a skeptic-turned-believer of short-term missions

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I’m going to ask for a moment of honesty here without judgement:

Though I love missions very much, I’ve never been total believer short-term mission trips.

I already know the confusion from my Christian friends and family that are reading this, as they might know I’ve been on quite a few. Working for Zoe Children’s Tribe in Kitale, Kenya this past month was my seventh short-term mission overall, and second STM out of the country.

Yet during this past trip, God gave me full clarity to know why I’ve always been so compelled to go on short-term mission trips.

Allow me to explain myself.

I don’t think it’s unreasonable for us all to acknowledge that it seems a little ridiculous for someone to travel 5+ hours (for in-country trips) or 15+ hours (for international trips) to help others when they could simply send the ministry the money they would use to travel and allow the locals offer aid.

And I do think that there are certainly cases where sending money would be more helpful than traveling to the place.

However, this trip taught me why going and seeing for oneself is so valuable to both you and the people you are visiting, and therefore worth the money and time.

And here’s why:

In this modern age, we are often bombarded with the disparities of the world around us.

From the videos on the news, to the newspapers headlines, to vague stories of the modern slave industry, to the statistics of the developing world, and to the stories of the places “across-the-tracks,” we have so much head knowledge about the hurting world around us.

We know all the factual evidence of the developing world. We know that more than 3 billion people only survive on one dollar a day. We know that more than 153 million children hold the status of “orphan.”  We know it’s a hard existence in many places.

Even if you don’t know any statistics exactly, you know there are a ridiculous amount of serious issues out there. You know that it’s all very overwhelming, and as famous author and missionary Katie Davis-Majors once said, even beginning to alleviate it “feels like emptying the ocean with an eye dropper.”

So, because we are so exposed to all the numbers, we subconsciously begin to dehumanize the people in the statistics, on the Facebook videos, and on our television screens.

It’s not an intentional thing! It’s just what can happen when we are presented with all the numbers all the time and don’t look these people in the face and hear their stories.

However, there’s something super perspective-altering about going to another city or another country and visiting the people behind the numbers.

Suddenly, statistics and numbers…. become faces and stories.

You begin to realize that the vague issues… affect real, flesh and blood people.

They aren’t a number… they are a human.

A human that cries, laughs, sings, dances, has a personality, eats dinner, has a favorite color, goes to sleep, has a distinct sense of humor, has their own quirks, loves their family just like you do.

And your compassionate relationship with that person is just as important as the money you send to them.

There’s no price on raw human connection.

I think it’s easy to forget that human compassion and relationship are just as vital as food and shelter.

I think short-term mission trips (when done correctly), stir a deep affection within for the hurting in this world by making a statistic, a friend.

Because now, when I read that more than 3 billion people only survive on one dollar a day, I’m not only thinking of a fractionated number…. I’m thinking of the kind gate-keeper Felix, from the compound where I stayed.

And when I hear about the more than 153 million children that are orphaned, I see the face of my little friend Emily, with her huge smile, love of art, and contagious laughter.

Compassion and affection are most easily stirred for 3 billion and 153 million people because I know one person personally.

Because of short term mission trips, cold numbers become personal friends.

I realize that my perception (and possible fear) of other people might be a little off, because of my perception colored by media and statistics.

That maybe, just maybe, by being so separated from the issues, I misunderstand the personal struggle of people who are dealing with the issues.

I’m not saying that it’s right that we are quick to forget the realness of the people behind the numbers. I’m just saying that it’s human, and sometimes we need the tangible, face-to-face reminder.

Sometimes we need to go look someone in the face to understand the depth of their struggle more, to show them genuine compassion.

Sometimes we just need a little reminding that behind the screens and the numbers, across oceans and towns are real, breathing, hurting humans.

So that’s one of the many things that the STM trip taught me.

I hope that maybe your thoughts in STMs have been changed by this post.

I hope that you are reminded that sometimes we might need a little reminding.

In the One who moves hard hearts to compassion,

Mary Madeline



For those of you looking to go on short-term or long-term mission soon, I highly recommend When Helping Hurts if you have not already read it! It talks about the mistakes that we can make when doing mission work (specifically with poverty), and the ways we can do them effectively and with proper discernment.

Another book that I found helpful during my first trip abroad is Foreign to Familiar, which helps one effectively navigate foreign cultures, specifically from the perspective of a Westerner. It doesn’t talk much about the gospel-invasion of crossing-cultures, just general tips on how to be kind, respectful, and get the most out of the time, without being the loud, ignorant, and often-hurtful American “tourist.”



2 thoughts on “a skeptic-turned-believer of short-term missions

  1. There’s no price on raw human connection… I love that.
    There’s indeed a real value in short term missions, the opportunity for connection, for ministry, and for impacting lives is not only limited by time but is a product of faithfulness.
    Those whose lives were touched count not the days but the moments shared.
    Great writing. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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