I hear a lot of stories (sometimes comedies, sometimes horror stories) regarding short-term missions (STM). I nod and smile, or shake my head and scowl. But I am happy to say that I can’t really relate to these stories. My experience with short-term missionaries has generally been quite positive. But my own experience with STM is quite different from the normal. The normal STM team is more like:
- A group of 5 to 10 to 15 or more.
- STMers have little to no skills that are specifically matched up to the needs of the local missionary.
- Often the STM team activity is driven by the needs of the team, rather than the needs of the local host.
- (Because of this) It is common that the work done by the STM team is more “make work,” that provides a sense of accomplishment for the team, and putting a strain on the local hosts, rather than helping the long-term programs of the long-term missionary.
These traits commonly lead to the assumption that Short-term missions is really for the benefit of the STMers rather than the local missionaries or local hosts.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. One way around it is the method used by the Mormons. Short-term missions is longer (commonly 2 years) with prior preparation. Still, from what I see here in the Philipines at least, it still looks to be highly inefficient— succeeding more from sheer numbers and back-home optimism.
But is there the possibility of a short-term missions that makes sense on its own that doesn’t involve multiple years of work?
I feel like several of our experiences with short-term missions has a better record than that.
First. The Short-term mission teams are small. The largest team we ever had was 4. Most are 1 or 2. Consider the numbers. Suppose it takes $3000 per person to do a short-term mission, and suppose the team is made up of two people. The cost then would be $6000. The cost of a team of ten would be approximately $30,000. That is quite a difference— five times as much. But will the larger team be five times as useful? Probably not.
Second. The teammember(s) have unique skills that the missionary needs. It might be technical skills, it may be academic skills, or special certifications. Franky, most skills that people bring already exist in the field.
Third. The skills that STMers bring are ones that are specifically needed for the long-term ministry programs in the field.
Fourth. The primary goal of the team is to increase the capacity of missionaries or local hosts. The goal is the transfer of skills and resources to the field. The goal is not to maintain dependency.
Fifth. The STM team is driven based on the need in the field. This is implied by the above principles, but still worthy of note.
Sixth. It is the responsibility of the missionary in the field to ensure that they (or designated individuals) gain from the STM trip. Far too often, groups come and go and nothing is changed because those in the field did not intentionally seek to gain long-term benefit from the trip, and do not seek to properly integrate it with the longer-term strategy.
Note: I am NOT saying that all STM should be done this way. There is a place for “Encounter Missions.” There is a place for reminding ourselves that the church is multi-national and that we have brothers and sisters in Christ all over the world. There is a place for doing things that are not at all cost effective.
But there are times when STM makes sense from the standpoint of long-term mission work in the field.