Short-Term Missions: Is the Price Tag Worth It?

by Laura Parker on October 12, 2012

Short term mission trips are a popular thing these days in Christian circles. In fact, estimates are that literally millions of individuals, mostly young people, serve on short term trips (1 week up to a year) every year worldwide. Now that’s a lot of people and a whole truckload of money. Here’s an article written last year asking some sobering questions about short term mission trips:

Consider this: a group of 15 high school students {with four adult leaders} want to go on a missions trip to Africa. They write support letters, hold spaghetti dinners, call up grandma across the state line. The cost of the trip is 8 days out of their summer vacation and $1800 USD out of somebody’s pocket. Per person.

The goal of the trip is to paint the outside of a church, do a VBS for an hour four evenings, and “love the orphans” at the local orphanage {a.k.a. play soccer and give lots of hugs, since they don’t speak the same language}. The group gets called to the front of the church for a send-off prayer before and produces a killer video that makes their mothers get teary after. There are lots of Facebook updates and instagram pictures of the trip– rich American teens hugging on dark African orphans– which become the profile pictures of the participants for a good six months post-travel.

The church got painted, which locals could have done for about 30 bucks maybe.

The orphans got hugged, and then had to say goodbye to people that they’ll never see again and who promise to write, but never really do.

The four days of VBS got delivered. And included the same bible stories which  the previous four short term teams had also told. Through the mud of translators and with songs and hand motions that didn’t really make cultural sense.

And the grand total of this particular missions trip: $34, 200 USD. Ouch.

In a country where the average wage might be $2USD a day. That would be the equivalent of 17,100 days of work for a local. At that rate, the money could have gone to give 46 single mothers honorable employment for an entire year.

In this part of the world in Asia, it could provide clean water filters for 1,700 homes in village communities or it could begin a business to give hundreds of future prostitutes another choice or it could fully fund several national pastors for a whole year.

Ouch, again.

And maybe I shouldn’t knock what I myself have tried, and tasted the benefits from. I went to Jamaica on my first summer missions trip as a jr. high kid, and I still remember the stories. My husband has led a half-dozen missions trips for teenagers during his work as a student pastor. And some of our ministry here in SE Asia has been based on the idea that there  is incredible value in the mentorship of young adults as they travel and volunteer internationally. {And we have seen that it has.}

I get it.

And I know that maybe that money wouldn’t have been given to support those other {more cost- effective} endeavors, anyway. I understand that  motivating a Westerner with an experience which could make him or her a financial supporter of missions for the rest of a career has value. I get that there is intrinsic value in letting the third world know that they are not forgotten by the first, and I can see that a missions experience for a teenager could translate into a lifetime of living overseas themselves.

Yet, yet. $34,000. For eight days? When people are starving and children are trafficked and pastors themselves don’t have access to Bibles?

It’s hard to swallow. Or justify sometimes.

Or, is it?

originally posted here:  LauraParkerBlog, former missionary to SE Asia. Twitter: @LauraParkerBlog

*****************

Some other great resourcesJamie the Very Worst Missionary’s Series on STMs  |  Are STMs the Answer? by the Hendricks in Haiti  |  Rethinking Short Term Missions series by Desiring God

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About Laura Parker

Living on three continents and moving 15 times in 15 years of marriage, Laura is no stranger to transition. Recently living in SE Asia with her family, Laura now serves as the VP of a counter-trafficking organization which her husband began, The Exodus Road. Laura is the co-founder and editor here at A Life Overseas and writes at her blog, http://www.LauraParkerWrites.com.

Previous post:

Next post: