It seems to me that many short-term mission trips are problematic for a number of reasons. Let me give a few off the top of my head;
1) Service missions are a waste of money that could have been used to hire local workers to do many of the jobs much better. I don’t understand why we spend thousands of dollars to send unskilled workers, often teenagers, when we could give jobs to local workers who actually know what they are doing for less money.
2) The false implicit assumption seems to be that missions and service need to be done somewhere other than within our own communities and to our own neighbors.
3) It reinforces the dynamic of impoverished people needing to be taken care of and saved by affluent, (typically white) Americans. Instead of empowering others and standing beside them as equals, a hierarchy develops even under the guise of service.
4) People gain an undue sense of their own goodness and the ‘impact’ or ‘difference’ that they made in other people’s lives. This also perpetuates the false belief that poverty is not an issue that should be addressed in the public sphere because charity is good enough to handle it.
5) While exposing people to poverty is a good thing, the lack of ongoing relationships does not actually improve people’s awareness of the reality of poverty. You often end up with affluent people who falsely think they understand the experience of poverty and the issues surrounding it.
6) The people being served are dehumanized as objects that we get to feel bad for, show compassion toward, feel love at, etc… They exist to make us feel like good Christians. How many people end up taking pictures of locals as if they are tourist attractions? Wouldn’t you find it weird if strangers went through your neighborhood and started taking pictures of you or your kids?
We’ve turned The Great Commission into something that is nothing more than an expensive vacation for church people. If God has called you to missions, then do mission work. But don’t do mission work for a week, come back to your home and share about how much you loved it and can’t wait to go back next year. Just go do it.