The “short-term missions season” is upon us. Our kids are wrapping up their last week of school, and our summer interns are on their way to El Salvador as I write this. We will have North American teams and volunteers passing through our doors all summer long. We hope that it is a valuable experience for everyone.
Short-terms missions have become a billion dollar “business” and millions of North Americans travel around the world each year to serve. This is a good thing, and many people have benefitted. We have been incredibly blessed with amazing volunteers who have come to El Salvador to learn from and encourage local missionaries and Christians. We also have seen people develop a heart for missions as a result of a short-term trip. This is a good thing!
But I’ve also heard horror stories from other long-term missionaries around the world, and I’ve even seen damage done as a result of good intentions right here in El Salvador. The reality is that it’s easy to reduce missions work to “poverty tourism.” It’s easy to make missions into something that serves me and makes me feel good about myself. This is a danger that we are ever on guard against. Short-term missions can have a valuable place in the global discipleship of the church, but as North Americans we must come into a culture as servants…not as heroes, and not as those who disrespect others.
The best book I have come across on this topic is the book When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor. I consider it to be the “Short-Term Missions Bible” so to speak. We will be studying this book wth our interns and some of our American staff members this summer, and if you are going on a trip outside the U.S., in the U.S., or serving the poor in any way you have to read this. Period. It changed my thinking, and I bet it will change yours too.
Please pray for our interns, and our short-term missions teams this summer. Pray that not only would they be great servants of El Salvador, but that they would be challenged and grow in their own faith as well.