Christianity Today has published this comparative article investigating the pros and cons of short term mission trips–three authors arguing three different angles. Dr. Howell questions the side-effects of focusing on mission projects. Dr. Livermore questions the cost of international travel, and suggests that in most cases, the money could be better spent. Dr. Priest asks us to dig in and clarify our goals and our opportunities when evaluating local versus international mission trips.
In all three articles there is a common commitment to define expectations and to match our efforts to those desired goals. I whole heartedly echo that bit of common sense: be clear about what you want to accomplish and evaluate your plans accordingly.
The Chalmers Center is doing a great job helping people evaluate “when helping hurts“. Bishop Lloyd Allen requires all short term missioners coming to Honduras to read the book before they come.
To that end, I want to raise one issue not raised by the three authors. Are mission trips, local or international, primarily about the missioners? I place the emphasis on my missions commitment on the least evangelized and the unreached. One of the side-effects of going local is that in 99% of cases, our neighbors do have access to the Gospel–and helping them does not help us see the need to go “to the ends of the earth”. The unreached and the least evangelized do not have access to the Gospel and the Church. Their need confronts the visitor with the question of what is at the center of our mission and our teaching. And therefore, visits to the least evangelized helps us to see the opportunities to have an eternal impact among a people group who have so far had little or no opportunity to hear the Gospel.
If our goal is to bless people in need, then yes, going local may be the most cost effective effort. If our goal is to have our hearts shaped by God’s love for the least, then going to the unreached will have an eternal impact among that people and a powerful impact on our faith and service.