Best Practices for Short-Term Mission Trips

By Michael C. Mack

According to some estimations, about 2 million people spend about $1.5 billion each year to go on short-term mission trips. Richard Stearns, president of World Vision U.S. and author of The Hole in Our Gospel: The Answer that Changed My Life and Might Just Change the World, discusses both the pros and cons of such trips. World Vision does not lead short-term mission trips, but it does lead “Vision Trips” designed as educational journeys to expose the participants to World Vision’s work in other countries while building relationships between North American partners and those living in host countries. Over the last three decades of leading these trips, World Vision has gleaned the following insights that can be applied to short-term mission trips:

04_BP_missions_JN1. Allow your heart to be broken by what you see. Be open to being convicted by wealth disparities and other challenges you will observe. At the same time, be careful not to think people with less money are less holy, happy, or able than you.

2. Take time to debrief. What you witness and think about will challenge you. Take time at the end of each day to discuss with your group or to journal and pray about what you are learning about yourself, your world, and God.

3. Practice humility. Avoid thinking you are bestowing a gift on the underprivileged by going on a trip to another country. Be aware that many of the problems you see have challenged locals and other experts for decades. Be a good partner to Christians and ministries working in the area. Seek to listen and understand more than you speak.

4. Avoid paternalism. Choose a trip or activities that are focused on learning from host communities as much as completing a project. Work in partnership with local ministries and Christians, playing a helping rather than a directing role.

5. Prepare for reentry shock. Many people feel like strangers in their own environment when they return from a mission trip. A normal reaction is to judge the U.S. society for wasteful habits and comfortable lives.

Your life and priorities may have changed while on the trip, and you may struggle with the fact that your friends and family members don’t hold the same convictions as you do now. Try to embrace this tension and look for how God can use you to influence change over the long term.

6. Use your experiences for good. You may now have a new platform to raise awareness and resources for people in need, not only in the country you visited, but in other places in the world as well.

—Richard Stearns, The Hole in Our Gospel: The Answer that Changed My Life and Might Just Change the World, Appendix 4 (pp. 302-304)

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