Are Short Term Mission Trips Effective?

According to Nik Ripken, some Christians mistakenly believe that short term mission trips can replace being involved in the local church and evangelizing in their own communities. He argues that this approach is misguided. It does not address the ongoing need for evangelism and discipleship in one’s local context.

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When Helping Hurts in Short Term Missions

Short term missions can have a negative impact on vulnerable communities, such as orphans. When volunteers come into a community for a short period, they may offer love and support. However, they often do not have a long-term commitment to building relationships and supporting the community over time. This can lead to a sense of abandonment and mistrust when the volunteers leave:

We have modeled and taught orphans that you cannot trust love for more than two weeks at a time. They’re now 18 or 20 years of age. Some of the most hardened, street-wise, hard-hearted adults were children that church people loved with all our hearts. We sacrificed to get there. We told them we love them, that we will never forget them, and we will be back. And we don’t ever come back. We don’t contact them, and we don’t send letters back. After they experience that and age out of the orphanage, they’re some of the hardest kids on earth.

Furthermore, these volunteers may unintentionally model behavior that is not sustainable or appropriate for the community. They may provide temporary solutions instead of long-term solutions. This can create dependency and perpetuate the cycle of poverty or other issues that the community is facing.

It is important for volunteers and mission organizations to consider the long-term impact of their actions. Missionaries must work alongside the community to provide sustainable solutions. This may involve building long-term relationships, partnering with local organizations, and empowering the community to take ownership of their own development.

Witness in Your Own Jerusalem

Nik Ripken shares his experience of calling churches to thank them for sending volunteers who served him and his wife for over two years. He often discovered that these volunteers were not regular attendees or contributors in their own churches. He highlights the need for Christians to serve and be a witness in their own “Jerusalem,” and not just in foreign mission fields or short-term mission trips:

When someone comes to us and serves us for over two years… I’ll just call the church and thank the pastor for sending us the nurse, relief worker, or food distributor. Oftentimes that pastor will say to us, “Nik, I am so thankful that they served you so well. I don’t know if I would recognize them if they walked in the church door. I know who you’re talking about, but I know they don’t attend regularly, and I know that they are not a regular contributor to the life of the church financially. As far as I can tell, being a witness across the street in their own Jerusalem is something they have yet to work up to.”

Through Ripken’s example, we see the importance of being actively involved in our own churches, families, and communities. Serving in our local contexts allows us to build lasting relationships, share the gospel with those around us, and make a meaningful impact.

Ripken emphasizes the importance of being involved in the local church and building relationships with people in one’s own community. He believes that evangelism should be a lifestyle and not just a one-time event or a short term mission trip. While short term mission trips can be valuable experiences, they should be seen as a supplement to local evangelism efforts, not a replacement for them.

Avoid Being a “Missionary Tourist”

A common issue with short term mission trips is the influx of volunteers that can overwhelm and inundate communities. This happens particularly in urban areas. While volunteers may have good intentions, their presence can sometimes create more harm than good. Missionaries must align their work with long-term strategies and community needs:

From youth and high school all the way to retirees, these people are doing great jobs. But major cities are inundated with volunteers. Many make every effort to fit in with long-term strategies, while some unfortunately present that stereotype of the missionary tourist.

The “missionary tourist” stereotype can be damaging and perpetuate negative stereotypes about missionaries and their intentions. This can further hinder effective evangelism and community development efforts by creating a sense of mistrust and suspicion among local residents.

While short term mission trips can be valuable experiences, it is important to approach them with a mindset of humility and a willingness to learn from local communities. Volunteers should seek to build relationships with local leaders and work together to identify community needs and develop long-term solutions that empower local residents to take ownership of their own development.

Ultimately, short term mission trips should be viewed as a supplement to long-term, sustainable efforts to build relationships and support communities in their growth and development. By working together with local leaders and residents, volunteers can have a meaningful impact that goes beyond just a few weeks or months of service.