Can this location house and feed the number of people we need to send?  Will there be enough work for our group to do - because we don't want people standing around (heaven forbid) - we want them to get their money's worth."  Instead, what if some of the questions were to change?  "What do the missionaries and the mission actually need?  Have we given them space and freedom to be honest with us - to say, "We don't want you to come.  When a group visits it stresses us out, and none of the actual work that needs to get done is getting done when you're here.  Can you just send money - we'll buy supplies in country and boost the economy - and we'll hire the men and women begging at our gates to paint the porch and fix the roof.  And could you pay to send my wife's mother or best friend - not to do mission work per say - but just because seeing them for a week goes a long, long, way to reviving our souls?"

3.  This idea that everyone in our church must personally experience poverty or a foreign culture in order to be gripped by the Great Commission points to some major dysfunction in the local church body.  The image we see in scripture of the church is one of such interdependence and connection that we weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn.  One part suffers - we all suffer.  It's a very American idea that I have to personally experience something in order for it to be real.  Right now, there are a handful of people in our local church who are deeply, personally, and actively involved with a ministry in a foreign country.  They can vouch for these organizations.  They have real-life connections with them.  What if part of living by faith and  belonging to a local body means trusting the advocates in the church where we're connected.  What if it means experiencing other cultures - the needs, the pain, the beauty - through the passion of someone within our local body.  

4.  Obviously not all short-term mission trips are harmful or a waste of time.  How can we do our homework, be educated, and in the very least - leery - of making mistakes, hurting the local population we're attempting to serve, and inconveniencing the long-term missionaries we're partnering with for our trip?  Figuring out how to best approach short-term missions will unfortunately not be a one size fits all approach.  Every mission is different.  They have different needs.  Throwing down blanket thoughts on short-term missions like, "All teams are harmful so our church is not going to engage," or "Doing short term missions this way is the only healthy way" are most likely ineffective strategies.  Just like any outreach or interaction with human beings, figuring out how to best serve a ministry "on the ground" is going to take time, humility, and a response that is personal and fluid.  Unfortunately this holistic and individual approach to partnering with a foreign missions organization will not work for churches who are desperate to have a written "missions policy" filled with rigid rules about how their church engages in cross-cultural missions.

While living in Haiti I wrote a post called, Are Short-term Mission Trips the Answer.  Interestingly, in the comments section you'll find a lot of comments from people defending their trips and how those mission trips were different and better and obviously important.  You'll also find long-term missionaries (who often commented anonymously out of fear) honestly speaking out against the harm of short-term teams.  I understand the need to feel like the hard work required to organize a mission trip and the large sum of money used to fund it were "worth it," but it grieves me to hear missionaries honestly speaking towards these issues, and the American church refusing to listen or value what long-term missionaries are saying.  Being quick to defend our "trip" is prideful and tragic.  If any situation warranted being slow to speak and quick to listen, I think it's the "are short-term mission trips an effective use of time and money" conversation.

After a visit to America, I will never forget sitting in the airport with my kids waiting to catch the flight from Miami to Haiti.  A short term mission team was nearby.  The group leader - who obviously had a big heart - was getting his team "pumped up" before the flight.  The gist of his pep talk was about how much good their team would do that week - how much light they were bringing - how many lives would be changed (theirs included).  I had just said good-bye to my family and friends, so I admit I was probably more emotional than I should have been, but his words brought tears to my eyes.  Not in a good way.  I remember being where he was, going on mission trips, and then worse - sitting through the post trip slide show at church.  A hundred photos of team members standing next to smiling locals, the stories of how many people got saved, of how the one-week trip impacted lives and brought about change.  Meanwhile, living in Haiti - actually living there - we wondered every day if what we were doing made a difference - if we were causing harm, even if good work was being accomplished.  We saw how complicated it was to gauge success - so difficult that we quit trying to do so and simply woke up most days asking the Lord to help us faithfully love the people around us.   Many days I wished to have the confidence of a short-term mission trip again - to truly feel like we were making a huge difference - every five days - instead of simply being in Haiti day in and day out wondering and striving.

