Early on in WWII, it is said that Hitler did not make a single error in judgment. He was decisive and swift, and above all feared for his blitzkrieg wars. He played psychological games by fitting the famed, German Stuka bombers with sirens. These planes would come in at incredible speeds, make lots of noise, bomb the cities, intimidate the people, then quickly vanish.
While I am in favor of short-term missions (or, Blitzkrieg Missions), they have limitations. ST missionaries don’t see many of the difficulties of the field because they are not there long enough to experience them. If the Western church is not careful, their short-termers will look very much like those German Stuka bombers–coming in quickly, making lots of racket, and departing before the dust clears.
In general, I am in favor of STM. I took the standard high school trip to Mexico but it was the reading of Hudson Taylor’s two-volume biography while on a three month survey trip of Ghana that eventually led me to full time missions. So I’m a fan of STM. I’m also a foe. Why?
STM trips can be a colossal waste of money
It is not unusual for a trip to cost $30k in airline tickets for a single team to have a two-week experience. When Helping Hurts (which I review here), states: “The money spent on a single STM team…would be sufficient to support more than a dozen far more effective indigenous workers for an entire year. And we complain about wasteful government spending!”
Short-termers rarely have the privilege of standing back and watching the character of the pastor or ministry they want to support. We must work hard to avoid paternalism. Distinguish between relief and development. A country wiped out by a hurricane needs immediate relief. Funds should be given quickly and generously. But a building project for a poor church in Moldova does not fit into the same category. Shrewdly discern the two.
STM trips may inadvertently be stealing responsibility from the nationals
Americans are initiators, self-starters, and confrontational. Many cultures are not this way, so when visiting Americans take the lead in giving and doing, many are all too happy to stand aside and let them lead.
Laziness, greed, and unnecessary dependence on others is a temptation to everyone, and men in the ministry are no different. I have seen nationals far too many times taking advantage of generous Westerners with exaggerated and sometimes fabricated stories to pull heart strings along with purse strings. Of course we are to be generous to the poor as Jesus commands, but how to do this is the complicated issue.
A Shangaan Proverb says: “Wealth is found in the mud”, meaning: “Precious things are often found after great effort.” When we give money to national churches or pastors without any effort or responsibility on their part, we are stealing the joy that could only come through sweat and toil.
A lot more could be said, but perhaps this article will suffice in reminding churches that STM trips are much more complicated than simply raising airfare. Even Hitler could do that.