Top 10 Do's & Don'ts of Short Term Missions

  1. DO educate yourself on the people and the community you will be visiting, it’s cultural norms, and how your own country may have positively/negatively impacted their history
  2. DO work with a local leader who knows the culture and the true needs of the people you will meet. Don’t assume you know what they need based on your experience in the United States.
  3. DO contribute in a positive way to the local economy.  Avoid bringing Rubbermaid tubs of toys/crafts/gifts/balls/equipment that can be purchased in country.  This can have a devastating effect on local merchants.  Instead, take the time and effort to support local businesses, and multiply the positive effects of your visit.
  4. DO look for ways that your trip can facilitate the short or long-term employment of local people.  Odds are good that the short-term missionaries on your trip are not experts in local building techniques, farming practices, or teaching styles.  Stay curious, and partner with local labor/talent/expertise to guide you and sustain the project once you are gone.
  5. DO spend time getting to know the local people on a personal level.  Don't be afraid to try out your possibly limited language skills or use translators.  If you’re wondering what to talk about, you can instantly foster connection by talking about family, friends, and asking others to tell you what they appreciate most about where they live, and what worries them.
  6. DON’T take photos of people/kids without their consent, and without knowing their names and stories.  It’s about mutual respect.
  7. DON’T be afraid to show up empty-handed (i.e. without food, treats, crafts, or trinkets to give away).  It’s amazing what God can do when we have nothing to offer but ourselves.
  8. DON’T give gifts without the consent of the host church or agency.  Better yet, provide gifts that the host agency can distribute based on need.  This empowers the local agencies and reduces the risk of developing the much-maligned “North American Savior” complex.
  9. DON’T go unless you are at least CONSIDERING a long-term partnership with the host church/sponsoring agency.  There are projects, such as building a home, that can impact long-term change, but without a long-term partnership, you might miss out on the impact of establishing life-long relationships. 
  10. DON’T stop with this list.  Do your research to understand the possibilities and pitfalls of short-term missions.  Indeed, God is in control, but it’s up to us to be as informed as possible.
Jeremy Dyck