Recently, I've read blog after blog sharing why so many people and organizations felt short-term missions trips were bad, selfish and a waste of time. These blogs and articles had titles that ranged from: "Why You Should Consider Canceling Your Short-Term Mission Trip", "Service Trip Selfishness", and "7 Reasons Why Your Two Week Trip Doesn’t Matter: Calling Bull on 'Service Trips' and Volunteerism."
Well I'm here to tell you that I disagree. I've seen firsthand the impact short-term missions trips can have. Without volunteers, missionaries and medical professionals from all ages and backgrounds - Project Orphans would not have the impact that it does today. Why do I say that? As a non-governmental organization in Uganda that seeks to serve orphans, vulnerable children, broken families, forgotten villages and so many more hurting people - short-term missions trips is one asset that makes it all possible.
Our organization and staff doesn't have time or the man power to host medical clinics that would treat thousands of people. We don't have time or the resources to give hundreds of families meals and clothing on a regular basis. We aren't equipped to build houses, paint schools, train teachers, and evangelize hut to hut.
What we are equipped to do is be there after the team goes home from a trip which has opened new doors of opportunity and new hearts willing to receive our resources which can help them change their life long-term!
We are there after teams come and bring hope to broken families. We are there after a team has helped serve thousands in a village or fund a water well - which opens hearts to allow us to begin working with the community and its leaders. We are there after a medical team leaves to follow-up with patients and continue treating them with the necessary antibiotics they need. We are there to connect people who have accepted Jesus into their heart with a church and/or disciple them as they begin a new journey with Christ.
People say that short-term missions trips are entirely too focused on how the volunteers benefit. How is that possible? People have worked, sacrificed and fundraised for thousands of dollars to take time off work or school and leave their families to travel across the world to meet people they don't know and unselfishly serve them!
One blogger said, "The issues are pervasive after you leave. And your temporary presence may only contribute to their fears of abandonment." I would say to any person who agrees with that statement that they are then undermining the local organization or church that is committed to serve those people long-term.
Personally, I've seen how a short-term missions trip has opened hearts to allow our organization to work within a new community. In January, Project Orphans purchased acreage in Luwero, Uganda. This land was purchased so that we could build The Pearl Village - a community that is designed to come alongside widows, orphans, and broken-families in need of a helping hand.
This village, where we purchased land, has struggled immensely. They have had to battle land thieves, watch people kill their women and children, and experience so many other problems - I can't even begin to describe. Every time I would visit this village I could feel the darkness that inhabited it. Well this past June things began to change, and that is all because a short-term medical missions team came alongside our organization to serve.
We hosted a medical clinic for over 800 village members, fed the entire community a large feast and then shared the vision that Project Orphans planned to build on the property just next door. Do you think these people's hearts would have been open to our organization coming into their community to work without showing the people that we are there to actually serve? No. They wouldn't have been open to that. I know this first hand because we were given a cold shoulder so many times as we shared the vision with people in the community. They didn't believe we were there to actually help their people. It wasn't until a short-term missions trip served the people - that they would begin to welcome Project Orphans with open arms.
We've had many struggles with local land thieves who have tried to combat our organization - and what has been encouraging to us is that the community and its leaders have started to step up and protect us because they know that hope is coming because they were able to see a glimpse of it in June while this missions team served them and their families.
One author of a blog wrote, "People on such short trips usually don’t stick around long enough to realize how ineffective they are being. In Uganda, I became used to seeing groups of young people come for week-long visits at the orphanage where I taught English. They would play with the kids, give them a bracelet or something, and then leave all-smiles, thinking they just saved Africa. I was surprised when the day after the first group left, exactly zero of the kids were wearing the bracelet they received the day prior. The voluntarists left thinking they gave the kids something they didn’t have before (and with bragging rights for life). But the kids didn’t care, because what they really wanted was school uniforms, their school fees to be paid, guaranteed meals, access to healthcare, etc. — the basics."
I find this statement amusing and a little dramatic. I remember Sarah, our local Ugandan Executive Director, share with me that sometimes it's okay not to be so serious and to just have fun and give kids or people a memory to hang onto. Those bracelets that the team gave meant something and I guarantee that the kids weren't wearing them the next day, because they treasured them so much.
