If you have not read it yet, I recommend you check out what Troy Jackson at God's Politics has to say in his provocatively titled essay, Time to Declare a Mission Trip Moratorium.
In a few short words he challenges the very heart of short-term mission [STM], perhaps without even knowing it.
Cutting through all of the clutter, he questions the entire practice of Americans spending over $2 billion each year on global short-term mission trips.
Wouldn’t it be better he asks, if instead of spending all that money on the travel, meals, and facilitation costs associated with STM, we invested it in economic and community development programs led by indigenous people themselves?
Troy, that is a great question. But there are no easy answers.
As Seth Barnes of Adventures in Missions has argued, without the personal involvement of American people in STM, the amount of money available would be nowhere near the $2 billion annually spent.
Basically it looks like this. Unless little Billy from Kansas sends a letter to his grandmother asking her to give financially and help him go to Mexico, Africa, or some other far flung location, we are not going to be seeing a lot of money from her for missions, no matter how effective, or worthy the cause may be.
I wish that were not true, but I cannot deny the demoralizing and cheapening effect of this on those of us serving in other countries.
Let me give you a concrete example. I am currently working with a group of people to get a sustainable co-op demonstration project up and running in Oaxaca, Mexico. Once we are fully operational, we will be able to work alongside indigenous Zapotec farmers to increase crop yields, conserve precious water resources, and help provide economic stability to some of the poorest people in Mexico.
The biggest impediment we face is the lack of an effective well. It will cost about $20,000 to have the well professionally done. Or, we could buy the necessary rig ourselves and drill it for about half that. We could then also use that rig all around the area to the benefit of thousands of local, indigenous, subsistence farmers.
But I cannot get anyone to help make that happen.
Understand what I am saying here. Because it does not involve personal participation, I cannot get anyone to help purchase a portable well rig that will literally save lives and, as part of a holistic Gospel ministry, give the local indigenous church an incredibly effective method for reaching the people of their own communities.
While it may indeed be time to rethink short-term missions, calling for a STM moratorium will not result in that money currently spent on STM being redirected to those of us serving in the field, and may in fact, lead to a dwindling of the precious resources necessary to sustain an outward focus global outreach.