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Send Me Your Short-Term Missionaries

By Mike Pettengill, Mar 1, 2013

Since the summer of 2008 our missions team in Honduras has hosted 500 short-term missionaries comprising 50 teams. Many people ask, “Wouldn’t it be better if all those people sent you money instead of wasting their resources and your time?”

Our answer is an emphatic NO. Money cannot hug a fatherless child or fellowship with Christian brothers. Money cannot play soccer with drug dealers or wipe the tears from a hungry child. As Christians we are called to serve the poor, sick, widows, and orphans. Money can buy food for the poor and build houses for the homeless, but just as Christ touched the leper (Matthew 8:3), the poor also desire the touch of a loving and merciful hand.

Increasingly church leadership and laypeople are questioning the wisdom of sending short-term missions teams. Some argue that short-term missions causes more harm than good. Objections include increased dependency, lack of compassion for local cultures, incorrect motivation, circumvention of existing ministries, and excess costs.

As an experienced host of short-term missions teams I will be the first to admit there can be problems when hosting teams. However, those problems can be reduced if not eliminated with communication and altered attitudes, and the benefits to both the hosts and the short-term teams are numerous.

Before You Go
To the churches and short-term missionaries: Churches must stress that participants are going to assist and serve the host ministry. They are to provide love, fellowship, and resources to people who minister and live in that community. Shortterm missionaries must leave their expectations and cultural biases at the airport and trust the indigenous leaders or longterm missionaries.

To the long-term missionaries: Hosts must establish guidelines before the short-term teams leave home, and enforce guidelines while they are on the field. The hosts must protect their ministry and advance God’s plan for their calling. If a short-term missionary did something to harm a ministry, it occurred because the hosts let it happen.

The Bounty of Short-Term Missions
As a former leader in my home church and a current international missionary, I see short-term missions as beneficial to both the home church and the receiving ministry. Here are a few reasons:

• Joining a global fellowship. Christianity unites people regardless of age, race, gender, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status. Frequently we tarnish Christianity by viewing it through our cultural biases. Short-term missions allows those serving and those being served to see that they have brothers throughout the globe. Philip Yancey said, “I support short-term missions. Despite their drawbacks, such trips provide two distinct cultures a taste of the harmony that exists between members of the body of Christ.”

• Giving and receiving love. I often tell short-term missionaries that I don’t just need people to come to Honduras who have construction or language skills. I would welcome a team that is willing to sit on a soccer field and hug a child for a week. We work in a culture where few homes have a father, and usually mom is off working. The kids in our community don’t know unconditional love and seldom interact with adults. You can send a check, but I’d rather you brought a willingness to hug a skinny, dirty, snot-nosed kid.

• Expanding missions in our home churches. Missions is at the heart of Christianity. Unfortunately, it is undervalued in our Western churches. Short-term missions can increase the understanding of the importance of missions in the sending church. If your church sends a short-term team it is reasonable to think your congregants are thinking and praying more intently about their role in the Great Commission.

• Increasing prayer and giving in Christ’s name. If your church sends 10 people on a short-term missions trip, the assumption is that each of those missionaries asked 10 others to pray for them and asked 10 others to write checks supporting the trip. Realistically, your trip results in 100 additional people praying in the name of Christ for the advancement of God’s kingdom, and 100 people giving for the glory of God.

• Increasing participation in long-term missions. Our missions team in Honduras consists of nine full-time, adult missionaries. Each of them got their first taste of missions through a shortterm experience. Not every short-term missionary is called to long-term service. But increased exposure to missions results in increased prayer and financial support for missionaries.

Let’s Go
The Apostle Paul was a long-term missionary who advanced Christianity through short-term missions. It is widely accepted that Paul seldom stayed longer than a few months or even weeks in a single location. What about Jonah, Jesus, the 12, the 70? We can say short-term missions principles were used throughout the Bible to expand the early Church.

When team members serve with a Christ-centered, servant’s heart, short-term missions can be used to aid the needy, educate fellow believers, and expand God’s kingdom in all corners of the globe. Short-term missions has played and will continue to play a vital role in the advancement of Christianity.

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Pray today for Puerta de Esperanza (Door of Hope), which ministers to the needs of impoverished and vulnerable single mothers in La Ceiba, Honduras.

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