Can I just speak frankly here?  As a non-profit organization hosting short-term mission teams, I have read more than my fair share of articles, books and posts speaking against short-term missions.  If I’m honest, I really am pretty weary of it.  This month yet another article was published with a strong stance against short term missions. Well…I simply can no longer not respond (and yes, all you English majors out there, I realize that is a double negative. So be it!). 

What I have read talks about the cost of short-term teams and how those funds could be much better utilized.  I have read how ineffective short termers are and how ‘real’ missions needs to be done by those living long term in their respective regions who are ‘trained’ specifically for such work.  I have read how disruptive short-term teams are to the ‘real work’ happening on the field.   I have read how short-termers take away from the focus of evangelism happening in the regions where they go.  I have read how team member’s lives aren’t changed. There is no shortage of negative content out there about short-term mission teams.  And it feels as though the baby gets thrown out with the bath water when it comes to short term missions.

In all the negativity, I guess I question the analysis.  I wonder what measuring stick they use in evaluating short term missions?  I wonder if God’s perspective is the same?  Does He rank the work of evangelism (an incredibly long and slow road in most areas of the world) as more important than the work of opening eyes (Christian as well as non-Christian) to the vast need and to call them to understand their responsibility of responding to it?  I wonder if He considers the day-in and day-out hard work of long term missionaries as more important than the awareness and education — or perhaps the beginning of a call — in missions a short-termer might receive?  Does Jesus view money spent on short-term teams as irresponsible and better used?  Or does He view that money as an investment in His great commission to go into all the world?  Does Jesus’ measuring stick elevate what is happening on the field long term as more important or of greater value than what happens in the hearts of people who see it for the first time and are changed forever? And what if changes only happen for a short time (in our limited estimation)? Is that not of worth to God?

You see, I don’t want to pretend to understand what is of more value to God.  But, what I know is that God is so vibrantly at work in both long term and short-term missions.  In my estimation, one is not more important than the other because I see God using both in amazing ways.  To see God work to bring people to Him all around the world is incredible!  To see Him work and wreck the hearts of people over the vast need they see is also so incredible!  To see Him use a short term experience to break someone’s heart and call them to respond (whether in a long term calling, or to pray, or to give, or to share about the experience) is remarkable.  And who am I (or you, or really anyone) to say one is more important than the other.  I believe both are wildly important and enormously used by God to expand His Kingdom throughout the entire world…and in our hearts!

While I know God works in my heart in America, I must confess that I have often seen him work massive things in my heart while I’m on another continent.  More than a few times, I have asked God why He had to take me all the way to Cambodia or Thailand or Japan or Germany or…wherever, to teach me what He wanted to teach me.  I have often complained to Him that I would love it if He could do His work while I’m in my own country.  In my estimation it would be much more cost effective, less disruptive, and a way better use of time and resources for Him to do His work right in my home.  While that does happen sometimes, I can point to many times His working of deep issues in my heart has happened while I’m far from the comforts of my own comfortable home. 

And perhaps that’s part of why I believe short-term missions are so important.  I can confidently say in every single team, I see God do a work in the hearts of people.  It’s a work that simply can’t or doesn’t happen when we’re in our comfortable western worlds.  It happens because we are choosing to ‘go into all the world’.  It happens because we come face to face with a poverty not seen in even the poorest areas of the US — our poverty line in America begins 31 times over the global average. Did you hear that? Thirty-One Times!!! Seeing the kind of poverty we see in Cambodia (and so many other parts of the world) impacts us in ways we can’t imagine!

This past year, we hosted a parent’s meeting in our MineField Village school in Cambodia.  These parents are poor and live in grass huts, with no electricity or running water.  Their children go to our LightBridge school.  We asked them to share what they think is going well at school.  The things they shared were deeply encouraging to my heart.  But, one thing strongly stood out to me.  Without prompting, these parents brought up mission teams and how thankful they are for those teams.  I was truly so surprised and asked why they liked teams.  Several spoke of how exciting it is when teams come.  Their children love the programs and learn so much.  Their children come home and talk about teams and all they learned for months after the team leaves. 

And it hit me.  Short-term teams are indeed impacting for the team members.  But teams coming and hosting a VBS has also left a profound mark on this village and on the lives of children.  Not only are kids hearing (and responding to) the precious news of a Savior who loves them; their lives are being impacted.  And so are their eternities.  They are sharing of these things with their families as well.  These children have a childhood and it includes experiences of being loved, taught, tickled…of playing, crafting, learning, developing, and probably at least a dozen other things.  It’s part of the very fabric of their childhood and is something they remember with deep fondness and life-changing impact.

You see, without teams, these kinds of things simply cannot happen in our LightBridge world.  What teams bring is remarkable.  Our small staff of just a few people can’t possibly host a VBS with 150 kids.  Our limited staff can’t possibly run a de-licing clinic for over 100 children desperate for some relief.  Our modest staff can’t even remotely run English camps, or music camps, or health and eye clinics, or host so many other things short-term teams provide.

If I’m honest, our staff didn’t even know of paper beads before a short-term team member came and taught village ladies to roll beads (So grateful for you Inga!).  These village ladies are now full-time employed in our job creation program, Landmine Design — 27 of them!! And they are not only growing in their faith in Jesus, but they are also able to provide sustainably for their families. 

So, if you ask me, I couldn’t believe more in the power and effectiveness of short-term teams.  Yes!  They are a ton of work.  Yes!  They are costly.  Yes!  They disrupt the day-to-day work.  And YES!!  They are worth every dollar, every effort, every disruption because God uses them in powerful ways – both for the team members and for the work they are part of on the ground.

Friends, short term mission teams matter!! If you’re looking to serve, or would like to bring a team, to experience what God is doing in Cambodia, let’s talk!  We’d love to have you join us and experience it for yourself!! Email me at to begin the conversation!


Karla Tillapaugh