I'm guessing not many church bodies would want to sit through a post-trip slide show or presentation from the members who went on the short-term trip to hear them say things like, "We have no idea if we made a difference.  We'd never try to claim a week spent in a foreign country did jack squat to bring light.  We're not even all that convinced the place we visited was "dark" in the first place.  We accomplished very little.  We sat around a lot.  We couldn't actually talk to the people around us, because we don't know their language.  Working in a foreign culture is complicated, and we'd never pretend to be able to sum up the spirit and struggles of an entire country because we spent a week there.  We went.  We were touched.  One week in a foreign country helped to open our eyes - not completely open them - but opened them slightly - to this enormous world God has created.  But...we may never know - this side of eternity - if what we accomplished in one week was all that helpful."

What if we were honest and admitted that one week spent anywhere with strangers, even in our own country, probably wouldn't be all that life-changing or slide-show worthy?  Deep down we all know the most effective ministry happens at organic, long-term, day in and day out, relational, human levels.  So maybe great caution should be involved when trying to define success in short-term, cross-cultural missions.

If you are considering going on a mission trip or are organizing one, here are some helpful links that raise a lot of good points and ask great questions.

For the love, don't go on a mission trip without reading this series from Jaime, the Very Worst Missionary


A Boat That Needs Rocking

Thinking through Short-Term Mission Trips

Are Short-term Mission Trips the answer?

Why You Should Consider Cancelling Your Short-term Mission Trips

Healthy Short-Term Missions: Do it like Jesus.

When It's About Us

Fear and Missions

I'm really interested in reading the follow up article about a healthier approach to mission trips from The Gospel Coalition.  They have promised that a follow-up post is coming soon.


Rebecca McDonald said...

A beautifully compelling post written with wise council and love for the world church. Thank-you for continuing the conversation that needs to be continued.

Courtney said...

This coming from the wife of a "missions pastor". This coming from a girl who just returned from a STM trip to a 3rd world country three days ago. Also coming from someone who has taken numerous ST trips in my lifetime to various places, supporting various ministries.

You nailed this. Lots to think about and no easy answers. Thanks for opening up discussion on this crucial, delicate issue. May God give us grace as we navigate how to best make Him known to a lost, hurting world.

Matt and Abby said...

Great post! I would be deathly afraid of sharing this with my church.....

Autumn said...

i love this post and i applaud you for continuing a necessary conversation that we, the church, must have - to evaluate what we're attempting to do/ how we're attempting that Great Commission.

however. "We could talk all day (and many people are) about how noneffective (best case scenario) and destructive (worst case scenario) most short term mission trips are to the countries hosting the teams." - Doesn't that sort of close the conversation? "noneffective" is the best case? always? by all varied measures of effectiveness?

i know you don't want people just blindly coming in here defending their STM trips, but i think statements like this can just shut down the conversation.

i don't know. if i'm misreading, i sincerely apologize. really, i agree with your sentiments and heart on this matter, i truly do. i just don't want others turned so away by our words, perhaps by the same sort of pride we're not so slyly calling them others out on.

in peace.

Hendrick Family said...

Good point, Autumn. I didn't mean what that sentence implies. I need to go edit it.

Thanks for being honest.


serdan said...

Brilliant. I remember my dad saying he wished he could tie a big rope around Haiti and drag it far out to sea so that Americans would not be able to get to it so easily. And that was 30 years ago. I agree with a previous comment--sharing this with my mission's pastor would be pretty daunting. But that is exactly why nothing changes. Thanks for saying the hard things.

Cami Franklin said...

Again - I am so thankful for you and your insight. I don't consider my trip to Haiti a STMT because I went alone and with the goal of learning more about ApParent Project and helping where I could. But Shelley and Corrigan helped solidify all that you are saying here and I think you penned it beautifully! I plan on sharing this my friend! Thank you so much!!!!!

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

Wonderful post, Heather! THANK YOU for going against current culture and focusing on biblical teachings.

Flower Patch Farmgirl said...

God has used you to open my eyes on this, Heather.

What you shared here is gut-truth, said with sensitivity. You're a wise and brave sister and I'm so glad I've gotcha. (I do, you know. I've gotcha.)

Rob Bradshaw said...

A well-argued and thought-provoking post. Although the examples you cite are US-based, I know from both personal experience and observation that the points made are equally applicable to the church in the UK.

Stephen Ward said...

