November 11, 2018
| by Phil Steiner
I want to believe that most of these short-term mission trips have a goal of serving and helping those they are going to serve. I want to believe that most youth groups do care about the poor and what they are doing to help those on the underside of life. I want to believe that youth pastors and trip leaders facilitate these trips for both the benefit of their team and the people they are serving.
If you are like me, you want to have a good and successful short-term mission trip where you honor and dignify everyone involved, especially those you are serving. If this is true, then we need to constantly be aware of and wrestle with tensions on these trips. We need to ask good hard questions about what we are doing and why we are doing it.
One of the hard areas we need to consider is this: “Are we using the poor and orphan solely for our benefit?” If our primary or even the majority concern is for our participants, students or what our team gets out of the trip, then we need to ask again, “Are we taking advantage of the poor?”
God is pretty serious about how we treat the poor.
“One who oppresses the poor to increase his wealth and one who gives gifts to the rich – both come to poverty.” Proverbs 22:16
“Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court, for the LORD will take up their case and will exact life for life.” – Proverbs 22:22-23
This question is an uncomfortable and challenging place for us to sit and consider. I know it is for me. But if we are to be good stewards of what God has called us to do, then we must be willing to step into this tension and messiness and find a way forward.
Let us ask ourselves some questions:
Are our goals and desired outcomes for the trip solely and primarily about what our short-term missions team will gain? If we do have goals and outcomes for the community we are going to serve, are they shared goals where both parties will accomplish their goals? Have we talked to the organization we are going to help about what would be a good outcome of the trip for the community? The best goals and outcomes are ones that are mutually agreed upon before the trip and publicly shared with our team, church, and supporters. Work with the host community well in advance and understand how you can best meet their needs and ask the hard questions of what your group’s presence does in the community. Begin with the goals of the community we are going to serve and out of that develop our goals for our team. Begin with the “other” first.
Do we have a growing relationship with the people, community, individuals we are going to serve? People don’t want to be used for the benefit of someone else’s physical, emotional or spiritual gain. But if we all grow together, both trip participants and those we are serving, then we are accomplishing something greater than anything we do on a trip. Let us not use the poor for our groups personal or spiritual gain. As a result of our trips we may know poverty or poor people, but do we know a person who is poor? People desire relationship over projects and time spent in community over getting the job done.
Are our short-term mission trips a way for us to be more grateful for our lives because of what little other people have? This one bugs me! Have you ever heard or even said yourself, “I just want my kids to be more grateful for what they have.” But, what we are saying is that “We want our students to see poor people so they know how good they have it and that they will stop complaining.” Trust me I want my kids to stop complaining too, but not at the expense of seeing someone else’s poverty. Nowhere in the Bible does it say to be thankful because someone else has less or is living in poverty. Let us be grateful for the gifts God has given us and not in comparison to someone else. A wise person once said, “The only reason we have to look into someone else’s cup is to make sure they have enough not to see if we have more than them.” – Unknown
As we begin planning for next years short-term mission trip, let us be honest with ourselves and ask, are we using the poor to our advantage? Are we using the poor for our spiritual gain at the cost of ”the least of these?” Let us move forward in a way that honors, respects and brings dignity to those we are serving with on our trips.
Philip Steiner is a Kilns College Alumni. He graduated with a Masters in Social Justice. He is currently the CEO of Be2Live. Be2Live has been taking high school students on service and learning trips since 2010. Since their beginning, we have facilitated trips for over 2,000 students, adults, and families. We partner with local organizations and ministries that are doing the hard work of serving the community.