A missionary rants on short-term missions

I have a love-hate relationship with short-term missions. My wife’s family was converted through a campaign which utilized college students on a short trip. I came to know Argentina and missions on a similar trip. I’ve seen groups effectively reach out in limited efforts.

I’ve also seen people go to other countries to do what they never do at home. I’ve seen people spend thousands to deliver hundreds of dollars of relief. I’ve heard nationals talk about “mission” groups that insisted working in the areas that would give them the best photo ops. (“They want to ride canoes and wear feathers on their heads”)

Apparently I’m not the only one with mixed feelings. On the site “Jamie the very worst missionary,” the author stirred up quite a lot of comments by sharing her feelings. She started with a column called “Are we calling this a win-win?” which addressed so-called poverty tourism. She eventually had to shut of comments on that post because of the heat generated.

Later she looked at the four principal defenses given for short term missions and began analyzing those defenses. She’s addressed the first one (Sorry poor people, it’s not about you), the second one (Mmm… no, it’s not “all good”) and the third (Using your poor kid to teach my rich kid a lesson).

It’s interesting stuff. I hope you’ll take the time to read it. I may spend some time analyzing her arguments and others on this issue. Does Jamie have any valid points? Should we just accept that good is being done and leave it at that? Or is it time we took a hard look at short-term missions?

5 thoughts on “A missionary rants on short-term missions

  1. Wes

    Some of the language in those posts you mentioned concerns me. If we are going to try to convert others, we should clean up our own lives and language first.

    For the same reason, I do not believe anyone should do mission work with the idea of changing their own lives. Even though the experience should change the life of the worker for the better, any worker must first remove the beam from their own eye before trying to remove the mote from their brother’s eye.

    Another concern is the one expressed by your comment, “I’ve also seen people go to other countries to do what they never do at home.”

    It has been my belief for most of my life that we are jumping over Jerusalem, and Samaria to go to the uttermost part of the earth. No, I am not against worldwide mission work, but we have used it as an excuse for not doing the work at home. When I suggested, some local work at congregation I served several years ago, one man told me that it was a waste of money. He said, we should send the money to India because it would be more cost effective. This may not be an exact quote, but it is close.

    He said “Pay the preacher, let him do what he can then send the rest where it will do the most good. You’ve got to look at the bottom line. It costs $10 to convert one person in India, but it costs thousands to convert one in the United States.”

    The problem was that he wanted to send a couple of hundred dollars to India, and let the preacher do the work at home. That would mean that he had fulfilled his obligation to teach all nations.

    Finally, I found it interesting that the situation Jamie described in Costa Rica is the same situation that exists in Alabama except for a few big city churches with several rich members. I expected her “rant” to be about children starving to death or some such. Instead, I saw a description of conditions both in and out of the church in the small town where I preach. The following is NOT a cry for aid. Most of the people would be offended if anyone believed that with the Lord’s help they are not able to care for their own.

    Almost, everyone mows their own lawn. The kids sleep two, three or more to a bedroom. Most families require two incomes to survive. Of course, that survival also includes assisting those around them who can’t find jobs at all. At least some of the children seldom see a new set of clothes. They wear second hand and hand me downs. These people for the most part do not see themselves as underprivileged or victims of injustice. They are working to improve their lot and help those around them. In fact, everyone I know is thankful for the blessings they have.


  2. Tim Archer Post author


    I don’t know much about the woman who writes this blog. When I was first sent there, I thought it was a joke, partly because of the coarseness of this woman’s writing.

    As for the description, she is attempting satire, describing what would happen if she brought a group from another country to visit a neighborhood in the U.S. So if it sounds like your neighborhood, she did a good job.

    As for the “let the preacher do it” attitude, we were just discussing that this morning in our office. One of the men had been called over by a fellow elder because someone (an oriental student) wanted to know the basics of Christianity. My coworker was glad to teach them, but disappointed that his fellow elder hadn’t sought to do it himself.

    Grace and peace,

  3. K. Rex Butts

    Is short term mission a good or bad thing? I haven’t read the blog you linked to but my response as one who has been on two short-term mission trips to Brazil, it all depends on the motives to the person(s) going on the short-term mission trip. But to be fair, shouldn’t we be asking the “motives” question about long-term mission work as to whether a particular long-term mission work is a good or bad thing?

    Grace and Peace,


  4. Tim Archer Post author


    I’m not sure that it is all about motives. Certainly that makes a huge difference. But surely we’ve seen in almost all areas of life that even people with good motives can do things that end up being harmful. Principles and procedures matter as well. Some of the worst damage done in missions, for example, has been by generous, good-hearted people using their money in ways that damaged the local churches they were seeking to help.

    As for long-term missions, you’re right as well; we also need to look at what’s going on with them, from motivation to implementation.

    Grace and peace,

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