Short Term Mission Trips

Things I’ve Learned #9

Yeah, I’m going to tackle this one.   I’ve learned a LOT about short term mission trips in the last 10 years.   First I’ll spell out the do’s and then the don’ts.

The “do’s” of short term mission trips:

  • Do focus  on God and what He’s up to.
  • Do build relationships with your team mates and go with the intention of supporting the organization long term.
  • Do encourage the long term staff on the ground.
  • Do attempt to learn as much as you can about the culture and the people.

The “Don’ts” of Short Term Mission Trips

  • Don’t do any work that would be stealing employment opportunities from the locals who are most likely struggling to keep body and soul together.   Instead, raise the funds to pay to hire them to do the work.
  • Don’t wear matching T-shirts that say  something like, “Bringing Jesus to Haiti.”   Jesus was there before you got there.
  • Don’t go to “love on” the children at an orphanage.   The constant coming and going of people who “love” them and then leave them causes significant damage to them long term.   When the children are taught that someone is always going to leave, they don’t know who to trust and they end up suffering from Reactive Attachment Disorder – not all of them – but in significantly higher amounts.   Google RAD if you want to know more about it.
  • Don’t go with an “I know best” attitude.   Unless you’ve lived in the country for 30 years and are just now bringing a team, you don’t know as much as the people on the ground.   Listen to the long term people. 
  • Don’t attempt to get the long term staff to work 12 to 18 hours a day.   You can do that for a week – but they can’t do that for 52 weeks a year.    Instead, take some of that time to enjoy the culture, to encourage the staff and to learn from them.

In short, short term mission trips can be useful if they are done well, if they are planned well and if they have appropriate training and guidance.    Most of them don’t.

Most of them are very damaging – and it shouldn’t have to be that way.

If you or someone you know is planning a short term mission trip and would like to discuss some of this further, please get in touch with me.   I’d like to talk further and help.


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