Coming Alongside: Long-Term Impact in Short Term Missions
What image comes to mind when you think of a short-term mission trip? There’s probably a particular image that pops into your mind when you hear that phrase. Now, what image comes to mind when you think of long-term missions or development work? How does it compare to the first image?
The two images you came up with are most likely very different each other. So what does this mean for the impact of short term missions?
There’s no question that criticism for short term missions has risen in recent years. Books like When Helping Hurts point to the potential damage that wealthy Western churches can bring if they do not approach short term missions carefully and thoughtfully. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a place for short term trips. In fact, mission teams are an integral part of the work that we do here in Guatemala.
Getting to the positive, long-term impact of short term missions means first addressing the potential for a negative impact. A friend of mine here in Guatemala has a great post on Relevant about the “things no one tells you” before you go on a mission trip. Through her post and my own experience, I’ve realized that there are a few things in particular to watch out for when it comes to short-term mission trips:
Check Your Attitude: If you are coming to serve in Guatemala with an attitude of rich vs. poor, you are probably doing it wrong. Poverty is not always material, and riches are not always physical. Michelle hits on this by saying that, “We all have to acknowledge our own brokenness and deep need for God before we can expect to serve others.”
Get to Know the Context: Before you go, spend some time getting to know where you’re going. What’s the history? What are the needs? Your host organization (like us!) can be a great resource for this as your team gets ready to go.
Don’t Avoid Relationship: Like Michelle says, “Sometimes people in developing countries think everyone in the U.S. is rich, white and happy.” In many cases, the reverse is true too: sometimes people in the U.S. think everyone in developing countries are needy and poor-spirited. Neither of those attitudes are right, and the only way to overcome the preconceived notion is by building relationships.
We’ve had three mission teams join us here in Huehue over the past couple of months, and have a couple more coming in April! We are very grateful for the help and support these groups have brought. It also got us talking about how short term missions can have a beneficial, lasting impact. At the end of the day, a short-term trip is about remembering the disaster of sin, the gift of grace, and the responsibility to serve.
“Short-term missions must be part of fueling a long-term disciple-making process in another context. Clearly, no one is going to make disciples in another country over the span of one week. To expect to make disciples in just a few days is both impractical and unbiblical. However, we can partner with believers in other contexts who are intentionally making disciples, and our time serving alongside them can help move their disciple-making processes along in exponential ways.”
~ David Platt
Our approach to hosting mission teams is simple: to invite groups into the work that we are already doing so that they can better understand our ministry. When done right, this can help us gain some momentum in the community, offer training in a skill we may not have, and allow us to bless our community in a deeper way. Here are a few examples from the last few teams:
One team has been bringing BizWorld to our elementary school students for a few years now, and it’s a big hit. The project based learning experience walks kids through the basics of how to run a business. The activity helps our teachers bring something new into the classroom, and it certainly helps our students get a better understanding of entrepreneurship from a young age!
As we start moving toward family-based care within our community, another team helped us gain traction in the relationship building department. The team of nine college students helped us put on a “Date Night” for the leaders at a local church. During the event we were able to talk about our vision for the local community and invite questions for how the church can be part of it.
The third team to join us this year jumped in on a house build for one of the families in our family strengthening program. Up until this month the single mother had been living in a shack made from sheet metal. With funds that the team brought down, we are able to provide her with a two room house on the same property - and the team even dug the foundation! This is very clearly something that will last, and a big benefit to our family strengthening efforts.
There is another part to the long-term impact of short-term missions: establishing the foundations of a calling to serve. The key here is connection. Connecting material support with a more personal relationship should be the goal of any trip. It’s why we have teams get to know the community we work in - by praying in the central market, attending a local church, having lunch at our friend’s home.
Instead of the disconnect of isolated work projects or unnecessary activities, spending this time getting to know the community brings connection. Like our website says, “We host teams in an effort to open people’s eyes to the needs of the world around them, build relationships, and ultimately to commission others to go into all the world and preach the good news.”
Sometimes, these experiences go beyond the week. Sometimes, connection leads to commitment. We are so glad to share our story with friends from the United States - and we’re excited to see churches, universities, and individuals build up from this foundation of connection and move forward with an inspired commitment to see a better world and the Gospel preached.