By Julie Roys
This week, my son joined the millions of Americans who venture outside the United States each year on a short-term missions trip. I have to admit, as a mom, two months hardly seems like a short term. But, it is and I take great comfort that July 28 will be here before I know it. And, Lord willing, my son will return home with tales to tell and a heart that’s more inclined to God’s.
Short-term missions have become extremely popular in the U.S. in the last 50 years. In fact, in 1965, only about 540 people from all of North America went on a short-term mission. That’s according to Roger Peterson, president of Short Term Evangelical Missions. By 1989, that number had swelled to 120-thousand, according to a doctoral student at the Fuller School of World Mission. Just three years later, it more than doubled to 250-thousand. And this year, about two million Americans will leave our borders to serve on a short-term mission.
On one level, this is very heartening. It shows American Christians are becoming less provincial and more aware of the needs around the globe. Yet, on another level, it creates concern.
That’s because only 35-thousand Americans leave the U.S. each year as long-term missionaries. That’s 98-percent less than the total who go on short-term missions. Yet, long-term missionaries are far more cost efficient than short-term missionaries. In fact, according to Ralph Winter, founder of the U.S. Center for World Mission, short-termers cost five times more to send than those who go for long terms.
Plus, only long-term missionaries – the professionals, so to speak – are equipped to reach unreached people groups. Yet unreached peoples are the group most underserved by current mission efforts. These people completely cut off from any gospel witness comprise more than 40-percent of the world’s total population. Yet, according to Bruce Koch of Frontier Mission Fellowship, only 10-percent of all foreign missionaries work among unreached peoples. In other words, 90-percent of all foreign missionaries serve people groups that already have a gospel witness.
This doesn’t mean we should abandon short-term missions. These trips frequently help those who go develop an awareness and burden for the world. And later, these Christians often become key givers and prayer partners for missions organizations. Sometimes, these short-term missionaries even become long-term missionaries, filling a vital role.
I think, however, that short-term missionaries may need to adjust their perspective. Often, people go on these trips and feel like they’ve served. And, they have – but not nearly as much as they’ve received. Those of us who have had the privilege of seeing God’s work in other countries have been given a wonderful gift – an expensive gift. And, we need to give back.
We also need to work towards more balance. Give and go on short-term missions. But, also give to long-term missions – especially those that minister to unreached people groups. And, be open that maybe God wants you, not just for a few weeks, but for several years.