A Discourse Against Short Term Missions

So dear church friend, you’ve signed up for a two week trip to the Southern Hemisphere this summer. You invite me to squeal in delight and chat over coffee but are dampened by my (unpopular) thoughts about this.

You want to travel. Travel. You want adventure. Seek it. You want to serve. Serve. But please don’t confuse your short term mission trip as the holy trifecta of these desires.


A hairbrush – long strands of auburn entangled.

Used deodorant.


You left these with a “thought you’d enjoy!” card on the back of the toilet. We did not.

You came. You gawked at the difference in culture and scenery. You danced with the people and couldn’t get over how happy the poor are. You left just as your bodies were adjusting to the time change, to the sun.


I have issues with the term “missionary” but for lack of better verbiage, I will say we lived as international missionaries for three years. In that time we were galvanized, softened, strengthened, reformed. It was excruciating at times. It was living fully. It was lonely at times. It was always good.

I cannot, all these years later, understand what impact was made for the unseen greater good of humanity other than it changed me.


The realities:

In the Majority World, the axis is relationships and relationships take longevity. We lived on $10,000 a year. Add your team’s plane tickets up. Gasp. Could you give that money to sponsor a long-term friend instead? That is an unfun sacrifice no one wants to hear. There is zero in it for you.

Being a year-round missionary is physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, everything-ally exhausting. I guarantee they are shouldering so much. And now they are hosting you. Taking you to the best strawberry vendors. Driving you to the orphanage. Running interference at the roundabout. And happy to do so. But is your presence life-giving to their spirit or a distraction from their work?

Please start saying thank you and stop leaving them your used toiletries for which they should be grateful.

Clearly, I am not ambivalent to this subject being a receiver of a great many half-filled travel shampoo bottles myself. (Please hold the hate mail about this post.)

So you want to go to Africa for two weeks, four weeks, a year? What I ask you is this.

Can you serve faithfully, without a backslap of affirmation right where you are?

Could you come in before sunrise to set up church and leave before anyone notices. every. Sunday?

Can you move the conversation at the check-out line from rote script into reflecting that person’s worthiness and beauty back toward them?

Can you see the bend of justice in the arc of time in this fleeting little moment now and draw others into its delicate shimmer?

Can you make one more dinner the kids complain about? 

If you can’t do these, don’t go to Africa.

If you do go to Africa, know it is mostly for your transformation. This is okay. Just be honest. Go to listen. Not to fix. Go without a watch. Without expectation. Let yourself be changed.

If you do go, please don’t leave your used toiletries. Unloading your unwanted is not a sacrificial blessing.

If you do leave your things, leave your best perfume on the dresser, your newest jeans in the closet, your stories on the coffee table.

Leave changed and prepared to give freely in your everyday life. This transformation is the long-term return of your short-term trip. Please, make it worth the energy and resources invested.



3 thoughts on “A Discourse Against Short Term Missions

  1. Amen. Leaving the crap you don’t want doesn’t mean someone else wants it.
    I could go on for days about the short-sighted short-term missions….


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