On Bree Medlock's mission trip to Honduras she spent the first week around a table teaching locals about discipleship, and the second week hiking a mountain and sleeping on the floors of a school in the village with the bugs and dirt.
“The reason we were in the village was to love on people and encourage them,” said Bree Medlock, student at the University of Memphis.
Medlock went to Honduras with an independent team, but worked with an established ministry that continued the work after the team left.
“That second week was really difficult, but I’m glad I went," said Medlock. "I think everyone should experience a mission trip because it teaches you so much about yourself, other people and about God.”
In many ways Medlocks experiences reflect both the benefits and drawbacks of short term mission trips by young people around the world.
Fifty years ago, young people typically joined the Peace Corps for a few years, but now high school and college students are jumping on a plane to Africa or South America for as little as one week.
While the trips routinely benefit participants by exposing them to global challenges of poverty and education, some experts question the benefit of short term mission trips.
For instance, the money spent by one campus ministry to cover the costs of their Central
American missions trip to repaint an orphanage would have been enough to hire
two local painters and two new full-time teachers as well as purchase new
uniforms for every student in the school, according to “Toxic Charity” by Robert
Rick Beck is a full time missionary with his family in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. They founded the organization Partners in Global Outreach, a nonprofit dedicated to sharing the gospel with Hondurans by reaching out to the thousands of people that live at the city-dump, the urban population, and outreach to youth in prison. In addition, they provide foster care, ESL classes and an internship program.
He watches teams come and go to his ministry as well as others. When teams come, hosting them, feeding them and taking them around the city can become a full time job.
“It is easy for hosting short term mission teams to become the focus of full time missionaries, making the actual mission secondary,” Beck said.
Although these short term trips can be beneficial, many times they have the reverse effect.
Lindy May, an ESL student at the University of Memphis, spent her summer in Thailand at Udon Thani Rajaehat University teaching English.
“I went for the whole summer because I think week long trips are only beneficial if you are going to encourage the full term missionaries. Otherwise, it’s really just traveling for fun,” May said.
Mission teams that begin projects or programs, but leave before they finish, end up debilitating the locals instead of empowering them.
“Unfortunately, often times we go for a week, meet tangible needs, and then rush off to our own homes. The locals end up becoming dependent on the "Rich Americans" and they have no method of surviving on their own,” said Hannah Hamilton, a student at the University of Memphis.
Short term mission teams, however, can be beneficial and even needed to encourage long term missionaries and provide manpower for large projects.
“It is important for teams to come with a mindset of helping pre-established churches and organizations,” Beck said.
Fifty percent of the world population lives on less than $2.50 a day, according to the Human Development Report. Short term mission trips allow people’s eyes to be opened to realities in other parts of the world.
Hamilton has traveled all over the US, as well as to Honduras, Kenya, Uganda, Malta, France, & England for mission trips.
“Short term missions usually benifit the participant more than the recipient, but as long as the work is continued after the trip, the sights and experiences of a short term trip can be really beneficial for the participant,” Hamilton said.
Short term missions can be beneficial if they are contributing in quantifiable ways, such as a trip to Mexico teaching English through International Youth Fellowship in January.
African Student Association (ASA), a University of Memphis organization is promoting this trip.
“ASA chose to promote this because it is positive opportunity ethically and morally, to share with a community. We all live in this world together and African Student Association believes strongly that instead of tearing this world down more, we should help each other, no matter what culture or race,” said Justin Brooks, secretary of ASA.
Students interested in signing up can simply apply on their website.
“There will be relationships made and ideas implemented that we may have to leave or postpone. The goal of this trip is to help people through teaching English, even though it is only for a considerably small amount of time. It may be a repeating event, but going there for a week will help those people more than we are just sitting here,” said Justin Brooks,