The idea of missions for the majority of society brings skepticism; do they cause more harm than good? Do they perpetuate the cycle of poverty? Many questions similar to these come up frequently, and yet, “still over 1.5 million people from the United states participate in short term missions each year … And those 1.5 million people spend close to $2 billion for these trips” (Perez). Although God says to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (New International Version, Matthew 28:19), are international missions really worthwhile, or are only local missions effective and realistic? After much speculation and many opinions, one may come to the conclusion that they are both in fact very beneficial and necessary, only if done right. “‘for, Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” (Romans 10.13-14). The concern from numerous pastors and churches regarding short term mission trips perpetuating the cycle of poverty within international countries is a hot topic. This is due to the creation of over-reliance on missionary assistance for their immediate needs and few long term solutions.
One of the most common errors is the missionary’s tendency to want to fix everything by physical or financial means, rather than physical alongside spiritual. Therefore, rather than improving the situation, it leads the residents to become reliant upon the outsiders rather than searching for any way to make the necessary changes themselves. Which then causes a relapse into poverty. Poverty is commonly considered situational or generational, however this is not always the case. Even if they recognize the situation of the person, most do not realize that simply throwing money at the problem will not fix anything. Particularly for generational poverty, it is not solely that they need support, but they also need a continuous reminder that it is not their incapability or their unworthiness which leaves them stuck in poverty.
When one is born into impoverished conditions there are few opportunities to work a way out of it. Due to this, “About 22,000 children die each day due to conditions of poverty.” (Mascarenhas). Children are victims of the conditions they are born into. If missionaries assist to provide opportunities for their families to create a stable income creates long term positive effects while also showing the love of God relationally. The goal should not be to help them once, but to help them to help themselves. Only when helping to provide tools for self sufficiency can missionaries be sure to not perpetuate the cycle of poverty. Self sufficiency is not the only need which a missionary can assist. Due to language and cultural barriers building relationships can be challenging, but cannot be underestimated. However, cross-cultural relationships are crucial for the redemption of our brothers and sisters. As the Joshua Project points out, “An astounding 5 of 7.3 billion people in the world are not Christians, and even more importantly than that 1.6 of those 5 billion are completely unreached” (Joshua Project). However as Baxter also point out, “In the last 40 years, over 1 billion people have died who have never heard of Jesus, and around 30 million people this year will perish without hearing the message of salvation” (Baxter, 12).
Therefore, while some trips have caused damage in the past, they are still incredibly vital when done right. While it may be harder to build relationships, particularly within a brief time frame, I speak from experience when I say it is certainly possible. I have been on two international mission trips, both around a week and a half long, and each time I have come home with indescribably deep friendships where I wish I could catch the next flight back to see them again. While serving others can at times include physical work, only spiritual things will last, and this is what missions should be striving to impart. There is nothing we can personally do to help save others or ourselves, it is all up to God to soften their hearts. However we should be open and ready for God to work through us to bring others to Christ. Therefore, the best thing to do on a missions trip is to make new friends, be vulnerable, and to remember that we are all equally sinful and have fallen short of the glory of God. When a team works to include both spiritual, relational, and physical aspects into their trip as they minister, significant outcomes will result. Be a servant to those you are serving, rather than the master who pretends to know all. “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!’ (Philippians 2:5-8). Another substantial factor in perpetuating the cycles of poverty is the ego of Americans. Because they have been blessed with many physical comforts in life, they forget the importance of everything else. Rather than working relationally, they tend to have a “superiority” approach, where they look for things they can fix and make better.. Many students come with the mentality that within the two weeks they can completely change the lives of the people they meet, not understanding the importance of relationships. In doing so, regularly the locals feel as though they are inferior to the foreign missionaries.
Rather than being on equal ground, many either feel anger and annoyance towards the missionaries, and disregard everything they try to say, or they feel as though they are inferior than the missionaries in some way and therefore not worthy of Christ’s redeeming love. This results in missionaries feeling disheartened, “ Up to 1/2 of all new missionaries do not last beyond their first term on the mission field” (Yohannan,45). For the same reasons, in “Over 20 centuries, Christians have announced 1,500 global plans to evangelize the world. Most have failed” (World Evangelization Research Center). However if we are able to abandon the “hero complex” within both short term and long term missions alike, this would bring new opportunities like never before. In the end, the individuals do not need short term heros, rather they desire long term partners; otherwise, it results in more harm than good. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”(Acts 1:8). Therefore, we should live out the Word of God and be the light of the world not only to the lost, but also to our fellow Christians in love and encouragement. Studies show that “Out of 648 million evangelical Christians, 70% have never been told about the 1.6 billion unevangelized individuals in the world” (World Evangelization Research Center). In addition to sending out our missionaries out to the known, we would also be sending them to the unknown, because “there are 430,000 missionaries from all branches of Christendom. Only between 2 and 3% of these missionaries work among unreached peoples” (The Traveling Team).
Following the return of short term and long term missionaries alike, they should also be sure to follow up with their team or church in understanding what to do with what they learned from their trip and turning it into a missions lifestyle, rather than a ‘been there, done that’ mentality. There are many people out in the world in need of Christ’s redemption. 818 unevangelized ethnolinguistic people groups have never been reached by christians (World Evangelization Research Center); so we need to go. As it is written, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).