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Short-Term Missions Trips: Point and Counter-Point

Missions Must be Done for the Right Reasons:

Father Richard Rohr, a prominent Christian spiritual teacher, talks about two main tasks in life. The first necessary task is identity development or ego-building. This is mostly focused early in life as we build the boat that we will journey in, so to speak.

The second essential task in life comes when we stop most of the boat building and more deeply clarify our true purpose on earth, our destination, the home port we are sailing toward.

When short-term missions are shallow-rooted in the ego-building task they can indeed be harmful. Self-centered missions are far more about the goer and the desire to be known as an adventuresome and servant-hearted person by peers. A young man goes on a mission trip because he wants to live a great story. He doesn’t want to live an unremarkable or weak life.

Catering to the boat builder in us all, we too often design mission trips for convenience. We fail or refuse to train and prepare. We make the trips short enough–average is about 8 days–and insulated enough to minimize any awkwardness. We let petty drama on the team overshadow the true work to be done. We go with a false sense of ourselves.

We may, insecurely, think too highly of ourselves, that we are going to set the ‘foreigners’ straight–wrong. Or, we fall into the trap of thinking too little of our capacity to share, bless, and learn. We don’t believe that we really could do anything meaningful at all–wrong again.

College is mostly a first task time of life. I get that–and it’s not bad. Yet LoveWorks is designed to foreshadow the second task. Our teams train and prepare for months. The trip is almost three times longer than average. We drill it into our heads that this is a journey of surrendering self-will to the team and to the host.

We must rely on others for invitation, guidance, hospitality, purpose, and constancy. Our short-term visit would be utter foolishness if they weren’t there long term as agents of the Gospel. We expect to be told what to eat, when to sleep and rise, and we force ourselves to put down our electronic screens.

LoveWorks demands equal parts respect, flexibility, and discipline. We don’t ‘do missions’ perfectly, but shame on us if we ever stop believing that we can humbly improve, mainly by listening to our hosts’ feedback.

People are going to travel–for leisure, for work, for ministry service. We won’t stop people from traveling, nor should we. But I am passionate that we travel this life well. How do we listen to God as we move about? God may teach us some brutal and beautiful truths about ourselves.

Father Rohr also teaches that first taskers tend to see things in stark dualistic terms. It’s either all good or it’s all bad. People moving into the second task or a more anchored-self tend to see the world in its nuance and complexity.

Usually it is only a crisis of helplessness that can move us from the first task to the second. My prayer is that, in a significant way, each mission trip can be that crisis that pushes us more deeply into God’s caring arms. May we never take blessed community for granted.

Brian Becker is the director of international ministries at PLNU.

Short-Term Mission Trips Make A Difference:

If you’re a student here at PLNU, you’ve heard of mission trips. In fact, many of you have probably gone on at least one during your lifetime, whether that’s overseas, down in Mexico, or even within your own city.

There’s a continual debate about whether or not short-term mission trips—typically no longer than a month—do any good. The question is, are these short-term mission trips helpful? The short answer is yes.

If one is to say short-term mission trips are not helpful, there are essentially three alternatives. First, go on a long-term mission trip–which may not be possible: some may have health issues, family issues, not enough financial resources, etc. Second, pray for our missionaries and send money to those who do go on long-term mission trips. Or third, do not go on short-term mission trips at all.

But short-term mission trips can be extremely beneficial—not only to those that are served, but to the people who serve, as well.

Many short missions include a large amount of work being done in a limited amount of time—this includes building houses, teaching classes at impoverished schools, working at orphanages, or serving meals. Even if it is only two weeks, those two weeks still build two to three new homes–if not more–teach children something new that could help them tremendously in the future, and feed a couple dozen hungry stomachs.

Many people have heard the popular starfish story, where an old man saw a little girl tossing beached starfish into the sea. The beach went on for miles with millions and millions of starfish. The old man asked the little girl, “How can your effort make any difference?” and the girl threw a starfish in the ocean and said, “It makes a difference to that one!” Short-term mission trips are a lot like the starfish story: it’s true, you can’t make a difference to everyone that needs it—but you can definitely have a lasting impact on a good few.

Short-term mission trips can also be good to those who serve. If you’ve talked to someone who’s gone on a mission trip before, you may have heard the popular saying: “I expected to serve, but received more than I gave.” In other words, it will contribute to your spiritual growth!

Many people come out of short-term missions with a new understanding of God and His people. Short-term missions not only expand one’s perspective and open one’s mind to a new culture and experience, but many people who go to serve encounter God’s heart and see Him at work. It’s a chance to see Christianity in its purest form, where love is cherished over all.

Galatians 5:13b says, “Serve one another humbly in love.” With that being said, short-term mission trips are a great opportunity to serve and be served in return.

Julia Farney is a senior majoring in psychology.


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