Over the last forty years and more, short-term mission trips (STMs) have become very popular. The number of people involved in, and the amount of money spent on, STMs have increased at amazing rates and grown to amazing totals. According to a report by Liberty University in 2009, far more than a million Americans, mostly young people, go on an STM every year. If the average cost of such trips is $2,000, then the annual expense total is over two billion dollars!
As the report says, STMs are here to stay.
What is an STM?
Ideally, an STM is a time spent in a mission setting in some ministry endeavor that is designed to help missionaries accomplish their tasks or help with a specific ministry project. The focus of an STM is on aiding the missionary and his ministry in the place where the STM is carried out. While there can be many benefits for those who participate in an STM, those gains are a secondary focus of the trip.
While there can be many benefits for those who participate in an STM, those gains are a secondary focus of the trip.
Some Potential Benefits of STMs
In Guatemala we hosted work teams from Teen Missions International. They came for six weeks and worked in rather large building projects. A chapel and other structures on the Bible institute campus in Jalapa, Guatemala, testify to their good work, and they were a wonderful example of Christian character to the people of that city.
One year we hosted a group of men from a congregation in Ohio who came to rebuild a church that had been destroyed in the 1976 Guatemalan earthquake. They worked almost literally from dawn to dark and the people of the town, San Pedro Pinula, stood in amazement as they watched how the men labored together to quickly erect this new structure. This project was a major boost to the local congregation, which has outgrown that building and has, on their own, expanded it to satisfy a growing group of believers.
For several years a group of young people from a school in Bedford, Indiana, went annually to Jalapa, Guatemala, to help in the Christian school there. These Indiana students presented special chapel services, provided special music, helped create teaching materials, assisted in minor remodeling projects, painted classrooms, and did a variety of things to help the teachers, who could then give more time to their teaching. The Guatemalan teachers and children have a lot of good memories from those special visits.
Where they are carefully planned and executed, STMs are a notable boost to the mission field where they serve.
Bible college students doing missionary internships are another form of STM. I have heard many stories of missions students who not only learned more about their calling, but provided good help to the missionaries who were supervising their internships. Caila Rice, serving on the Amazon River, returned for a year to continue some of the ministries that she had been involved with during her internship weeks.
STMs have the potential of providing much-needed help to missionaries. Where they are carefully planned and executed, STMs are a notable boost to the mission field where they serve.
Some Potential Problems with STMs
One group of young people did some work on one of EFM’s mission fields. They were to open a recess in a concrete block wall to accommodate some remodeling that the missionary was doing. He cautioned them about their work, warning them that he did not want a hole all the way through the wall. Not paying attention to his instructions, the youth broke open a large hole in the wall that created further work and expense for the missionary’s project.
In another case that I heard about, two members of the group were romantically attracted to each other. The local missionary cautioned them about their behavior, telling them what would be acceptable and unacceptable in the local culture. They did not heed his cautions and “carried on” in ways that brought reproach upon them and upon the STM group.
Short-term mission trips can be a great benefit to God’s work in other cultures. They can also create some problems for the local missionary or the local church. I believe that we all want to see positive, helpful, beneficial STMs from our churches and schools. In future articles we will explore some factors that make for good STMs and some factors that hinder them. We will also look at some ways in which we can help conserve good impacts upon those who participate in STMs.