Christians should avoid going on a missions trip without deep consideration of why they are going, advised an established missionary-sending organization.
It is understandable that people get excited about living in a new country but adventure in a foreign culture should not be the main reason people go on a missions trip, said Todd Eckhardt, director of Homeland Ministries and environment at World Gospel Missions.
"When you go on a missions trip – whether you go with your church, with WGM, or another missions group – you're entering dangerous territory," Eckhardt said. "You're reaching out to people in the name of Jesus in order to make Him known."
"The further away from that primary motivation you get, the more potential damage you could be doing both to yourself and to those whom you are serving," he said.
Eckhardt's caution is in response to the enthusiasm people have to volunteer in Haiti after the massive quake devastated Port-au-Prince in January. After the quake, WGM said there has been a renewed interest in volunteerism, a word that describes a person's duo desire to experience a new culture while also participating in philanthropic works, such as serving the poor.
But WGM, which has a 100-year missions history, warns that the volunteerism attitude can be harmful to missions. Eckhardt said missionaries should be motivated to "go to see lives changed by the power of Jesus Christ."
According to missions experts, more than two million Americans travel abroad each year on short-term mission trips, sponsored by the more than 40,000 American churches, schools, and other organizations that send teams around the world. And each year, the United States leads in the number of missionaries sent overseas.
WGM has missionaries in 23 areas of the world, and sends about 90 teams a year to complete construction projects, run medical and sports clinics, and minister alongside local churches, among other activities. The agency sends people on both short-term missions trips that last a few weeks to longer assignments that last for years.