Been struggling with this for the past almost 7 years - ever since my wife and I went on a Mid-Term Missions Trip(not sure if that exists). Every time I receive a 'support my trip!' letter I can't help but wonder if those thousands of dollars could be used in a better way. I was just talking to a friend last night that STM trips are really for the people going than the people at the destination.
I do know one thing - I am extremely glad that we serve a God who can easily redeem these trips and use them for His glory in some way.
I am glad that this discussion is on the table and I pray that I will have the humility, boldness, and wisdom to share this with my church body for His glory.
grace and peace.

d.l.mayfield said...

I think you did a really great job of honing down the arguments to what they are: that we believe we can't find solidarity with people unless we are confronted with it head on. In some ways, I do believe this is the truth (just based on personal experience). It shouldn't be, but it is. I just wrote something for McSweeneys about the Great Lie of our culture (materialism will make you happy) and the converse lie is that we are not responsible for our neighbors. Obviously, Jesus begs to differ. I struggle with this issue because I don't want to kick people in the face when they are trying to do good (and goodness knows I have been on a mission trip a time or two). But I think it is time to admit that the damage is outweighing the good, and consider why we do not want to ask these questions. Thanks so much for your voice.

Anonymous said...

I want to speak up anonymously. Hope that's okay. At some point I really do think that this is also the responsibility of the organizations and LTMs that are hosting the teams - (yes, still a huge issue at the American church level). If they keep being stupid and letting groups come that are not in any way prepared (did not do assigned reading and learning in advance) or if they allow large unskilled groups to come do work that could be done by a local in order to create a job, well, at some point it is on them to stand up for the right thing and if that means a loss of donor support, then so be it.

We all say God is going to supply but then we don't really live like He will. We bend to pressure and bow to culture. If we cannot even challenge our own home culture how do we expect that we'll ever love and help anyone effectively in a second culture?

Heather said...

I've never thought of this perspective until today. Thanks for opening my eyes to a new thought that will take some deep pondering and searching. I've traveled to Haiti for one SMT and felt very wanted and appreciated, but knew that it was mostly about transformation in my own walk - trusting God and seeing Him do a work in me. Why is it that seeing it with out own eyes seems so much more effective then just trusting the need at hand??? Thanks for sharing.

Charity Hildebrand said...

Yes, yes, yes! Loved this post so much! Thanks for putting so well into words a lot of what we've been thinking and wrestling through as long-termers.

Hendrick Family said...

I agree with you completely, anonymously.

Ultimately we can talk about (and even criticize) the US church's role in short term missions, but a lot of churches DO have open hearts and want to really know how to best love and serve in foreign countries.

They are dependent on missionaries who are living abroad for information on how best to "do missions."

From our limited standpoint, we've noticed a trend: There is a lot of fear that causes mission organizations to make poor decisions when it comes to teams visiting. Fear that they will lose support from American groups and churches. Fear to speak up within their own organizations and fight for the indigenous people they love so much. We saw (and have heard many, many missionaries say) that it is pretty normal for team members to have very conflicting views on how teams should be handled.

Fear never leads to healthy decisions or choices. We all know that. Relationships built on fear are never going to be strong and vibrant. Instead, fear can lead to missionaries who have given up a great deal to serve in a foreign country who are now seeing the people they came to serve being exploited and harmed because they are too fearful to do what is right.

Cross-cultural missions will always require a daily does of supernatural faith. And you're right - it is Jesus who supplies our needs. BUT - like so much about the Christian life, it's easier to say these difficult things than it is to live them out. Missionaries grow weary too, and there is only a certain amount they can deal with. Causing strife within their own mission may be one of the hardest battles a missionary can fight.

We are praying for lots of bravery and courage for people living in the US who are desperately wanting to see missions reconsidered in their churches AND for missionaries who feel trapped into making unhealthy decisions out of fear of losing funding or causing a break in relationships within their ministries.


Anonymous said...

This is definately true also for the UK church... As having spent 6 years as a missionary I have been very disturbed by the negative impact of many (not all) short term trips. Something we even found was that some UK churches didn't really want to listen to the thoughts of the missionaries on the ground, but preferred to deal exclusively with the locals, who feared them and desperately needed the money that came with the trips. So as missionaries we were only able to stand back and watch trip after trip.. and the aftermath of them. Now back in the UK and finding we are involved in sending teams (ironically) we are putting much more emphasis on the trips being about the experience for those going and also seeking to simply encourage missionaries and workers on the field; rather than what will be 'achieved'. We look forward to the Gospel Coalitions tips to help in this.

