Part 2: Is it better to go or send money?
If you’re just joining our conversation, this is part 2 of a three part series on the value of short-term missions. If you missed part 1, feel free to click here and get caught up.
In the last twelve years of being involved in short-term missions (vocationally for the last seven years), I often hear the questions, “Isn’t it better to just send money to the ministry than to go ourselves? What do we actually have to offer as short-term missionaries that they can’t do for themselves?” If you’ve found yourself asking these questions, know that, 1) you’re in good company and 2) you’re asking good questions. Simply having the posture of being a question-asker and someone who wants to do more harm than good signifies that you’re humbly seeking out the best for those you want to serve.
I have wrestled with these questions for years and I don’t believe there is a text book answer. I think the positive impact that can be had by sending money to any trust-worthy missions entity is far-reaching and can do wonderful things for a community, so if sending your financial gifts is something you love to do, please keep giving! Should we be using the financial resources we have to partner with God’s work across the globe? Absolutely! I believe each of us that loves Jesus has a responsibility to be part of His collective work across the globe with our finances.
The question remains “Is it better to send money than to go ourselves?” I personally think both things are important. I sincerely believe that God doesn’t want just our money or just our time, he wants both. And I’ve found in my own life, it’s much easier to write a check than it is to give up a few weeks of my time and my life to serve. That may not be true for everyone, but I think as a culture, here in America we tend to favor the convenient quick fix/get it off our checklist mentality. And it’s much easier to send your money and check “missions” off your to-do list than it is to clear your schedule and give up your time.
Here is why I think it might be more valuable to go: You can’t put a price tag on cross-cultural relationships. This is the huge missing piece if we just wrote a check. Could they get more “projects done” if we simply sent the money we would spend to go? Absolutely. But we, like Jesus, should value people over projects. Always. I think if he was walking this earth today, his value system would remain as it did in his day – relationships trump projects or agenda, every time. I think of the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10 when Martha valued productivity, Jesus’ comment was “Mary has chosen what is better” which was to sit in relationship with Jesus and just be present.
What I have seen over and over again in my life is that when I know God has asked me to say yes to a short-term mission trip, I haven’t once thought that my time would have been better spent at home or that money would have been better spent in the form of a check sent to the ministry. Every single time I say yes, I am blown away by the relationships God has already laid out for me on that journey. Part of the success of your short-term journey starts with you: with your attitude and expectations, with a posture of open hands and an open heart – being willing to share your life and ask others questions about theirs. When you’re involved with Students International, you’ll quickly learn that the “success” of your short-term trip can’t be measured by what you can show tangibly when you get home, but instead by the relationships you’ve built.
In our organization, we do leave the “projects” for our nationals to do because we believe they know best how to do the work in their own country. We also believe that it’s beneficial and empowering to them to not come in and take over work they can be doing for themselves. SI seeks to come alongside and serve and not to take on any projects they could do without our help. We are just there to be in relationship with them and we believe that both parties benefit from that more than if we would have stayed home and sent a check.
We’ve also found that people’s vision and passion changes when they experience God’s work across the globe. When you obediently go where God calls, he will ignite a passion in you for his work, his people and his world. For me, the world has gotten much smaller and the gospel has gotten much bigger. I’ve come to recognize that we are all more alike than we think and I have a world of things in common with my brothers and sisters in other countries. It continually humbles me that the God of the universe crosses all cultures and speaks all languages and chooses to let me be part of his work both here and abroad. My view of the gospel has gotten so much bigger. I have realized in my very limited worldview that the gospel isn’t just for me – a white American. It is for the Haitian orphan, the single mom in Nicarauga, the dad working to provide for his family of seven in the Dominican Republic, the widow in Africa, the teenage prostitute in Costa Rica. The gospel of Jesus has gotten so much bigger and I’ve been humbled to catch a vision for how big his love is and how small I am. My passion has changed, which in turn has changed my whole family. We live our lives, raise our kids and spend our time and money differently because we’ve said yes to going. The monetary giving has not changed us nearly as much as the going.
For my husband and I, Students International has provided a place for us to both send and go with an organization we fully trust. We absolutely love sending students so that they can share in that experience, we love giving to national missionaries who’ve become friends, but more than anything we love to go and be present with those we’ve come to love.
Life transformation happens best in relationship and that is why Students International believes whole-heartedly in sending short-term teams.