Short-tem Missions?

I read this (and the actual study it is based on, linked at the end of the article)the other day and it has me thinking. I suggest reading it, but the general idea is they are questioning the value of short term missions. First let me say, sure, mission trips that are not done well are not going to be beneficial, and often harmful, but I do think there is a way to do mission trips that can be helpful. Also, let me be upfront about my bias, I have been on several mission trips and they have been VERY formative for me.

I think my biggest problem with this study is how they define "making a difference." They put a heavy emphasis on quantitative things, specifically giving of money. I understand this is easier to measure, but I don't think whether one is giving more money is particularly a good measure of whether or not one has made a difference. There are also just to many variables within the giving of money to say why people did or didn't give more money. Maybe they don't have the resources to give more money. Maybe they are giving to other groups (the study only looked at church and the mission org.). Also when they looked at giving to their local church, they only looked at the church total, so maybe they really were giving more and others were just giving less.

And why put more emphasis on money than other more qualitative things? They asked about things like poverty and global consciousness. Most of the respondents said that these things had increased. Isn't this making a difference? Isn't Christianity more about changed lives and perspective (renewing of your mind) than numbers?

Also, there was no real control group. They didn't compare how people who didn't go on short-term missions trips changed in the 3 year period of time. Maybe trips encourage people to have a more consistent prayer life or giving record and people who don't go on trips drop off in those areas.

They also talked to the groups that received the short-term mission groups. They did provide any numbers for what they claim from talking to this group which troubles me. They claim that the people they talked to aren't used to surveys so they only received "quantitative" answers. But you can still categorize these answers so that you can tell if there is any real statistical difference between this group and the control group.

They also talk about how while most of those surveyed said that the relationships were an important part of the trip, they didn't keep in contact after the trip. I think this is just realistic. I mean I have been to lots of places and had lots of life changing interaction with people, but have kept in contact with very few of them. I'm just bad at that and throw in a third world country with little internet access, and I'm even worse! Just because you don't keep in contact with people, doesn't mean that the relationships weren't important!

So maybe the problem isn't that short term mission trips aren't making a difference, it is in our expectations of what kind of difference the trip is supposed to make. No, going on a trip doesn't mean that everyone is going to end up called to missions. It doesn't mean that everyone is going to all of a sudden give away all of their money to the poor. It doesn't mean that people in other countries are all of a sudden going to become Christians. But they can still make a difference. Mission trips give us a little tiny taste of what missions are like, and for some people it will be the vehicle that God uses to call them into full-time missions (it was for me). They can open our eyes to the fact that there are others out side our comfort zone, to the idea that we have brothers and sisters in all kinds of places. It opens our eyes to the real need of people around the world. These are all making a difference, just harder to measure.

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