Aaron Hendrick said...

"Nothing keeps white people busy like a mural."


Anonymous said...

Thanks for a very thought provoking post---and much of it---maybe even all of it, makes perfect sense. BUT. The short term experience can open the eyes and hearts of those participating. It doesn't "feel" as good to give money only. Who will be the ones to say one individual or group can go; all the rest less "serious", less "committed" people can simply pay? Isn't there middle ground here? Certainly the money spent on a trip would go further spent in country, by others who are savvy in relation to the needs there and how to meet them. Yet, what price can we put on experience? What price can we put on heartbreak, on empathy, on a shift in world view? When I spend $ on dinner, I want to eat it or be sure those I'm buying dinner for actually get it. When i buy clothes, I want to wear them or see them worn. Why is it wrong to want to see where missions money goes & how it's spent? Why is wrong to acquire experience, despite it not being a long term life choice? Why is it wrong to do what we can do? Who gets to decide?
Still, your points are excellent and thought provoking. Thanks for the links & the nudge to reexamine our assumptions.

Rachel said...

This is one of the best articles I've read on this subject. You so poignantly stated so many of the things I've been unable to put into words for the last 4 years I've been a LTM. (Unable and afraid!)

Bob & Judy said...

Before the days of jump-on-a-plane-and-voluntour-in-Somewhere, missions awareness was intentionally fostered and taught and pushed in churches by groups like GA's and Women's Auxiliary.

Those groups have lost popularity and are almost gone. Yet, they kept missions and missionaries in the minds and prayers and piggy banks of generations of believers who would never consider short term missions a possibility.

Sounds to me like we are now looking for a way to accomplish their same goals - to cause people to love and pray and give to missions in places they will never see, for people they will never meet.

It can happen. It can.

Anonymous said...

My family and I have been in a huge SE Asian city for 7 years. Our experience with volunteers has been very different, but the group we are trying to reach is also very different. Our focus is on a middle class part of the population, people who do not have any physical needs. We are able to bring in volunteers to help teach Christians GOOD theology and also to help us reach out to more people. There's no better way to meet new people than to dump 10 American college kids on an Asian university campus. We have no experience in a place like Haiti, but are very thankful for the volunteers that we can get to come all the way to our city.
I have lots of colleagues that deal with these volunteer issues constantly, but I wanted to show how volunteers can be used in a positive way.

Brandy said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this, Heather. My husband I have been struggling with these very ideas recently. Our church just sent 7 or 8 women on a missions trip to -you guessed it- paint an orphanage! Each woman had to raise several thousand dollars, so here we were, sending a handful of women and spending $20,000-$25,000 to PAINT SOME WALLS. I said the exact same thing to my husband...WHY aren't we sending just the money and hiring local men to do this job? I don't understand how the church is not seeing this. When you can hire locals to do the work that your missions group is doing, you are supporting a family who could really use the money, who is then in turn supporting the local economy. It's a win-win. I was sick over the whole thing. But of course, you have the issue of "This trip changed ME and had more of an impact on ME than I did on them!" Well, that's just great. So what was actually accomplished? You took hundreds of pictures of poor people so you could go back home and shock your church with the rawness of the poverty you saw? (How would we feel if some billionaires drove by our home and took pictures of us and our "few" belonging so they could go show their rich friends how poor and miserable we are?) If I don't stop now I'm going to write all day about this! Thank you again Heather!

Brandy said...

Ha, so I just watched the video AFTER I commented. Totally sounds like I stole half of what the video said and made it my own thoughts! Hey, at least it shows there are lots of us thinking along the same lines here!

JDB said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kevin Davis said...

Wow. Great points. Very thought provoking. I went on one short-term mission trip to Haiti in 2010. We were considering going again in 2013, but maybe we should not? Hard to say. We certainly do not want to cause problems for the very people we are trying to help. I know that someone who lives in Haiti as s full-time missionary knows more about the whole process than someone like me. Good points.

JDB said...

