oh, short-term mission trips. {smh}

I’ve written about my complicated feelings concerning short-term mission trips several times. Here, here, here, and here for starters. I even wrote an e-book about the two short-term (1-week & 5-week) trips we’ve taken to Cambodia.

I can’t defend short-term trips across the board (because I’ve seen/heard some not-so-great stuff), but our family has tried our very best to make sure we’re doing things right. Not perfect (no way) and not to everyone else’s approval standards (impossible), but in a respectful, dignified, mutually beneficial way as much as we can.

So, I read this article from Relevant magazine tonight that Troy Livesay (his better half, Tara, is a dear online friend I’ve chatted with and prayed for lots) linked to. And I just loved it. It was affirming (and convicting), and I want to share the main points along with a brief summary of how we’re trying to do what the author suggests when it comes to mission trips.

Hopefully, it will come across as informative and heart-sharing, not defensive or braggy.

The article is called Things No One Tells You About Short-Term Mission Trips (by Michelle Acker Perez @ Relevant Magazine).

Here are the things you need to know about being effective on a short-term trip: Those will be in bold; my comments in (parentheses).

1. You’re Not a Hero. (Amen. This we know for sure.)

2. Poverty Can Look Different Than You Expect. (The author explains that if we say, “I’m so blessed to have so much when they have so little,” we’ve missed the point. There’s lots of kinds of poverty. We’re all broken and need Jesus.)

3. Historical Context Can Be Just As Important as Immediate Context. (Yes. You’ve got to know the history of Cambodia–the Khmer Rouge and all that entails–to even begin to understand why things are the way they are in that country.)

4. Don’t Do a Job People Can Do For Themselves. (I feel pretty strongly about this. Our biggest “jobs” we do on our trips are relationship-building, playing, photographing, story-telling, and teaching computer skills–Gabe, not me. Nothing that takes away from what locals can do.)

5. Learning Takes Place in the Context of Reciprocal Relationships. (We need our friends in Cambodia just as much as they “need” us. We cherish their friendship, desire their prayers, and love what they can teach us about their lives and culture. And we love staying in touch with them via Skype and Facebook. It’s super-duper reciprocal. If anything, they give us more than we give them.)

6. There Is Something Special About Going. (Oh, goodness. You ain’t kidding. Special isn’t a strong enough word for the desire that burns in my heart.)

7. Don’t Raise $1000 for the Week and Then Give Nothing Else the Rest of the Year. (This one is very important to us. We try very hard to give much throughout the year–and inspire others to give as well.)

8. You Don’t Have to Fly in an Airplane to Serve the Poor. (100% true story. And, for anyone who really knows us, they know this isn’t an issue. This isn’t a “Why are you going across the world when there are poor people right here in America?” deal. We’re passionate about the people who live in our community. Specifically, the refugees who live right next to us in our apartment complex. It’s not local or global. It’s both/and.)

That’s all. Just thankful for this author’s words and have Cambodia on my heart and mind tonight.

Anything you’d add or take away from the article? Any short-term mission trip experiences (good, bad, or ugly) you’d like to share?

2 thoughts on “oh, short-term mission trips. {smh}

  1. Pingback: “can we come visit?” – Marla Taviano

  2. Kim

    In 33 days, but who’s counting, I will be leaving to go back to Nicaragua for a very short mission trip of 1 week. I am so looking forward to returning to see all my friends there!

    A few random thoughts that I would like to add to the points brought out in the wonderful article which by the way I fully agree with.
    1) Don’t just take stuff, in other words other people’s castoffs, and think you are doing a noble thing. I wouldn’t give Jesus my stretched out, stained, missing a button clothes so why should I do that to others. When he says whatever we do for least, we do for him. I think often the attitude towards the poor is since they don’t have______________ (fill in the blank- food, clothing, adequate shelter, clean water) that they should be oh so grateful for anything no matter if it’s what’s truly needed or the condition that it’s in. Find out from the Full time In country Missionaries what is most needed; you might be surprised that it’s as simple as a new spiral notebook and pencil for each child and not a lifetime supply of feminine products for every resident of the entire country! I learned last summer that short tem teams from the States were obsessed with these! LOL!
    2) That there is no THEM and US. There is only US, people created by God who need His saving grace and mercy and also don’t assume that they are not Christians. I found that people on my trip last year were often surprised that quite a few people in the community where we were shared their faith with us. I do know that the less you have the more you have to be dependent on God and not your checkbook. I don’t mean that to sound like I’m saying that poverty is a good thing because that is not at all what I’m saying. No one should have to go to bed hungry, not have clean water or medical care or not have housing where they can be safe from evil and protected from the elements.
    3) That it is much better to develop an ongoing relationship with a ministry in 1 part of the world than to look at missions trips as a way to see how many different places you can visit in the world. It is not about how many stamps you can get in your passport.
    4) That poverty is not a character flaw. Often poverty is the result of bad policies, the Church turning a blind eye, corrupt governments or other governments meddling in affairs of that country and sometimes all of those things. We are not to judge but to love.
    5) That you may be forever changed in your relation to food, money, stuff, what community looks like and so many other things.

    Please pray as I get ready to go back. I took 75 pillowcase dresses last year and am trying to take 150 this year. Need prayer to get them all finished, sized, ironed and packed for the trip. Meeting the mothers and little girls at their homes and praying with them was one of the most humbling, heartwarming and heart breaking things I have ever done. Stretched my comfort zone to a whole new place and now I can’t wait to see those dear women and girls who are in my thoughts and prayers every day.

    Marla thanks so much for this thought provoking article.

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