The Value of Short-Term Mission Teams
In ministry, there is a constant struggle between raising funds and using volunteers. Well-intentioned individuals fly down for a week to pour their heart into a ministry they barely know. Tens of thousands of dollars are spent on airfare, lodging, and local transportation. Many times, it is little more than poverty tourism. I’m regularly asked if it wouldn’t be more beneficial for people to just send the funds they would spend coming so I could hire local help. The simple answer is, “Yes,” but the reality is most people wouldn’t give the money, if we are honest. Short-term teams rush in and rush out of our lives as career missionaries, many times never looking back or never being truly impacted themselves. However, there are moments of tremendous blessing.
The best way to express what short-term teams do is by sharing a story. Engadi Ministries works in one of the most
dangerous slums in Guatemala. In 2006 we decided to build a soccer facility on a local sandlot. It wasn’t anything real fancy, just some stadium seating along a mud slope up one side of the field. A team from Anderson University was here laying concrete blocks and painting Bible verses on a wall at one end of field. A guy that had had a beer or twelve wandered up and started eyeing the young ladies as they painted the verses. I approached him and said, “Hi.” He replied, “Why?” It caught me off guard, because I wasn’t expecting that response. Again I said, “Hi”. He again said, “Why?”, but this time gestured toward the team working on the stadium. “Why are they here?” I briefly explained how they had raised their funds to come down paying for their airfare, lodging, meals, etc. all because of the Love Christ had placed in their heart for Guatemala. Jorge accepted the Lord that day and asked me to go pray for his house. He said, “The shadows don’t let me sleep.” I invited AU’s Director of Campus Ministry, Greg Allgood, to go help me cast out demons. Something neither of us had ever done. Two days later I was supervising the work and this guy walked up to me and sad, “Hi.” I greeted him politely and went on with what I as doing. He just stood there staring at me with a goofy grin on his face. I said, “Can I help you?” “It’s me,” he replied, “Jorge.” God had changed him to the point that, in two days, I couldn’t recognize him. Because a team came to Guatemala to build a soccer stadium one man’s life was touched by God. Jorge led his family to Christ. They brought 4 other families to Church and in the end an entire section of the neighborhood was impacted. The short-term team was oblivious to most of this.
The debate over going or just sending money will go on forever. There is a need for both. My good friend, Preston Hester, was a faithful supporter of all our work since 1999 until he went on to be with the Lord. He, however, never came to Guatemala to see what we were doing. I asked him to please come to the dedication of the soccer stadium. Preston simply said, “I know you and trust you. I would rather give you what I would spend going than go.” In his case, he did. I also think about Dr Mike Gilbreath, a Veterinarian, that came on a short-term team. At the end of the week Mike said to me, “I’m not ever coming back.” I would rather send you the funds.” He, too, kept his word and became one of our strongest supporters. Ellie and James Carr came on a short-term trip as college students and years later have returned with their daughter to help out for the long haul. Even people like Jared Vaughn that haven’t been back to Guatemala in a long time, but their time here helped inspire him to go as a career missionary to Asia.
People need to see the need. A friend of mine always says, “How can your heart weep for that which your eyes have not seen?” There must be a measure of coming and doing, but it needs to be balanced, purposeful, and done right. Short-term teams come to work alongside those on the field permanently, not to give them more work. Large groups can advance a particular labor intensive job quickly. Simply, the team’s presence lets the locals know someone cares. Teachers come and train people with new skills and talents. Medical teams come to provide a service many couldn’t afford. Finally, they encourage those of us here on the field long-term.
We look forward to seeing you on a short-term team soon. As I always pray, “May your eyes, your ears and your heart be open to sense what God is telling YOU to do.”
Laboring Together for the Poor,
Executive Director & Founder
Engadi Ministries, Intl.
This article addresses the very topic I was discussing with my 26 year old son. His younger brother, 17, is in the process of raising support for a short term mission trip. My older son’s question as to why we were sending out support letters led to a discussion about the purpose of short term missions, the financial support of these trips, and who actually benefits.This article fills the missing voice that was absent from our conversation—that of the missionary hosting the teams. We never came to any definitive conclusions, but I did reiterate a response given by our children’s ministries director when asked why our church puts on a day camp every summer. A member of our church was questioning why we held a day camp every summer when it seemed that it was just being attended by church kids in the neighborhood whose parents were looking for inexpensive childcare and hopping from one camp to the next all summer long.The camp director pointed out that the purpose of our day camp was multi faceted….1) the primary focus was evangelism, sharing the life changing gospel message with the unchurched, 2) to provide an opportunity for those kids who already know Christ as Savior to grow and mature in their understanding of God, 3) to train teenagers and young adults who will be leaders at the camp and give them an opportunity to serve. It helped me to remember that God’s plan is so much bigger than the part we can see. It was about five years ago that my daughter traveled to Guatemala with her soccer team from NNU to help Engadi Ministries on a short term mission trip. The benefits of that trip and other short term mission trips may only be known to God. To God be the glory.
Amen, Sheila. Thank you so much for sharing. This is such a complex and multifaceted issue, as you mentioned. Only God truly knows the far-reaching effects of mission trips, church camps, evangelistic events, etc. We may view them as activities planned by man, but they truly can be directed by God when they they have the right purpose and focus. It is those events, activities, and trips that have, by far, the most significant, radical, and amazing reach that can scarcely be seen by those at the center. May God have the glory for, and be at the center of, all we do.
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!