There is some truth to what you have written, but it seems like you're making a very broad argument (I.e. stm trips across the board) with examples from a limited context (I.e. building trips in Haiti). I think the valid argument from your context is that building trips are often far less valuable than the money it costs to put them on. That is an apple to apple comparison that can be put on paper. Cost for trip $10,000. Local value of project $2,000. I don't think it is wise to extrapolate this approach to trips that have benefits that cannot be put on paper. What is the value of theological training for local pastors, prayer-walking in a village, encouraging believers?

"If we're honest, the American church isn't all that sure how to reach our own culture and meet the needs within our own borders" This isn't a fair statement. 1)It means that if I don't agree, then I'm lying. 2)Most churches have problems and issues that need to be addressed (see Paul's, John's, James' and Peter's epistles). 3)"The American Church" may not be a helpful distinction, and the comment implies ignorance on the part of all Christians in the US. 4)There is no biblical mandate that says, until your geographically defined church gets it right, stay home. It comes way to close to the terrible argument I hear often for not supporting churches across borders - "there's plenty of work to do here."

It may seems like I'm blasting your post, and maybe I am a little :), but I sincerely appreciate the conversation and I do think it is one that needs to be had. You make some great points, especially about building trips. It seems like you have a desire for change for the good and for the sake of the gospel.

Kevin said...

Wow. Great points. Very thought provoking. I went on one short-term mission trip to Haiti in 2010. We were considering going again in 2013, but maybe we should not? Hard to say. We certainly do not want to cause problems for the very people we are trying to help. I know that someone who lives in Haiti as s full-time missionary knows more about the whole process than someone like me. Good points.

Hendrick Family said...


Thanks for your comment and willingness to enter into this conversation.

You made some great points about value going far beyond monetary measurements. I agree. That's why I don't think - or will ever claim - that all short term mission work is harmful or noneffective.

I think you're misreading the section of this post (the party you quoted.)

1. I hope you're not suggesting that the church DOES know how to effectively love and serve within our own culture and that we've nailed missional living right here in the US. If you are, and you've figured this out, I genuinely would love to hear your ideas. As for us, no matter how much "good" we see our church body doing, we're all pretty comfortable admitting that we have a lot to learn.

2. As a family that lived in Haiti, we would never mean to imply that we should not be loving and serving outside of the United States. I know the argument you're referencing - we have been on the harsher end of those accusations as we tried to rally support and concern for international projects. The heart of that comment was simply this: loving people right here in our own backyard is difficult and we have a better (not great) grasp of the needs and culture, and language barriers are not usually present. We spend a lot of time and energy within our local churches prayerfully asking God how to love and care for our communities. Hopefully we're responding with a healthy measure of humility and trepidation, realizing that we may not always know the best way to share the love of Christ and the gospel with people around us. I'm just proposing that adding in the cross-cultural element probably requires even greater caution, research, willingness to learn, and humility.

Sorry if that section came across differently than I intended.


Aaron Hendrick said...


For sure, the arguments laid out in this post are most specifically directed at the "typical" short term mission trip.

Those trips usually consist of some sort of building/construction project and/or a VBS-type program. There are plenty of arguments why these activities are less than productive and certainly not cost effective. If we start talking about teams that bring in tons of imported food and secondhand clothing for distribution then we can quickly move from discussions about things that are unproductive to things that are outright destructive to local economies and individuals.

These are the sort of activities that are being specifically addressed in this post.

But to address your specific questions/objections:

I do think there are times when, in partnership with an established local church, sending A FEW people to do theological training for pastors can be beneficial. Those sorts of partnership can be done in very healthy ways IF its training that's being requested by the local church. But just meet the actual need. Too often churches decide that more is better. "Since we're already sending Brother So-And-So down to do some pastor training, lets send down a group of people to do some construction while he's down there ... and lets let the youth put on a VBS too. They'll love that."

As for prayer-walking in a village ... I've been on those teams. It was a good experience I guess. But I don't know that you can really make a case that my prayers were more effective because I was praying them in a foreign country than they would have been if I was praying them in my living room.

No one here is making the case that "Until American's know how to effectively minister to Americans they shouldn't try to minister in other cultures." Instead, I think Heather did a good job of saying that effective ministry is extremely difficult even where there aren't language and cultural barriers. So the decision to minister cross-culturally should be taken seriously and should be accompanied by as much prayer, study, and preparation as possible. Instead, the only requirement most churches have for going on a STM trip is raising some money and putting your name on a list.

