(from Thomas Johnson)
I’m in the midst of reading Toxic Charity: How the Church Hurts Those They Help and How to Reverse It by Robert D. Lupton. The author has joined a growing chorus of critics who argue that most short-term missions’ (STM) trips are expensive, distracting, unproductive, harmful to local recipients of mission teams and they primarily exist to gratify Western Christians’ self-delusions of adventure and sacrificial charity.
As an RCA Missionary who has hosted dozens of volunteers in the mission field, I know that these critiques carry a great deal of merit in the global mission community and they should be taken seriously. When folks ask me if they reflect my experience, though, I always reply “No.” My primary rationale is that because Niger is a hot, dusty, poor, non-English speaking country that is expensive to visit and possesses few easily-accessible tourist sites, it simply doesn’t attract the kind of volunteer who often frequents short-term trips in more agreeable settings. Lupton notes, in comparison, that churches in the Bahamas receive 1 volunteer for every 15 residents in those tropical islands!
We just don’t get that many visitors in Niger. I have supporting churches that send STM teams all over the world, but only a few have ever approached me about bringing a group to Niger. Those volunteers that we do get are generally quite conscientious of how little they know about the place. Most come with a willingness to serve and participate as local Christians and the missionaries best see fit. Of course, we RCA missionaries (there are 2 couples in Niger) try to coordinate with team leaders and explain our context and work with the volunteers to shape the likely program before they ever arrive. Our groups tend to be small in number—5 might be the average—as we know that most of the time we can’t successfully handle the logistics for many more than that.