The following is adapted from a recent post at my site The Haiti Orphan Project. The subject concerned the validity of short-term trips to Haiti. The principles apply to short-term mission trips to any location.
Some have asked, “Wouldn’t the money spent on these trips be better spent by just sending it to Haiti and giving it to the people there?” That’s a good and valid question. We have previously posted on this in a piece titled Do Short-Term Trips to Haiti Really Help?
The Gospel Coalition has two recent articles on this very subject. Darren Carlson wrote Why You Should Consider Canceling Your Short-Term Mission Trips and a follow-up Toward Better Short-Term Missions. They are worth a read.
We are glad Darren wrote these pieces. We agree with what he has to say. Let me summarize his main points.
Short-term missions is fraught with problems, and many wish such trips did not exist, at least in the common form today. Writing in his book Toxic Charity, Robert Lupton says, “Contrary to popular belief, most missions trips and service projects do not: empower those being served, engender healthy cross-cultural relationships, improve quality of live, relieve poverty, change the lives of participants [or] increase support for long-term missions work.”
We wholeheartedly agree. In fact, one of the books we recommend to our team members is Toxic Charity. Excellent book. Other books we recommend are noted here.
Carlson’s treatment of Money, Power and Dependency are spot on. We are not perfect at this. We know that. But by God’s grace we are trying to actually help and not hurt the Haitian people we have grown to love so much. We do not do construction. That is for the locals. We take limited supplies such as clothing and food. Giving too much can hurt local entrepreneurs. We are constantly asking of the local leadership, “How can we best serve you?”
In Carlson’s second piece, Toward Better Short-Term Missions, he helpfully lays out some tips for doing these trips better. Here’s a summary:
Change The Name.
This may be a personal preference, but I think it would be helpful to rename “short-term missions” and instead call it “short-term ministry.”
He likes Short-Term Cross Cultural Ministry. That’s fine. We refer to our trips as Vision Trips.
Short-Term Cross Cultural Ministry Should Be an Extension of a Local Ministry.
At this risk of stating the obvious, your short-term cross-cultural ministry should be an extension of your local ministry.
Agree. Our partner in Haiti is the Philadelphia Evangelical Church.
Ask the Missionaries.
To protect against doing unintentional harm, go directly to the missionaries your church supports and trusts to find out whether they would like a team to come and partner with them.
In our case, we ask the pastor.
Focus on Long-Term Partnerships With Local Churches.
The next step is to work primarily through local churches with a long view in mind. When your short-term ministry team leaves a particular setting, Christians will still live and work where you visited. Your desire should be to serve at the request of and under local church leadership.
Move Away From Relief When Appropriate.
One of the problems with short-term missions is that we are stuck in relief work. We paint and build houses, hold babies, and give presents. We do this because almost anyone in our churches can get involved. This type of work makes us feel good but sometimes harms people. Relief is appropriate for short periods, but if you want to get involved in alleviating physical poverty and use that platform to share the gospel and relieve spiritual poverty, you must move toward development work. It’s harder, takes longer, but is certainly a better form of mercy and justice ministry.
We were not very far into our ventures in Haiti when we began moving in this direction. Self-sustainability is our goal for the Haitians.
We especially liked his summary from Toxic Charity:
- Never do for the poor what they have (or could have) the capacity to do for themselves.
- Limit one-way giving to emergency situations.
- Strive to empower the poor through employment, lending, and investing, using grants sparingly to reinforce achievements.
- Subordinate self-interests to the needs of those being served.
- Listen closely to those who seek to help, especially to what is not being said—unspoken feelings may contain essential clues to effective service.
- Above all, do no harm.
In summary, we appreciate Carlson’s articles and are in substantial agreement. Everyone here and all who go on our trips are seeking to help provide care for orphans in Haiti in the best possible way, which respects the Haitian people and leads to self-sustainability.
One question remains. Some have asked, “Wouldn’t the money spent on these trips be better spent by just sending it to Haiti and giving it to the people there?” Read what Arthur wrote last year after he went. I think you’ll see. And for a missionary perspective, read this.
What do you think? Are short-term mission trips worth the money and time?