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Are short-term mission trips worth the effort?

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In writing for The Gospel Coalition, Darren Carlson directed a question at the sacred cow of American churches. Are short-term mission trips worth the effort?

Seven years ago he wrote a series of articles on short-term missions, but one in particular struck a chord: “Why You Should Consider Canceling Your Short-Term Mission Trips.”

“Do I still believe it, seven years later? Yes—but 10,000 times more strongly. I’ve seen, experienced, and hosted trips, and I’ve watched the reporting back home (and not just from American teams) in the local church,” he explained. “If I had the power, I’d wipe out the majority of short-term mission trips with the wave of my hand.”

Carlson referred to research conducted by Robert Priest, Brian Fikkert, Dambisa Moyo, and Bob Lupton (among others) on short-term trips has shown three things:

  • They don’t change participants’ lives.
  • They don’t cause more people to commit to long-term missions.
  • They often harm both local economies and orphans.

I have felt this way for a while. I have never been on a short-term mission, nor am I likely to do so.

I question the impact people have when they fly half-way around the world to spend five days building a wall, and one day touring the area.

They spend $2,500 or more per person which, when you think about it, would likely employ someone in that country for several months.

I sponsor two children through Compassion International, and the group sends me an invitation every three months to fly over and visit one of the youngsters I sponsored. The cost is $5,000 for a one-hour visit. For that, I could provide an education and some meals for 15 kids for an entire year.

I may change my mind if I join a medical mission trip. As a former emergency medical technician, I might be able to assist the doctors and nurses in providing genuine life-changing service to people who may never get that type of medical care in their countries.

Carlson outlines 10 things to consider doing instead of sending untrained people into the foreign mission field. You can read the story at The Gospel Coalition.

Why should a church send a group of people 5,000 miles away when there is more need than the church can ever address five miles from their facility?

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Greg Gerber

A native of Wisconsin who moved to Arizona in 2009, Greg Gerber is a DODO -- Dad of Daughters Only -- to three grown daughters. He worked as a journalist for many years before pursuing a career as a faith-based writer, author, coach and speaker. Greg is the author of Pornocide: How Lust is Killing Your Faith, Stealing Your Joy and Destroying Your Life.

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