Our kids in our Education For A Nation sponsorship program get gifts all the time. From underwear, new shoes to soccer balls and dolls... they don't wear them or play with them. Why? They value them and treasure everything that has been given to them. We literally purchased our kids underwear and new shoes to play in because they would get infections in their private areas or cuts on their feet. I noticed the kids not wearing their new clothes or playing with their toys. I was very disappointed and semi frustrated... I asked, "Why are the girls not wearing their underwear or the kids not wearing their new shoes?" I was annoyed that their sponsors had been sending them things but they weren't even using them.
Soon I realized that kids were saving their underwear, clothes and new shoes for church on Sunday. Saving their underwear, clothes and shoes for church? I thought it was crazy; but when you have never had something like a pack of underwear, a baby doll, or a pack of crayons - why would you expect them to use it or treat it as something they receive on a normal basis? Just like many of those kids who received a bracelet... it was something that had value and meaning so they treasured it and didn't wear it to school where a kid could steal it or it may get dirty.
So I say this - because Project Orphans has many upcoming short-term missions trips and our team both local and abroad want it to be known that we value the commitment and time that people make when they come oversees to help our organization in whatever capacity they are there to serve. Thank you!
We encourage you to do these things or think this way - when you go on a short-term trip with Project Orphans or whoever you might serve with:
- Take photos with the kids you impacted and that made an impression on you - and post them all over social media. You aren't selfish. You aren't exploiting a time that you had while you cared for a poor orphan. You are sharing a moment that impacted your life and I guarantee that child! Plus, you are showing how lives can be touched and encouraging your followers to do the same. So post away!
- Visit orphanages and slums and don't let anyone tell you that you are turning them into tourist attractions. Without volunteers like you - those kids may not get a meal that week. They may not get a new pair of shoes or be treated for an infection they are battling. The kids in the orphanage may not ever hear how beautiful they are or get one-on-one attention from some person who just came to play with them for a day! It's okay to step into someones life for a moment and bring hope or joy. Plus, that moment may one day move you to start an organization or fund a project that could be life changing for thousands.
- Don't feel bad raising money to support your trip to serve! People may say - it's a waste of money and "how thousands of dollars is spent to get to these nations which could be money donated to feed an entire community for a longtime or pay a local doctor's yearly salary." You have every right to go and see the people that need help. Most of our missionaries often become our largest sponsors. It's because they see the difference we are making and the impact funding a project or sponsoring a child can have!
- Never feel you don't have the skills to serve. Every person is valuable. Whether you can help carry a new bed for an elderly woman who has been sleeping on the floor and is fighting back pain, you can pray for someone and bring them Jesus, or you are an amazing organizer and want to sort donations - everyone is needed and everyone is valued.
I will end this blog with a brief story from a trip I led to Guatemala a few years ago. A short-term missions team had come to visit three homes which we had built for families to raise orphaned children in Zacapa, Guatemala. During the trip we hosted a local outreach in a village not to far from the homes. At the local village the team ministered the gospel, provided produce for the families to take home and played with the local kids. We were getting ready to pack up when a younger man came to me and shared how his mother was in her home and was to weak to come to the outreach. He begged for me to come. So I asked the youth pastor, Kassidy, who was on the team and our translator to walk down with me to this ladies home. When we reached the "home" she lived we realized how frail and sick she was. She explained to us that she was dying and had called for the priest to come visit her before she passed. She was very upset that no one had come and that she was afraid she would die before seeing the priest.
In that moment, I shared with this sweet but very sick lady that we did not know how to find the village priest but that we had someone who had traveled all the way from America to meet her. I explained how Kassidy was a pastor from Texas. How he loved Jesus and that he came on this trip to meet her and pray for her before she got to see Jesus in heaven. Tears filled her eyes and she smiled. An overwhelming sense of peace filled the wood-tin structure. Kassidy prayed for her and shared how she had nothing to be afraid of. He told her how God couldn't wait to hold her in heaven and how precious she meant to Him.
That moment saved that women's life. She could pass away knowing that Jesus was with her and cared so much about her. It was a short-term missions trip that God used a youth-pastor from Texas to change someone's life. That moment had nothing to do with our organization or the programs we established and the staff we work with. It had everything to do with someone being obedient to sign-up for a short-term missions trip then raise funds and take time away from his family to travel to a country where he was open to serve.