Part 1: Short-term and Long-term missions working together
If you’re anything like me, you’ve asked the questions, “Are short-term missions even worth it?” “Wouldn’t it be more effective to just raise the money and give it to the ministry?” “What benefit does it really have on the people in that country?” or “It often seems the short-term team benefits more and the long-term missionaries are left exhausted, is this effective?” I think all of these questions are valid as there is some truth in all of them. But considering these questions, I feel that SI’s ministry model addresses each one, and furthermore, provides a compelling reason to go on an SI mission trip. Let’s take a closer look at the question of how short-term and long-term missions work together.
Since its inception, Students International has been one of the few missions organizations I know of that seeks to interconnect long-term and short-term missions. In fact, our founder created SI with the vision and idea that missions should not be just about short-term or just about long-term, but we need to have a balance of the two. What I’ve most often seen is short-term organizations that have long-term partners or vice versa (for example churches that work with an overseas partner or a long term ministry in another country that hosts teams from all over). This is not a bad thing at all, but I do believe it can compromise the effectiveness of ministry when there is a lack of consistency.
Often times in other models of missions, when a short-term team leaves, the long-term partners are truly worn out. Sometimes they may even try to “create projects” for the next incoming team. However, what we’ve seen with Students International is that because our long-term missionaries are not creating any projects, students simply come alongside and help them with their daily ministry, and our teams have actually been helpful. Because our staff cares deeply about students and their transformation, they know their investment in short-term teams is worth it.
One of the things I most appreciate about Students International is the integrity you’ll see both in our American staff as well as our staff on the field. As an outreach participant, you will see that our staff both here in the states and abroad share the same beliefs, training and love for Jesus. There is a consistency across the board that is unmatched in many of the organizations I’ve partnered with over the years. A few of the common threads you’ll notice among all of our 110 staff across the globe are: a love for Jesus and the gospel, a love for students, a heart for the poor and marginalized and a desire to see both ourselves and students changed by our experience with SI.
We’ve seen over and over again that lives are changed because students and adults say yes to short term trips. Students find their passion or career path because they had the opportunity to serve at a certain site. Adults experience missions often for the first time and their hearts are changed; they become life-long learners and life-long partners both in prayer and financially. Everyone that goes on an SI outreach comes back different and what we hear and have experienced is that it’s the relationships that change lives. We are grateful that our long-term staff has opened up their lives and have asked the nationals be open to friendships with us as well; as short-term participants we benefit from the long-term work of those who’ve put the time and effort into building relationships
That being said we are not going to “save the people” or going to “teach them our better ways” – we are going to learn and to serve. I don’t think short-term mission trips are for everyone, but if you choose to go, your attitude, your training and a posture of a learner and servant are absolutely necessary. And while I’ve wrestled with this myself, I have concluded that too many lives are being changed for all of us just to opt to stay home. I can tell you that my husband and I never regret our decision to go on a short-term trip, or to help someone else go. We trust Students International. We’ve seen first hand that the relational long-term ministry happening on the ground is worth investing in and we trust the leadership. Each time we go, we come back with a bigger view of God’s kingdom and the role we play in it, both locally and globally.
So while I would say, tread lightly, do your research and make wise choices about helping without being hurtful in their long-term work, I would also say GO. If you come home with one or two lasting relationships, your trip has been successful. Value people over projects, always. And if God is calling you to go, then say yes – you won’t regret it.
Here are some links to other great books and articles if you’re interested in learning more about doing short-term missions with integrity:
When Helping Hurts, by Corbett and Fikkert
Cross-Cultural Servanthood, by Duane Elmer
Serving with Eyes Wide Open, by David Livermore
“Things No One Tells You About Going on Short-Term Mission Trips,” Article in Relevant Magazine by Michelle Acker Perez