I've been reading and writing about short-term missions lately. Lots of debate on the internet. I've noticed that some STM advocates believe that the primary benefit is for those who go - often true - and that this is enough to justify the STM.
Sometimes they use a lot of spiritual language: After all [if we can assume God is calling you?] it's not about the results, about what you accomplish, it's about obedience and what God does in your heart through it.
I'm not sure that's a very strong argument. I'm still wrestling with it. Ultimately I don't think it's a question we can answer in abstract and universal terms. God isn't writing the same story in every life.
But certainly (as the popular book puts it) there are times when helping hurts; it can hurt the very people we want to serve. I cringe to see so many people responding to, say, a natural disaster, by making some small sacrifice to feel good about themselves and give someone else a handout. Particularly when it means gathering up stuff in our rich country - sometimes really inappropriate stuff - and sending it to a poor one, thus creating dependency, hurting the local markets, etc. Far better to facilitate the distribution of locally available resources.
And the cities, countries, and regions that receive the most of this sort of aid, for decades or centuries, sometimes just get poorer, more corrupt, etc.
I don't want to take a holier-than-thou or self-righteous approach and just say:
Those people, they need to learn to be more responsible, and we're going to punish them by not giving them any more money or stuff until they get their act together!No. What I'm saying is:
We who give, we need to learn to be more responsible. Let's discipline ourselves by not giving on impulse, not giving money or stuff until we've done our research!Usually, after some big disaster, people are looking for not just ways to give but ways to be more deeply involved.
"Yes, we live in a world where some want to DO more than they want to HELP," writes Ed Stetzer in a recent post on disaster relief, "but at the end of the day that is more selfish than helpful. Ministering to disaster victims should be about meeting their needs, not fulfilling our need to feel helpful."
Our checkbooks may do more good than our presence. And we who give should be aware of the high cost of giving what we have and think is needed, rather than asking someone on the ground.