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!
As Tim Ghali writes regarding training young people to be missional, outwardly and kingdom focused, it is important to see the needs of others. Spending time doing that with other young Christians in the context of worship, prayer and seeing God's broken heart for those in need is a good way to do it, in the same way that a camp or a festival may be a deep, life changing experience, worshiping with others.
"...if you want to convince a student to become less self-absorbed, you need to show them the physical/ emotional/ spiritual poverty of others."
"In leaving our zip code, God has taught us a great deal about the people in it."
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.