Here’s the thing about Short Term Missions Mondays

It’s time to bring up something I’ve been wanting to talk about for a while, something in which I’ve invested thousands of dollars and thousands of hours. Something I just can’t seem to get away from, even as a full time missionary (whatever that means). Something I’ve criticized and praised.

Short term missions.


For the foreseeable future, Mondays on tattooedmissionary will be dedicated to short term missions. My experiences, your experiences, pros and cons, across the street and across the sea, what we’re doing well and what we could be doing better, helpful practical tips and resources, and maybe even a couple of guest posts if we’re lucky.

According to Wikipedia, short term missions is defined as “the mobilization of a Christian missionary for a short period of time ranging from days to a year.” We’re going to go with that definition. I am also going to add that if you are a Jesus follower, you are a missionary and as my missions professor always says, “You don’t have to cross salt water to do missions.” This means that you can do, and probably are doing, “missions” wherever you are right now. “Missions” being ushering in the Kingdom by seeing and meeting needs, loving and serving others, and pointing toward Jesus.

We will enter into this series with the assumption that when we participate in short term missions, “we don’t know what we’re doing.” The men and women who live every day in the cities, states, and countries where we serve for a week or two are the ones who know what they are doing. They understand the historical and cultural backgrounds of their homes and the people they serve and the best thing we can do is to listen and learn.

As we will discuss, the keys to successful short term missions are flexibility and teachability – to be willing to listen and to do what is needed, even when it’s not what you had in mind. Because really when we are passing through someone else’s hometown, ministry, church, or organization we really don’t know what we’re doing. We just have to show up ready to love, serve, and learn.

Here are some articles, blog posts, and books I have come across in the past year or so that speak on short term missions. Let’s start by listening.

700 words. by Jamie the Very Worst Missionary

Using your poor kid to teach my right kid a lesson. by Jamie the Very Worst Missionary

South Sudan’s frontline nuns on Aljazeera

The Problem With Little White Girls (and Boys): Why I Stopped Being a Voluntourist by Pippa Biddle

The White-Savior Industrial Complex at The Atlantic

6-Day Visit To Rural African Village Completely Changes Woman’s Facebook Profile Picture at The Onion

4 reasons white people need to talk about race at between worlds

Cure for the White Savior Complex by Shawn Casselberry

When white people don’t know they’re being white at between worlds

Here’s the thing about helping without hurting by Yours Truly

Plays Well With Others by Jeff Cook

When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert

Toxic Charity by Robert D. Lupton

What resources have you found helpful in your missions journeys?


Next week I’ll share my own experience with short term missions and hopefully introduce you to the women whose experiences and words of wisdom have already so informed this series.

3 thoughts on “Here’s the thing about Short Term Missions Mondays

  1. Before I went to medical school, I did a couple short term medical missions through the church I attended at that time. I felt awesome about it then. I thought we were really helping these people in this developing country and that we were giving them something premium and inaccessible otherwise.

    As I’ve gone through medical school and researched international medicine more and also reflected on what we back then on those trips, my views have changed a lot. I went with a large group of U.S. physicians and nurses who didn’t speak the language to tiny villages and did basic primary care type work for 2 weeks at a time, once or twice a year. The problem with that is that the benefit of primary care, as I now know, is with regular follow up and a stable healthcare system. It can even be more harmful than good to just show up intermittently and leave without reasonable expectation for follow up. I regret the way we did things and I would certainly do it different if I were in charge now.

    What seems to be more beneficial in regards to international medicine is to go to those places and bring research, systems innovations, and education to a community. This allows the community to take charge, become empowered, and learn to care for themselves. It’s the basics of public health, really. A way a nurse or a doctor can make a bigger difference is to study a country’s methods of delivery and apply lessons we have learned through research to improve said system. You can also give existing healthcare providers access to new and interesting research that might improve their outcomes or even directly teach in any makeshift medical education system that might exist.

    All of these things are much much more helpful from a public health standpoint and I wish I knew it before I did my short term missions.

    I know this really the spiritual side that you’re probably wanting to focus on, but since the humanitarian aspects of missions are often the vehicle for delivering a religious message, it make sense to ensure it is safe and effective.

    1. “This allows the community to take charge, become empowered, and learn to care for themselves. It’s the basics of public health, really.”

      YES YES YES! Empowering. Teaching. Mutually beneficial relationships. Investing. Education! Yes!

      My plan is to talk about it all – spiritual and practical implications – because you are right. If we’re not doing whatever it is we’re doing (healthcare, day camps, painting a building) well then we’re not loving well. Thanks so much for sharing your experience and your wisdom!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s