Although Short-Term Missions (STM) has gained tremendous popularity over the last decade, it has also been criticized a great deal. Many have claimed that STM does little to aid in furthering the Gospel and indeed, that it might actually hinder it! It is not uncommon to hear career missionaries become very frustrated with STM and the wealth of local church resources poured into it, as opposed to investing in long-term mission work. Additionally, many missionaries claim that STM teams can often hurt (unintentionally) long-term progress of mission by causing offense through their ignorance of local customs or using mission strategies that are not appropriate to the culture. Generally, the unfortunate consensus in recent years seems to be that STM is a waste of time and resources when it comes to missions.
While we do admit that there have been many mistakes made by even the most well-intentioned STM teams, we at Pioneers inAsia believe that STM can be redeemed! Our goal is to continually learn and grow in our capacity to run STM teams that are beneficial to both long-term missionaries and to the local culture.
Through years of collective involvement both hosting and leading various STM teams, here are the top three strategic benefits we have found of STM:
1. STM allows the average Christian to experience a taste of life on the mission field and personally witness global needs in our world.
Many Christians who have never had a cross-cultural missions experience can be prone to misunderstanding global social needs (such as poverty, human trafficking, etc). The media can overhype (or downplay) the problems in other cultures, and without firsthand witness, it is easy to “believe everything you read” about them. Short-term trips are also beneficial specifically for believers to see the reality of life in unreached regions (that many people in the world do not have access to the Gospel the way that we have) and the stark contrast of another worldview to their own. Jesus’ command to “make disciples of all nations” might fall flat for those who have never witnessed the need for the Gospel amongst people with little to no access to it. Our staff at Pioneers inAsia have seen time and again the eyes of believers on short-term trips be opened to the realities of life in other nations and come away with a transformed perspective. If approached with a spirit of teachability and humility, STM participants can experience a powerful paradigm shift about God’s work among the nations and their role in it.
2. STM offers trip participants a unique chance to grow in their relationship with God through developing humility, a compassionate heart and an understanding of the importance of prayer.
Having led and participated in numerous STM trips, I have personally witnessed incredible personal and spiritual growth among believers of all ages who have participated in STM’s. Such experiences have a profound way of getting people “out of their comfort zone” -- small attempts at language and culture acquisition, stepping out in a new realm of ministry (working with children, physical labour or maybe even preaching!) and living a very simple lifestyle (perhaps with no showers or toilets!). When these experiences are debriefed well, valuable connections can be made that have an effect on the beliefs and lifestyle choices participants make in the future (i.e. taking more risks to share their faith, reducing materialism, etc). Indeed, I can trace major character growth in my own life to lessons I learned through my experience in STM’s prior to working as a career missionary.
STM leaders do well to train participants (before, during and after short-term trips) to “go as learners” into the host nation and humbly ask God for “eyes to see” what He wants them to learn from the culture, the local people and the long-term missionaries there. Sadly, many STM participants can enter a culture with an unintentional arrogance about their role in helping those nationals who live there. It is a powerful reminder for STM participants to look for the ways that God is already at work among the local people and the uniquely beautiful aspects of His character He has placed into those people. STM leaders maintaining a strong focus on prayer throughout the trip (not necessarily as a means to an end, but even as ministry itself) can help participants continually focus on asking God to keep their hearts humble and compassionate towards others.
3. STM can be a powerful catalyst for raising up long-term missionaries, volunteers ministering among UPGs locally (“missions next door”) or financial givers.
Perhaps the greatest ideal outcome of STM is to catalyze believers into a genuine and committed investment into Great Commission work. This does not necessarily mean that all STM participants should become long-term missionaries, but that each should be open to considering that possibility. I went into my first mission trip thinking I was definitely NOT “long-term missionary” material, yet after several STM experiences, I could not resist God’s call to move into long-term work. For others, their investment into missions might not be on the foreign field, but ministering amongst UPG’s living in Singapore (there are many unreached communities among us!). Still others feel compelled after a STM experience to steward their finances in such a way to significantly bless individual missionaries or mission agencies. Each of these methods of engagement in the Great Commission is needed! Unfortunately, many believers might not even consider the importance of these without having had a cross-cultural STM experience. Again, if an STM leader continually emphasizes the need for participants to pray through the specific role that God has for them in the Great Commission, that idea is likely to remain something that participants continually pray into and invest in years after their short-term experience.
These are just a few of the positive experiences we see coming from STM’s. Indeed, there are many more benefits and every STM participant has their own unique story of the way God has used the experience to impact their lives. Be on the lookout for Part Two of this blog where we will outline specific methods leaders can use to make the most of short-term trips!
Are you interested in participating in a short-term vision trip with Pioneers inAsia? We have several trips planned for October and November. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information!
Photo courtesy of Commnet Media