Missionaries Make Short Trips to Teach Gospel
Latshaw, Greg, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Natives in Maracaibo, Venezuela, wonder why a "gringo" such as Ken Brown would choose to go there.
The city is hot, dirty and full of gasoline fumes, the University of Pittsburgh student writes in an e-mail. But he believes God called him there. He travels to university campuses around the country to speak about having a personal relationship with God, he said.
"The time that we spend just sharing with students and meeting them where they are, and just loving them, is great," said Brown, of Plum, who is in Venezuela on a six-week mission trip that ends July 6.
As the summer heats up, Brown is among millions of Christians who are getting their passports stamped and racking up frequent flyer miles.
Acting as missionaries, they travel overseas -- or within the country -- to minister the gospel and help lend a hand. Instead of staying on for years, they're there for the length of a summer vacation.
The popularity of short-term mission trips is surging, sparking the ire of some spiritual leaders who worry that the focus of the charitable forays is on the Samaritans rather than those who need the help.
"I'm not saying that all trips are that way, but if we don't watch out, they could go that way," said the Rev. Dr. Jim Lo, campus pastor at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minn., and former director of the World Impact program at Indiana Wesleyan University, Marion, Ind.
Students returning from brief missionary jaunts, especially abroad, often complain it felt like tourism because of too much recreation time and not enough mission work, Lo said.
To prevent that from happening on an eight-day trip he led to El Salvador last year, Spencer Duncan, student youth pastor at South Hills Assembly of God in Bethel Park limited his team to the task of performing Christian vaudeville shows in the markets, with absolutely no side trips.
"It is definitely not a vacation type of thing. It's not 'touristy' -- we don't look at landmarks, those types of things," Duncan said.
About 1.6 million Americans went abroad on short-term mission trips last year, according to a national survey of churches by Robert Wuthnow, professor of sociology of religion and cultural society at Princeton University. …