While recruiting for 127 Worldwide mission trips, I often hear concerns people have about the effectiveness of short-term missions (STM). Some people say, “I want to serve, but I don’t know if a 10-day trip will allow me to build lasting relationships with believers on the other side of the world.” Another common question I hear is, “During a two week mission trip, is it really possible to make a significant impact in a community in desperate poverty?” Still another question is, “Instead of spending dollars on myself to go on this mission trip, wouldn’t it be better to just give money directly to the people who need it?” You may have asked some of these questions yourself. Maybe you’ve heard other criticisms directed at STM work. Some say these mission trips are basically a form of Christian tourism and others accuse mission teams of being culturally insensitive. When one looks around the world at all the ministries and non-profits doing work and organizing trips, it is obvious that there are many wrong ways to do short-term missions. The point of this article is to describe a Biblically informed view of short-term missions. Let me encourage you with a few thoughts about 127 Worldwide’s mission strategy and how short-term missions can be done well.
Partnering with Local Leaders & Building Relationships
At the core of 127 Worldwide is a belief in partnering with local indigenous leaders. A local leader understands his or her culture much better than a visiting American ever could. Local leaders know the needs of the area and they already have established relationships within the community. Working with qualified local leaders is imperative to worthwhile STM activity. At 127 Worldwide God has graciously allowed us to partner with trustworthy local leaders in East Africa and Central America who are actively doing the work of James 1:27. These ministry partners live in cities and villages where poverty is rampant. During the course of their lives they saw the unmet needs of orphans, widows and vulnerable people. In obedience they began to put faith into action and they simply started showing compassion to people in their own community.
Relationships with our partners are built on Gospel trust and years of working side by side with them. A mission trip with 127 Worldwide means we are sending a team to join and support the work that our partners are already doing. By working alongside our partner, it allows our teams to be more culturally aware and do ministry with cultural intelligence. It is evident to us that God has called these local leaders to serve in their homeland. We want to help them do what God has called them to do by going, advocating, investing, and empowering.
Short trips with Long Vision
An outcome I commonly hear from those who have gone to do ministry in the developing world is that the experience helped them to see the depth of their self-centeredness. I mention this because many people who go on a two-week mission trip want to be able to say they developed lasting relationships while serving overseas. Needless to say, it can be challenging for someone to establish a deep friendship over the course of only a few days. My response to a person with this expectation is to help them take the focus off themselves and see the bigger picture. I want them to recognize that their short-term trip is an important part of a long-term strategy. Each time we send a team it helps to further the relationship and trust we have with our partners.
I believe there are some New Testament examples that help to illustrate this point. It was a priority for the Apostle Paul to communicate with the small groups of believers that were meeting in various cities around the Roman world. Paul would write to churches and then have his letters delivered by his trusted associates. We see Epaphroditus being sent to Philippi (Philippians 2:25-30), Tychicus is sent to Ephesus (Ephesians 6:21-22) and Colossae (Colossians 4:7-9), and Timothy is sent to Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 3:1-7). In each case, these brothers brought news, encouragement, and exhortation to the local believers. Each of these was a short-term assignment with a long-term purpose. I pray that 127 Worldwide mission teams will serve our partners in a similar way by bringing encouragement, building confidence, and strengthening their ability to minister in the local community.
Change of Perspective & Advocacy
The first time I went on a 127 Worldwide trip was to Nairobi, Kenya in 2015. I was only on the ground in Nairobi for eight days but the impact of that trip continues to reverberate in my life. I saw desperate poverty for the first time, I saw faithful believers truly pray “give us this day our daily bread”, and I saw churches and pastors with limited resources and little or no access to theological training. When I first returned from that trip I found myself disgusted with American excess. Why were our church buildings so big and expensive? I couldn’t understand how the world had become so unbalanced in terms of wealth distribution and job opportunity. As I dealt with these feelings I began to realize that my perspective had changed. Prior to my trip to Kenya I only knew what American Christianity looked like. I had no idea what it looked like to live as a believer in the developing world. This story is important because it is an example of one of the greatest benefits of STM. The opportunity to have your perspective changed is not insignificant.
Yes, STM is about supporting local leaders and bringing Gospel hope to people and communities around the world. But it is also about you. By going on a 10-day mission trip your perspective will be changed. Your view of the world and your understanding of Christianity and the church will change drastically. You will come back home with a desire to speak about the people you met and the opportunities you had to serve. This is called advocacy and it is an important part of STM. At 127 Worldwide we want people to go with us on trips because they will come home and tell many people about life, mission, and ministry in a far corner of the world.
Yes, you can JUST give money that will support the ministry and evangelistic work of local leaders in places like Kenya, Uganda, and Guatemala. But wouldn’t it be amazing if you spent a few days serving overseas and came back home as an advocate with an appreciation for the global Church. Short-term mission teams are an important part of the work that we do. At 127 Worldwide we are blessed to be in partnership with excellent local leaders who are doing grassroots Gospel ministry in difficult places around the world. Our goal for each of our partners is to help them become less dependent on us. We want them to be healthy and self-sustaining. Please join one of our mission teams and be part of a big story. It is the story of God’s kingdom advancing and bringing hope to spiritually dark communities around the world.
By Stephen Britton