Short-term trip, long-term relationship

Short mission trips have critics but can foster advocacy, sharing, education

November 29, 2010

Two men stooping in gravel, holding shovels.

Miles Duncan learns about coffee drying from host Pelayo. —Photos by Parrish Jones

AGUA PRIETA, Sonora, Mexico

In the past few years, short-term mission trips have gotten a bad rap, but on a recent delegation to the U.S./Mexico border, nine Presbyterians heard from those in the field who don’t immediately dismiss short missions.

The debate over how much difference such trips really make has been a constant source of discussion among missiologists — there is little hard evidence that much significant work gets accomplished because there are few physical signs of change on mission fields. Another charge is that short-term mission trips are often paternalistic and selfish.

On the other hand, Tucson Elder Michael Hyatt said, “Short-term mission trips are about learning, sharing and educating. We go to learn from and about the people and projects we are visiting and to share our gifts — ours with them and theirs with us — whatever they may be, and then to educate the people in the churches back home, which is also sharing.”

Elder Lynda Fredsell, of Greenville, S.C., said that “short-term trips helped me understand more so I could help people back home understand how good and wonderful the people of Mexico are. There is so much fear of foreigners.”

An older woman holding a baby in her lap.

Doña Soriada holds Olivia and shares in child care, relieving delegation member and mother Andrea Roske-Metcalf after hours of walking and carrying the baby.

Leisha Reynolds-Ramos, a former Young Adult Volunteer with Frontera de Cristo, said that “short-term mission trips are about relationships. It is OK if groups want to do work projects, but even those should be focused on the relationship, not accomplishing a certain project. It is important to those who live on the mission fields to have relationships.”

The Border to Border delegation that took nine Presbyterians from Agua Prieta on the northern border of Mexico to Chiapas on the southern border, heard echoes of Reynolds-Ramos from the people they met, stating that having friends in the United States gives them courage and helps them feel God’s love.

To travel regularly to visit those we have gotten to know is a way of walking with them through their celebrations and trials.

“Short term mission trips, done right, can be a means of Christ-like accompaniment and advocacy,” said Reynolds-Ramos. "

Hyatt went on to say, “it's all about sharing with the people we go to learn from and with the people we talk with back home so we become a community.”

The Rev. Parrish Jones lives in St. Augustine, Fla. and serves St. Johns Presbyterian Church, Jacksonville, Fla. as interim pastor.

  1. My wife and I have each done an STM in the Yucatan -- she to help build a medical clinic in a small village and I to work on a two story Sunday school/office. STMs, one of us at a time, were what we could fit into our work schedules. We agree that they were productive of physical improvements on the ground to help our new friends whose company in worship and fellowship we will always cherish.

    by George f Shaw

    December 26, 2010

  2. To add to both barb and dorothy" comments ...I have been to both Honduras and Mexico multiple times on short term missions. As a result of our church's first time trip to Honduras, two of our youth members have become physicians dedicated to working with the medically underserved, and there is a third woman in med school at the moment. So yes, I agree that short term mission trips can be life changing events. I have also served with YPM in Leona Vicaria, QR, Mexico. I consider William, Erly, Terry and Mary, my brother and sisters in Christ. Our church will return this April to work on the school and also to renew friendships with some of local women. We will be once again teaching sewing and doing bible study while our youth do construction. Our relationship is far from paternalistic because we recognize the value of what goes on over and above the amount of work we can accomplish in a week's time. We learn from and minister to one another as we work, sing, study scripture, and exchange smiles and hugs with our women friends and their beautiful children.

    by sheila

    December 6, 2010

  3. I cannot speak strongly enough in support of short-term mission trips, particularly international ones. It is a direct result of my trip to Honduras in 2004 that I am now in seminary preparing to be a minister of Word and Sacrament. the trip was truly life-altering....

    by barb

    December 5, 2010

  4. I couldn't agree more. For the past three years with a fourth in the planning stage, a group from First Presby. Ch., Lodi, Wi. has traveled to a Presbyterian mission in Leona Vicario, Quintana Roo, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico to help build a school for children. We are only there for one week but have formed wonderful relationships with Pastor William and his wife Erly. He is a Presbyterian Minister and the mission is Yucatan Peninsula Mission with ties to a board of directors in the US, one of whom is a Presby. pastor in Bolingbrook, Ill. (Pastor Mark Hughey. We are committed to working with our brothers and sisters in Christ to further God's love and care for all.

    by Dorothy Richards

    November 30, 2010

  5. Well said. STMs are about awareness--catching a vision that can be turned into long-term action. Great article! Thanks for sharing.

    by Jeff Goins

    November 30, 2010