by Evan Sparks (lifted from The Wall Street Journal - Opinion)
This past summer, from evangelical churches nationwide, more than one million of the faithful departed for the mission field, taking up Jesus' "Great Commission" to "go and make disciples of all nations." The churchgoers hoped to convert souls, establish churches and meet other human needs. But they did not intend to serve for years or whole lifetimes, like such pioneers as Jim Elliott, who was killed in Ecuador in 1956 evangelizing to native people; or Hudson Taylor, the founder of the China Inland Mission; or even the awful fictional caricatures of African missionaries in Barbara Kingsolver's novel "The Poisonwood Bible." These new missionaries came home after only a week or two.
Short-term mission trips to Africa, South America and Southeast Asia have become very popular in the past few years. They are a keystone strategy of evangelical pastor Rick Warren's plans to help Rwanda. These trips, like Christian missionary endeavors overall, encompass a wide variety of activities, from evangelization and "church planting" to health care and economic development. The billion-dollar question, however, is whether they're worth the cost. Are short-term missions the best way to achieve the goals of Christians? Critics argue that sightseeing often takes up too much of the itinerary, leading some to call short-termers "vacationaries."
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I've heard these arguments many times before. I'm actually getting sick of them. I'd love for someone to write an article outlining what wouldn't happen if North Americans didn't go on short-term mission. It's an easy pot-shot to take at STMs, but not so easy to prepare, lead, and properly re-enter a team that goes with a purpose to serve a real need. Why don't we start a list here, and I'll see if I can get it into The Wall Street Journal!