"Not long ago, the families of Fairfax Presbyterian Church spent thousands of dollars to fly their teens to Mexico for eight days of doing good. They helped build homes and refurbish churches as part of an army of more than 1 million mostly Christians who annually go on short-term international mission trips to work and evangelize in poverty-stricken lands.This provocative article goes on to acknowledge that not all short-term mission is like these somewhat incendiary examples. I have participated in several short-term mission trips, all within 800 miles of my home. The groups I have gone with tend to be small (under 12 participants), multi-generational (under 10 to 80 years old), and have spent significant time in prayer and fellowship while searching our motivations and our hearts.
Yet even as those trips have increased in popularity, they have come under increased scrutiny. A growing body of research questions the value of the trips abroad, which are supposed to bring hope and Christianity to the needy of the world, while offering American participants an opportunity to work in disadvantaged communities, develop relationships and charge up their faith.
Critics scornfully call such trips 'religious tourism' undertaken by 'vacationaries.' Some blunders include a wall built on the children's soccer field at an orphanage in Brazil that had to be torn down after the visitors left. In Mexico, a church was painted six times during one summer by six different groups. In Ecuador, a church was built but never used because the community said it was not needed. ..."
We have contemplated overseas trips, but thus far only one has materialized -- over ten years ago -- and while there is a certain attraction, the logistical considerations are great. I did not go on the trip to Yucatan, but my wife did. I've seen the pictures, and whatever it was that attracted the participants, it wasn't great weather and sunny beaches. It was a community that appreciated what we had to offer, and in turn, offered the participants much fellowship and love.
There is much to be said for hands-on mission for Christians of all ages. It is often a life-changing experience, and certainly an educational experience for those who participate. With care in preparation, not only in logistics, but spiritual preparation, short-term mission opportunities can open eyes to the ways in which God works in people's lives.