It’s the most common question people ask about missionary support: give or go?
As the liaison between our church and our mission partners, I’ve been part of countless conversations centered on this topic. Objections to short-term mission teams include:
The money spent on airfare would better benefit a missionary’s financial needs.
How much can a team actually do in one week?
We do not want to be a burden to our mission partner by visiting.
After studying this issue at length, my answer is yes.
Yes, missionaries would be able to use the dollars spent for a team’s expenses. Please give.
Yes, missionaries love when teams come to serve alongside them. Please go.
Through conversations with partners near and far, I’ve come to appreciate that both options are needed and wanted.
“No more funding! We have no support needs,” said no missionary ever.
Financial burdens always exist as they notice needs and the growing hopes of new initiatives in the vulnerable communities where they serve. Yes, they could definitely put the funds to good use for Kingdom purposes.
Short-term teams allow missionaries to extend their outreach in ways that exceed their typical capacity. When a need requires additional hands, a well-prepared team can be a valuable asset to mission partners.
Groups can bring complete children’s ministry events, lead women’s seminars, share the gospel message, build small homes, and even create playgrounds. Having led teams that did these tasks, I do know the blessing they can be. Furthermore, new ground was tilled where the short-term team members served. Goodwill grew through joint work projects and mutual respect among missionaries and the community.
Short-term Mission Team Pitfalls
Problems arise, however, when the team is not prepared. Arriving at a disaster relief worksite with only high heels (true story!) clearly shows that someone did not read the packing list. Constant complaints about the food/heat/bugs (yes, true stories as well) highlight a mindset better saved for luxury accommodations on the next family vacation.
The recent explosion of short-term teams has expanded the debate on this topic. It grieves my heart to learn how some teams have left their mission site with the community in worse condition than when they arrived. It’s not good when helping hurts. In their ignorance, teams have trampled cultural norms and fractured relationships. Missionaries are left with the burden of investing countless hours to repair the damage. When dignity is removed from the people that the team hoped to serve, it would be best to have not come at all.
Recognizing the problems, nevertheless, I am a strong proponent of short-term missions teams. Through ongoing dialogue with the mission partner, specific tasks for the team should be identified. Decisions on housing, food, and in-country transportation should be made with the hosting missionary but not expecting them to be in the kitchen, behind the wheel, or doing the laundry. The goal is that they’ll be able to extend their ministry in the community and not to be the team’s house elf.
Your Team as the Answer to Prayer
Scripture repeatedly reveals that God hears the prayers of His people. Every tear, every muffled lament, even the number of hairs on our head, the Lord fully knows. Not only does He know but He responds. God sends His Church — His Body on earth — to answer these cries.
You could be the team that the Lord sends to respond to the cries of elderly widow who can no longer read her Bible. You’ll collect reading glasses and learn to administer a simple eye test. The Lord will rejoice with you when tears of joy spill down cheeks because a woman in rural Guatemala can now read her Bible for the first time in years.
You could be the team that purchases cinder blocks, 2′ x 4′ boards, and linoleum to rebuild the kitchen floor for an impoverished woman and her young grandson in Appalachia. The Lord will rejoice with you when they no longer see the dirt ground through the floor cracks and mice and snakes no longer find entrance into the home.
You could be on the team that the Lord gathers to show His love to orphans. You might be the one who sits in the dirt with arms wrapped around the mother-less child who has no one to hold her. You could physically, truly, BE the love of Christ to the least of these (Matthew 25:40).
He calls us to respond.
The church exists beyond the four walls of the local church. It exists beyond state and country borders. Over many years of leading teams, I have seen the beauty that comes from partnership. Through conversation and prayer, we seek the best ways to support mission partners. Sometimes we send funds. Sometimes we train a team. Many times we do both. How is the Lord calling you?
Posted by Sharon R Hoover