Are Short-Term Trips a Waste of Cash?

Funny that I should post this, considering that I’ll likely be going on a STM in the near future, but the issues are still worth thinking about. Do short-term missions do more harm than good? And are the whole idea really just a feel-good cash-dump that benefits American egos and international travel moguls?:

Most “mission trips” I’ve seen reminded me of the Billy Crystal movie, City Slickers. I get negative feedback from Malawians. One student told me that when vacationaries show up at his village and start taking pictures, it makes the people “feel like animals in a zoo.”

In a country with 80% unemployment, they may resent watching Americans doing construction work they might have been hired to do. They needed the work, and they didn’t need to buy airplane tickets.

One group of 27 American teenagers came out and painted half a building on campus while surrounded by $60 a month Malawian workers. Then they got on a bus and went on a day trip to view Lake Malawi. The Malawians finished painting the building. I was told the teenagers raised $3500 apiece to come (total: $94,500) – to paint half a building.

Think about the Taj Mahal in India. Think about the Pyramids in Egypt. People living overseas can paint and do construction work.

Does it ever occur to anyone that most of the money spent on “mission trips” goes to the travel industry, not to the people living in the target area? Try googling “mission trip.” You’ll get hundreds of web sites of organizations that want to help your church organize your mission trip. It has become a major industry.

One pastor on a “mission trip” had me step aside while he taught my class for a week. I wonder how he’d respond if I showed up at his church and said I wanted to preach in his pulpit.

Meanwhile career missionaries struggle to raise and maintain the support they need for things like health insurance and retirement. When my late wife was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer, we had no health insurance; we had dropped it because we couldn’t afford the premiums. I think about that when the vacationaries ride past my house in a bus.


About B Treece
loved by God before I ever loved Him, saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone by the authority of the Bible alone to the glory of God alone, made to enjoy Him forever, happily married with wonder-filled children.

2 Responses to Are Short-Term Trips a Waste of Cash?

  1. Denise says:


    Found your post through a series of links, but here is my thought on those short terms.

    Yes, 94 thousand dollars was wasted if you ask me. Now, if the Gospel was preached by that one who asked you to step aside, was he from your group or those kids group? Or a local Pastor. If a local pastor, then what need was it for those kids to paint half a building? Total waste of money and time plus as you’ve stated, the local people need the work and are able.

    I’ve seen this kind of activity running rampant throughout Christianity and it just seems to me that you’ve correctly named them “vacationaries.” If through that group with the kids the Gospel was preached and some were saved then I might reconsider because who can count the cost of a single soul?

    This was a good topic to bring up. One in my mind alot. I pray for you and pray the Lord will bless you for your honesty, I like that in someone.


    • B Treece says:


      Thanks for dropping by. I appreciate you reading and agreeing. As far as the comments I quoted, I mostly agree with them, but they aren’t mine. They are from a professor in Malawi named Larry Brown. The “vacationaries” term is funny, but I didn’t coin it. Prof. Brown did.

      And like you say, you can’t put a price tag on people’s souls. Dr. Brown was just putting a price tag on common sense.


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