Short-term Mission or ‘Missio-Tourism’: A Tourist’s View

The value of short-term missions has been debated for a long time. Now, via a business acquaintance, I’ve obtained a view of their impact on vacationing Americans.

My friends were in a Central American resort area when they encountered what we call short-term missionaries and I think they might call “missio-tourists”:

“The newest development we observed first hand at airports and in Central America — hoards of professionally organized youth and adults, roaming in large groups (as recognized by their lovely colorful t-shirts), toting their Bibles and flooding countries they pretend to visit in the name of doing good.

“Listening to these pimple-faced, overweight youths and their ignorant and insensitive comments about the communities they just helped/bothered made me cringe. ‘They did not even, like, have air conditioning.’

“Really? Missionaries of the 21st century?

“If you only know how to walk around and travel in large Christian groups, please stay at home and don’t bother anybody. It is not going to improve the USA’s image abroad. Let the professionals do the real work with communities abroad, those who actually may need it.”

I know that the first response of many will be that improving the image of the USA isn’t the job of a short-term missionary. Their job is to share the Good News — to make known the image of God.

Making God’s Image Known?

But the more I thought about how these friends described short-term missionaries in the airport, the more I found myself wondering how well they could have represented the image of God overseas when they were doing such a poor job in transit.

I found myself thinking about how Jesus behaved during his journey “home.” While he hung on the cross, he didn’t spend time complaining about the lack of honor and glory on his “short-term” mission outpost, our world, even though those are things he definitely could have missed from his home with the Father.

How Jesus Spent His ‘Airport’ Hours

Instead of grousing about the terrible conditions in the land he was leaving, he spent that part of his “travel time” sharing Good News about the Father’s kingdom with a convicted criminal.

We are responsible to share God’s kingdom life in every place, whether on short-term mission or on our own long-term mission, “having gone” (Young’s Literal Translation, Matt. 28:19) wherever God has called us by the demands of career, family, or even church.

Have you been on a short-term mission trip? What do you think about the benefits and costs?

About Carlene Hill Byron

The former editor of New England Church Life and The New England Christian, Carlene Hill Byron is enjoying being home in Maine after 20 years in North Carolina. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild. Find her at, and on Facebook at MyHouseHasHistory.
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One Response to Short-term Mission or ‘Missio-Tourism’: A Tourist’s View

  1. Jon says:

    Hi Carlene,

    A thought-provoking post and one I can understand completely. A fair bit has been written recently on “voluntourism” and I’ve reflected on it myself in terms of short-term teams. I would side with the comments your friends are making, they’re quite good observations really. A short-term team needs to be done well so that there is respect for another culture, even though it’s different. Preparation and training beforehand are the key I think. There are many benefits and costs but if it’s not helping the long-term workers, no matter how “helpful” we might think it is then I don’t think it’s worth it.


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