The problem with this whole discussion is that people all to often jump to the explanations of why THEIR mission trip is different and helpful even if everyone else's isn't. For proof, just read through the comments on that post from the Gospel Coalition or those posts from Jamie, The Very Worst Missionary. Many of them are ridiculous.

I think the point made by Heather and the authors of all the other posts she linked is simply that we need to honestly question our motives and methods for short-term missions. May God give us the boldness to look hard at some of our sacred cows and to be willing to turn them into hamburger if necessary.


Aaron Hendrick said...


I guess Heather responded while I was writing my comment. Sorry to double up on you.

Thanks for being in this conversation with us.


Anonymous said...

I want to jump up and down and yell AMEN and beg everyone to PLEASE LISTEN to this ... it is not encouraging to anyone to come take jobs from people who need work. Painting a cement wall is work ANYONE can do with a tiny bit of instruction ... flying across the ocean to paint a wall while unemployed natives look on is embarrassing. I don't think a smart ministry would have you do that.

Also ... for more skilled jobs ...

Let's say you are a plumber in Omaha, NE. You make a decent living and feed your three kids and own a modest home. Things are pretty good. One day a small country in the Caribbean decides that they want to "help" you - how nice!!! They send four teams over the next year with plumbers that come and do work in the Omaha area for free !!! How awesome for the people of Omaha! Sadly, the free plumbing puts you out of work and your kids have to go on Gov't assistance ... but hey, those plumbers got to feel good about helping in Omaha. That's what is important, right?


Anonymous said...

As a then and still current member of the church you use to be on staff, I can say that the staff's heart is not that those who don't go are any less then those who do go. I remember several of those trips were to Mexico so that you and your family could visit Aaron's family there. There are numerous missionaries in numerous countries that welcome STM and see them as a vital parts of their team. I think you owe an apology to the staff of your former church and should even remove that comment. Such a shame for you to tear down the body instead of building it up.

Hendrick Family said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hendrick Family said...

Thanks for your comment anonymous.

We reread the part of the post you're talking about and will adjust it. The point of the post is not to be divisive or harm the body of Christ, and so we probably could have said that differently. Reading your comment I see how this section of the post can come across like we're attacking your church or staff. When I wrote it, I was writing out of our own personal shame (as staff members) for making people feel judged for not going on mission trips. We were certainly lumping ourselves into the mix of people who made church members feel condemned and judged (whether it was on purpose or not). We know Aaron and I hurt people in this particular context of mission trips because several brave people were kind enough to tell us how we made them feel.

We're trying to own that.

Over the past few years our thoughts about a lot of things have changed pretty drastically and part of that change requires us being honest about the ways we failed in ministry. We want to learn from our mistakes, and part of doing that is being honest about them. We're sorry if we offended you. As we look back on the way we personally served in the church (and a lot of the shame we feel due to the way we did so) we'll probably screw up a time or two as we try to process these things out loud.

If I was criticizing anything, it was the staff members Aaron and I were.


I Am 1040 said...

Many define mission efforts in economic terms: locations, ministries and missionaries in perceivably horrendous poverty. In reality many of these places are, while a challenge economically, highly exposed to the gospel and welcoming to the growth of existing churches. This is what much of our society feels good about - they see great need and want to fix it. This is no different from other religions and NGOs who want to help Haiti, Peru, Eastern Europe or Sub Saharan Africa.

What if we more carefully evaluated our motivation to ensure they are aligned with Gods? What about promises of Isaiah 61 to preach the good news, bind up the broken hearted, set captives free and so much more? These are not solely monetary, they are spiritual. How many of those in mission’s relationships with Haiti, Peru, or other – relatively safe- western hemisphere countries, would be willing to go somewhere else? Somewhere resistant to the gospel? Where the people are materialistic? Where it is illegal to be Christian, let alone a formal missionary?

Who in the bunch would sign up for a short term trip to Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Central Asia or Libya? If not willing, why? Because it’s too dangerous? Maybe Saudi Arabia is too rich; Libya too foreign; North Korea too hard to get in; Central Asia too far. What does that say about our motivations? Are we only willing to go to close, poor, (relatively) politically stable countries?

Who will start English blogs intentionally geared towards the youth of the Arab Spring, Muslims crying out for hope, peace and restoration? What about the Indian upper class - would that not dramatically change reality for the poor?

