Confessions of a Short-Term Missions Skeptic

A Mission is a Movement from National Community Church on Vimeo.

I confess I had no intention of going on a mission trip this year. In fact, I was pretty determined to avoid the whole thing.


I highly recommend Brian Fikkert’s workshop “Helping without Hurting” and the Chalmers Center for Economic Development.

Last year I read “When Helping Hurts” and it shifted my whole mindset about approaching poverty and missions work. Included in the book was a section on short term missions (STMs). The argument was that STMs all too often do more harm than good. In this post, I wanted to share about some of the negative myths I believed about short-term missions, and share why I decided to be part of my church’s trip to Phoenix and LA as we learn how to combat human trafficking.

I thought missions work was an all-or-nothing mentality. My picture of a missionary was someone who was making a huge commitment to live overseas. It always sounded very dramatic and self-sacrificial to me. While that’s not a bad thing, I think I also used that definition excuse myself from being part of the process. But I didn’t need to. As it turns out, everyone has a role to play in missions.  STMs can be a way to test the waters, or learn about a new issues that you can then learn more about back at home.

the-good-samaritan-2-b1297I thought STMs would be seen as a “vacation” or a tourist destination. Often, STMs are great for gaining initial awareness of an issue or helping put feet to the suffering in this world. But STMs can — and should — act as a catalyst for further, more concrete action. Our church now has small groups and ministries focused on AIDS and homelessness and human trafficking because of church members who participated in STMs to learn more about the issue. Sometimes, it takes a change of place and pace to gain a new perspectives. STMS can do that. The other day my friend Rachelle shared this fantastic quote from Martin Luther King, Jr:

On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

I thought human trafficking was just another “hot” issue, rather than something to address and abolish. In an ideal world, we should have more long-term missionaries than short-term. So yes, missions work should be sustainable. In fact, Justice Conference founder Ken Wytsma asks a good question in this video: “If social justice is a fad, will it fade away?”

As for trafficking, it may be trendy to talk about right now, but the truth is that is has been going on since the dawn of time. Right now there are more the 27 millions slaves in the world — many of them living in the “Land of the Free.” If that isn’t injustice, I don’t know what is. Trafficking and exploitation take many forms, but it doesn’t change the fact that we need stronger laws, more organizing at the state level, and better awareness of where our food and clothing comes from. Wytsma admits that trafficking may run its course as a “new” issue, but that justice is a cultural reality and value. Because of globalization, different issues around the world have been brought to our front door and our computer screens. “Justice [as a whole] is a deeper thing than say a particular cause [human trafficking],” Wytsma says.  “It is a cultural reality that will be here for awhile, and has a high chance of being passed on.”

It’s uncomfortable to ask people for money. But I’ve learned that missions isn’t really about asking people for money; it’s about inviting people to participate in the missions movement. Some people may not have the time to give to missions, but they can support those who go. God can also use opportunities to bring more people into his greater mission. 
So, as it turns out, I had the wrong idea about STMs. Everyone has a role within missions. They are a catalyst for change. They bring people together for a greater purpose.  As for my upcoming trip to Phoenix and Las Vegas, I’m excited about several things:
  • Partnering with a local church (in this case, the True ID ministry connected to Central Christian Church in Vegas)
  • Acting as “learners” on trafficking issues, and then applying what we learned to address the issue in Washington, D.C.
Check back here over the next month as I blog about my first mission trip with National Community Church to combat human trafficking and find out how you can help. Check out last week’s post “The Slave Next Door.”

About Meg Biallas

Thoughts From A DC Intern Turned DCist. A twenty-something goes beyond traditional tourism to achieve Washingtonian authenticity.
This entry was posted in Beyond DC, Non Profit and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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