Not long ago, the families of Fairfax Presbyterian Church spent thousands of dollars to fly their teens to Mexico for eight days of doing good. They helped build homes and refurbish churches as part of an army of more than 1 million mostly Christians who annually go on short-term international mission trips to work and evangelize in poverty-stricken lands.
Yet even as those trips have increased in popularity, they have come under increased scrutiny. A growing body of research questions the value of the trips abroad, which are supposed to bring hope and Christianity to the needy of the world, while offering American participants an opportunity to work in disadvantaged communities, develop relationships and charge up their faith.
Critics scornfully call such trips “religious tourism” undertaken by “vacationaries.” Some blunders include a wall built on the children’s soccer field at an orphanage in Brazil that had to be torn down after the visitors left. In Mexico, a church was painted six times during one summer by six different groups. In Ecuador, a church was built but never used because the community said it was not needed.
To make missionary work more meaningful, some churches are taking a different approach. In response to the criticism, a growing number of churches and agencies that put together short-term trips are revamping their programs and establishing new standards . . .[Various strategies highlighted in article]
. . . Despite the concerns with trips abroad, their popularity is soaring . . . A Princeton University study found that 1.6 million people took short-term mission trips — an average of eight days — in 2005. Estimates of the money spent on these trips is upward of $2.4 billion a year. Vacation destinations are especially popular: Recent research has found that the Bahamas receives one short-term missionary for every 15 residents.
At the same time, the number of long-term American missionaries, who go abroad from several years to a lifetime, has fallen, according to a Wheaton College study done last year. . .
. . . research has found that the trips tend to have few long-term effects on the local people or on the mission travelers. Some projects take away work from local people, are unnecessary and sometimes dangerous.
“I really don’t think that most people are trying to be ugly Americans,” said Glenn Schwartz, executive director of World Mission Associates and author of “When Charity Destroys Dignity.” “But they’re misinformed and don’t realize how their good intentions can go awry.”
. . . A 2006 study in Honduras found that short-term mission groups spent an average of $30,000 on their trips to build one home that a local group could construct for $2,000. . .
. . . “If [the trips] are only about ourselves, then we’re doing nothing more than using another culture . . . to get some benefit at their expense,” said the Rev. Roger Peterson, chairman of the Alliance for Excellence in Short-Term Mission, who helped set up the standards. “I don’t care what verse of the Bible you read, it’s wrong, it’s wrong, it’s wrong.” . . .
See also this RESOURCE ON SHORT-TERM MISSIONS at the bottom of Kurt Ver Beek’s page, (Calvin College)
b. The Impact of Short Term Missions: A Case Study of House Construction in Honduras after Hurricane Mitch. Missiology: An International Review, October 2006 Special Edition, pp.477-496. Online Information (article by Kurt Alan Ver Beek).
Study Questions: Whether Short-Term Missions Make a Difference (article by Abram Huyser Honig). Christianity Today June 2005.
Are Short-Term Missions Good Stewardship? (Christianity Today’s on-line discussion about Short-Term Missions between Kurt Ver Beek and Robert Priest, associate professor of mission and intercultural studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. June 2005).
Lessons from the Sapling: Review of Research on Short-term Missions, Study Abroad, and Service Learning. (first draft article by Kurt Alan Ver Beek).
c. International Service Learning: A Call to Caution (Chapter 5 in Commitment and Connection; editors Gail Gunst-Heffner and Claudia DeVries-Beversluis) University Press of America: New York, NY, 2002
d. The Cost of Short-Term Missions (article by Jo Ann Van Engen), The Other Side Jan/Feb 2000