Whilst in MN I had the extreme pleasure to learn all about short-term mission trips, most I already knew from my youth but it helps to have a refresher course now and then.
How long are these trips? One to two weeks is the average length.
Who goes on short-term mission trips? Students and people under 22 comprise the majority of short-term missionaries. They have access to their parents pocketbook and the backing of older people who think it’s precious to see young people “on fire for the Lord”. Additionally, they have the most free time to participate in these activities. Older professionals also sometimes will participate in these trips, as they have advanced in their career and have stockpiled vacation days and have grown cynical about their profession since their younger days and want to “change the world” in a way which their career has not provided for them.
What are the most popular destinations? The Caribbean, Mexico and South/Latin America are the most popular destinations, with Africa and Europe trailing behind. Don’t believe me? Look up the most popular spring-break mission trips for high schoolers and college students. See anything for Russia? Northern Canada? The Extreme Southern parts of South America? Hell No! These trips are opportunities to have a spring break without participating in the unholy spring break of your heathen peers. Enjoy all the warm weather, beaches, sun, a relaxed drinking age (if you are sneaky about it, as your leaders would not approve) and unrestricted access to the opposite (or same) sex and all the while you get to look good and feel holy about it.
It should also be mentioned that American Protestants undertake these trips more often than most, which means that the majority of these folks are sick and tired of wearing parkas 3-6 months of the year and want to go somewhere warm. Hence, again, the destination choices.
What can you expect to do? You will pray a lot. Sometimes you will spend the entire day in your room, next to your fan or on the beach praying. Couldn’t you do that from home? Sure you could, I heard a pastor tell the congregation, but would you?
You should also be expecting to build a house and if you are lucky than a school, orphanage or church. Maybe you will even get to bring food to the hungry. Couldn’t you do that from home, you know, improving your neighborhood schools, feeding the poor in soup kitchens, etc? Sure, but would you? Of course not.
Most bizarre short-term mission trip I have ever heard of: A church I attended in MN had a group that had just gotten back from…Kentucky. Yes, many parts of Appalachia look more like a third world country than the relative wealth that the majority of us in the United States enjoy but they weren’t really in those parts of Kentucky. And who has ever heard of sending missionaries to the Bible Belt? It’s called the Bible Belt for a very good reason. Sure, I imagine Kentucky doesn’t have many Calvinists, but that’s no excuse. What did they do? Spend an entire day in prayer, visited the State Capitol, swan in some rivers and fixed up a house.