I've made several trips to the post office in the past few days, mailing support letters from members of our mission trip team to their family and friends, asking them to support their trip prayerfully and/or financially.
While standard in many settings, the practice of using support letters to raise money for short-term mission trips is not without controversy. Despite this, I require short-term mission trip team members to write support letters for international trips. Here are four reasons why support letters are an important part of mission trip preparation:
1. They're educational. I used to think the act of writing support letters would increase the likelihood that students would one day support full-time missionaries. Unfortunately, the few studies I've seen on this suggest that for the most part that isn't happening, perhaps because many of today's high school students simply do not know full-time missionaries. As a result, they have no idea how such missionaries raise their support. While I still hope students one day will support full-time missionaries, I now advocate requiring team members to write support letters because of the teachable moments they provide us. In the process of teaching students about support letters, we can share the stories of missionaries with them. When we teach them what information to include in their letters, we can give them support letters written by missionaries currently in the field as examples. These simple practices make the abstract idea of mission work tangible and concrete. This, in turn, extends the impact of mission trips beyond the two weeks we actually spend in another country.