Few go to these places that do not fit into the neat package Heather so clearly described. Others, because they think it doesn’t make economic sense to go to Dubai for 3 weeks: the flight alone is the same cost as a 2 week trip to Mexico. With that logic, millions of people around the world will continue to die without ever hearing the gospel. Because it is too expensive for us to bother going so far….what a tragedy.

Others have bought into the lie that you cannot do anything worthwhile in that amount of time. What about prayer walking where the name of Jesus has NEVER been lifted up? Distributing bibles where there are none? Can you do this in 3 weeks, absolutely - I did. It was amazing and motivated me to commit my entire life to ministry to unengaged peoples…I’d say that was a worthwhile short term trip, imagine if I’d never gone?

I would plead for caution with this movement; this is a trend among US churches and can lead to radical changes in mission policy. Having worked in a missions department, I’ve seen it firsthand …elder’s boards, missionary sending, short term trips gone wrong and all the politics involved.

As a missionary to the most unreached parts of the world I have experienced being in desperate need of a group of believers to just come visit, pray and build a passion for this place.

What most serving in the unreached world say to this: if you don’t want teams to go where you have been going, great….but don’t tell them to stay home. We need them here! Even if it is for just 2 weeks.

Part of what Aaron and Heather are saying is very true: way too many trips to the reached world. However, there needs to be a clarification to that….hardly anyone is going to the unreached 2/3s of our planet.

Unreached means much more than merely being unevangelized. Unreached means there is no access to the gospel among that people group. There is no witness for Jesus among them! Nearly 2 billion people (27.9 % of the world’s population) live in these unreached segments of society (people groups). These peoples are cut off from any access to the gospel and are largely ignored or unknown by the Christian world. Sadly, nearly 90% of the missionary work force and finances are targeting already reached regions with the gospel.

Google Short term trips to the unreached - that's how I got started!

Jason said...

I think this post needs some serious reconsideration.
First, anyone can knockdown a straw man. Its easy to mock construction trips and run the math, of course construction trips are a joke. What is not a joke is why any long term missionary ever lets one in the door. If a LTM is letting people come do construction projects the problem is with them. Its the LTMs cowardice and fear of man, not the ignorant enthusiasm of the STM group that is the problem.

Second, how is a long term mission trip to a reached people group any different than a short term trip? Haiti is well served by western missionaries you probably pass 5 just going north on Highway 1 out of PAP, why did they need another? Why don't LTMs stay home from places like Haiti and send their support to a Haitian pastor in a Haitian church? Or did Haiti need the benefit of your American training and intelligence? Your comments about cross cultural barriers are equally true for LTMs visiting countries with indigenous Christians.
Third, how effective are many LTMs? Spend a year on language learning, doing nothing. Dont' know the culture. Live behind gated walls far away from the people you plan to serve and come home to a safe house every night. Live on western money rather than living with and like the locals. And then after a couple of years and the shine wears off, they head back home. I didn't see many LTMs in Haiti in the blue sided tents, they lived in gated communes.
Fourth, how does some short stint in a foreign country and reading a couple books somehow make everyone think they are an expert? Even the above referenced gospel coalition post was written by a guy who lives in Minnesota and its not apparent he has ever served in long term missions. Please!

Look, no doubt people should think carefully and critically before undertaking ANY mission trip short, long, or in between. People should strive to reduce their own ignorance of the best way to share the gospel and love their neighbor when they visit a foreign country, a soup kitchen, or a neighbor. But it also doesn't require that we sit on our thumbs until we have read every book or calculated the marginal improvement of every nickel. The apostles were uneducated peasants and Paul was a Pharisee--they didn't sit at home and say, well, we just won't know how to talk to them.

Please stop judging and making generalizations about the motives, effects, benefits and harms of the actions of tens of thousands of people you have never met.

Aaron Hendrick said...


You make some valid points - some that other commenters have raised and some that we hope to explore as this conversation continues.

I will also say that nowhere in this discussion have we ever claimed to be experts on this subject. We have said repeatedly that our time in Haiti left us with many more questions than answers and this blog is simply a place to process some of those questions out loud with the people that choose to read and dialog with us.

I think you're making some really unfair assumptions about what we believe about missions and about us personally.

