With a predominantly Christian identifying campus, missions is not a new concept for most. We saw our churches send out missionaries, watched our youth groups hold fundraisers to send them on trips, and have heard the stories once they came back about how transformational those experiences were.
World Christian Fellowship, a group affiliated with Student Ministries, held a panel discussion on Thursday to unravel some potential issues with short-term missions. Panelists provided clarity in other areas of missions, as well, in honor of Missions Awareness Month.
Invited to speak at this panel were Aaron Faro with AROMA, Anna Ruby with Frontiers USA, Paul Brosey with Friends in Action, Alex McGregor with Assemblies of God World Missions and Don and Myrna Hines with China Outreach Ministries.
When asked to define a short-term missions trip, there were varying perspectives. Hines stated, “it was a surprise to me as I began to explore missions…the technical description for most agencies of short-term [missions] is two years.” Others expressed how short-term can mean from two weeks to six months, even though the standard for most agencies is two years.
“But really, what we’ve found,” McGregor answers, “With our missionaries, they don’t actually become prime effective until after twelve years on the field, because you have to get to the point where you can converse in the language of the country, and the country actually needs to see you come back repeatedly to where they trust you…but, of course, there is a place for short term.”
McGregor feels that after 22 years in missions, “I think as a whole, on a large short-term missions probably aren’t helping, they’re hurting, as the big picture.” This is mainly due to the unrealistic expectations of those going on short-term mission trips. “This unrealistic expectation from us North Americans that somehow in two weeks, not speaking the language, going and eating [their food] was going to ‘save a country.’” He goes on to further say that he would rather people go into a country with the goal of being a good example of Christ than to have this toxic mindset of unrealistic “saving.” While it may not seem ambitious, at least it doesn’t hurt anyone in the process.” McGregor explained it’s not usually the short-term mission itself that does the harm to the community, but rather the mindset of those going, without fully realizing their goals and their role.
Ruby discussed that “in some cases, the trip is more about…the short-term [volunteer], giving access to seeing a different culture [and] experiencing a different worldview…which will expand your love for them and your compassion for them, and that in itself is a good goal, but it’s a different goal. And so, you don’t necessarily have to have a long-term impact.”
Brosey somewhat echoed this sentiment for the volunteer when he said, “I tell our team members that are going that you will not come back the same person. If you have come back the same person, I have not done my job.”
Senior English major Kelly Webber attended the event and felt differently about these ideas. She said, “What rubbed me the wrong way was how a lot of the conversation was about the volunteer’s experience. It’s not about that. It should be about how the community is impacted.”
Overall, the panel gave a lot of insight into both long-term and short-term missions and the importance of partnership with long-term missionaries and organizations. Webber, who has gone on several short-term mission trips with the Agape Center, emphasized, “Our job [in missions] should be long-term development and building community,” and being prepared and educated before going is crucial for any impact.
Faro echoed a similar sentiment when he said, “Something that’s always on my heart is just preparedness for those who are going. I think there are lots of different ways you need to be prepared, even if you’re going for a short amount of time.”
Webber expounded some of these ways that she’s learned through her experiences with short-term missions, specifically with Messiah College. She said, “I think going in, being educated is really important,” and not just in the new culture you’ll be experiencing, but also in missions itself. Some books she recommended are Walking with the Poor by Bryant Myers and When Helping Hurts by Fikkert and Corbett.
Whether you feel led to serve on short-term or long-term missions, panelists agreed, it is important to keep the conversation going and delve into the question of how the goals of this trip are actually helping the community.