Short-term missions, and why they’re detrimental to the communities in which they happen.

A week or two ago I read a great article by Chuck Blakeman on how non-profits won’t solve poverty. A long while ago I read a brilliant article by Jamie the Very Worst Missionary  about how short term missions tend to be a bad move. And some where in the middle of reading both of those articles I came across one on The Gospel Coalition entitled ‘”Why you should consider cancelling your short-term mission trips.” 

All these articles have been brilliant food for thought.

Growing up in the Church I heard so much about people going on mission trips, and obviously in Church they don’t really discuss the negative sides of short-term missions. But as I’ve grown up and learnt more about things like the economy, I’m realising, as of late, that short-term missions have so much potential to do more harm than good.

We get so excited about going to places like Uganda and Kenya to build schools that we forget that by doing that we take jobs away from the people within the communities who would be massively benefited by work. What they need is someone out there to train them to do that work, which will then benefit them in the long run. If people in poverty-stricken communities learn how to start their own businesses, this will benefit them more than people in the west sending them copious amounts of money. That money will eventually run out, but if a community can support itself from within then it will have a constant flow of money and they won’t have to rely on anyone but themselves. Local business owners will also be less likely to exploit their employees, decreasing the amount of people having to work in sweatshops.

I think a main problem with short-term missions is that a lot of people who take part in them do it for their own spiritual growth, with the people they’re serving just being something on the side that makes them feel good about themselves. Jamie’s article says a lot of really interesting things about how people will do short-term missions in countries in which they know very little about the culture and actually end up doing things, without realising, that massively offend the locals. We go out there with all our great ideas about people and spreading love and all we end up doing is selfishly forgetting that all cultures are different. We spend all our time wanting to visit this foreign country and find God there and we completely forget about people. If you want to travel then go on holiday, don’t masquerade your adventures as a mission trip; that isn’t fair on anyone.

Don’t get me wrong, I think a lot of good work has been done by short-term missions, but I worry that there have been more negative trips. I think it’s important that we work on the communities that we find ourselves in, rather than spending insane amounts of money going to places like Brazil and India for a week or two, when all the money raised for the people we go to work with and to buy that plane ticket could go directly to the people who need it, for food, water, training, you name it. If God calls you to do missions some where further afield than your home then by all means, do it, but I strongly believe that if He does call you to that then it won’t be for a fortnight, but that it very may well be for a large period of your life.

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2 thoughts on “Short-term missions, and why they’re detrimental to the communities in which they happen.

  1. A really great point! That’s something I struggle a lot with. I love to go on Mission Trips because, you’re right, it’s very personally fulfilling and you also get to meet different kinds of people and learn from them as well. But it’s hard to know if you’re actually doing what’s best for the community. Sometimes it actually is more helpful to send money to reputable organizations that will build up the economy and small local businesses. Glad you posted about this!

    Great blog =)

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