A lot of my work with Youth With A Mission is about mobilising young people, children and families into cross cultural mission, usually, due to life stages involving schools and colleges, for the short term of between two weeks and three months.
Such short-term missions teams come under fire for being a waste of money, better spent on people in need and not a flight, 'flash in the pan' ministry that has no bearing on long term change in a given area, and largely about the young person or child having a great experience. While these criticisms are understandable, they are also perhaps based on misunderstanding, and done well, the fruit, influence and impact of such trips can be vast and significant.
Firstly, it is true that it will be significant for the young person on the trip. For them, there is a significant discipleship element to the trip. They will encounter God's love for others in a new way and they will perhaps be forced to rely on God in a way they never have before. Not only that, but when under pressure in a new, sometimes uncomfortable place, with a team of people, your character is put under a magnifying glass and a whole lot of ugly is exposed some of which you can't ignore!
I have personally shared many of the concerns about short term missions, and yet I cannot deny their transformational and discipling power. Perhaps it's how and what we communicate about them that matters. In YWAM , for a 10 day trip, we have a four/five day training camp and debrief weekend. These times are just as important as the trip itself, because we place it in the context of discipleship - worship, getting your heart 'right', taking stock of what you've seen, what God is saying, and helping them transfer that to their own communities, how the same love and need for integrity and character is there in their own families and schools, not just in a poorer community. As Ghali continues,
"In leaving our zip code, God has taught us a great deal about the people in it."
And yet, if the changes don't last, it could be argued, that it is not down to a 'flash in the pan' phenomenon, but because on returning, they don't see long term missional living being modeled to them in their families or church (But that's a whole other blog!)
There's still more to say about the benefit of short term missions and not just for the young person on the trip, it really is fruitful for those hosting. Again, I find that the concerns raised often depend on how the trip is done. Certainly it's not a good idea to do a trip without being hosted by or linked to a church or missionary base as this ensures there is follow up, in effect the short-termers are making new relationships on behalf of the existing people.
Firstly then, there will often be people in these communities who, as a result of hearing stories, testimonies, preaching or children's ministry, let Jesus into their lives or who are prayed for and want to know more.
Secondly, many of the small missionary teams or churches who host teams are pioneering some work in challenging places. They have few resources, man power, money or otherwise; and for many, they absolutely rely on hosting small teams. Half a dozen extra pairs of hands makes all the difference, and emotionally and spiritually the hosts are encouraged and revitalised.
Thirdly, not only do young people have an amazing experience, but for some, God uses the trips to call his children to action in that country, for instance, many of the long term missionaries we have in YWAM are in a place because they visited once as a young person, and God plants a seed of love for that country in their heart. To 'show' these countries to young people, is to increase the chances of people going there long term in the future.
Also, their passion on returning home to do fundraisers and send more resources out, long term friendships across seas resulting in further trips, new generations of young people desirous to go and be the next short team 'out there' keeping the work that relies on them ticking over is perhaps harder to measure, but a result of their visit nonetheless.
Short term teams then are not just about young people having a nice time, although that can be a perk - for the most part young people find it challenging but life changing. And the changes they experience should, if trained well, affect those in their home churches, families and communities, leading to more mission - as well as those they meet in the 'field'. For many of the hosts, receiving a short term team is a life line, a highlight and a chance to recruit more people to their cause, and of course, there are people who really do meet Jesus for the first time, or get healed, or prayed for because somebody, from a long way away, bothered to go and meet them.
One thing is clear however: you need both. Short term teams need the long term and vice versa, and in order to be effective, the role models and discipleship back at home needs to be just as outwardly and missional.
My musings. Opinions my own, and potentially not that thought through!