We hope to continue to wrestle through these issues with those who choose to participate in this discussion. Our desire is simply to engage with others around these issues and to hopefully find some answers along the way.

We know when talking through sensitive issues not everyone is going to agree. Whether we agree or not, we hope to push through our disagreements as we discuss these topics. There's a lot we'd like to say in response to your comment, but your tone does not leave space for a healthy dialog. You come across as combative, and we're going to pass on that type of unproductive conversation.


Jason said...

Its your blog, you can do what you wish so I will keep my response brief.

1. You got the first point of my post. Don't' publish an offensive screeching video that makes sweeping condemnations about the heart, motives, and effects of everyone who goes on a short term video and then say "but we only want polite responses."

2. Plank and Speck: People who think long term missionary trips are sacred while blasting short term missions should be prepared to have the same critical attacks turned on themselves and I would encourage you to make an equal post about the wastefulness, inefficiency, arrogance, and lack of commitment of many people who go on long term missions (and the astonishing failure rate of those missions too).

3. Many people who go on short term mission trips do so with a genuine heart pouring out with love for other people and a desire to serve God. They spend their savings and vacation time to go on these trips, which are for many people not "fun" at all but more work and discomfort than they have suffered in years. Who are you to judge their heart? Or to make snide comments about matching shirts? Or to say that "nothing keeps white people busy like a mural" And my comments are offensive? Maybe if long term missionaries were less interested in funding their operation with trip fees they would be more honest with those visiting, or look for ways to engage them in things that were real. If you were in Haiti, those opportunities were plentiful.

4. Finally, and amazingly you fail to see that you are still conflating poverty of self and material poverty. If all these short term visitors just sent money, then what? Now the locals are dependent on getting jobs with the missionary, doing odd jobs, still taking a handout from the westerner with the supply of cash and as soon as those odd painting and construction jobs dry up then what? They are just as dependent on foreign aid and have the same poverty of self as they did before.

If you want to reform short term missions, I would strongly encourage you to start by not drawing conclusions about the hearts and motives and instead looking for helpful productive ways for short term missionaries to interact with the people and places they visit in a way that does short and long term good for both the missionaries, their long term hosts, and those they encounter.

Anonymous said...

Just a thought - I work for an organization that has mulitple international programs all running independently but in partnership with our organization. My job is to plan and organize STMTs with American teams and our international ministry staff. This posts represents the endless questioning and prayer that needs to continuously be sought concerning STMTs. Despite all of the very real concerns that plague STMTs and that we wrestle with every day, the consistent message that we receive from our in country staff that minister year-round to communities in need is this: STMT teams who humbly come to love on, spend time with, play with, invest in, do crafts with, encourage eye contact with, encourage the setting of limits with, teach healthy choices and life skills to, give hugs to the families and children, as well as alleviate some of the everyday pressures of the in-country staff are received in gratitude. There is much more to the conversation, but thought I would share a bit of the light that I get to see every day in my day-to-day work. said...

Every time when somebody enter in a casino his mission is today win more and more money in a short time.

JDB said...

Aaron & Family, thanks for the double response. Couple of follow up questions: 1) Do you think that part of the problem is that "missions" has been too broadly defined? This could lead us to think we're doing more for the furtherance of the gospel than we are. It could be that a better name for many stmts would be "Christian Adventure Travel" (stole that from a friend). 2)Have you read "Revolution in World Missions", he doesn't stop with the ineffectiveness of stmts he challenges the effectiveness of some long-term mission programs. Interesting and compelling book.

Thanks again for the conversation. It's helpful in sorting things out and thinking things through. For the record, I do think that many "stmts" lack effectiveness, clear biblical purpose and stewardship, but I think that has to do more with a lack of education/understanding with what the mission is.

...regarding prayer-walking, I had similar thoughts to you on this one for a while, and still don't really like the term. What changed my mind on it was seeing that the Spirit moves through prayer and often brings immediate opportunity. I can pray differently for a neighborhood if I'm standing in it than if I'm in my living room because I can pray for the opportunity to share the gospel that I'll have when someone interacts with me, or when I go into a store, etc.

Thanks again,


Anonymous said...

This is all an interesting perspective, and I wonder if it's one that the author would be in a place to share if she had not spend those years going on mission trips with her church first.

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