Summer Mission Trips: Thinking Through the Why
If I were a gambling man, I would bet that most of us are already working hard on our summer mission trips. And because of that, now is a good time for us to evaluate our motives for going, and to think through to see if will get the results we want while truly benefiting those we set out to serve.
From the start, let me say that I'm a huge supporter of short-term mission experiences for students. In our high school ministry, we offer a different trip for each grade. Of everything we do, these experiences transform our students the most. From my observations, the students in today's generation would rather go and serve than be entertained at a camp. But are our students really being transformed in the ways we hope, and are the communities they're serving benefiting in a worthwhile way?
After spending a few months in South Africa last spring, I have a much different perspective. My time overseas forced me to ask a lot of questions about groups who come in to do mission work, and I've had lots of great conversations with people there who host American teams. After that experience, here are a few questions I've been wrestling with as I plan our group's trips this summer.
· Am I spending the time in preparation to understand the area where we're serving, their culture, and the issues they're struggling with? Do my students understand these things?
· Am I communicating with the ministry/church we're partnering with to make sure the things we're doing are going to benefit that community over the long-term?
· Is my trip both meeting a physical need of the people and sharing the hope of Jesus with them?
· Am I teaching students to ride in on their "red, white, and blue" horse and impose our American values on the culture we're serving? If my trip is domestic, are we imposing our community's values on the one we're serving?
· Are my students and I spending time building relationships with people in the community?
One of the team leaders in South Africa said to me that visitors should spend half their time understanding what the locals do and helping with that, and the other half understanding who they are and pouring into them.
So here's the big question: Is your short-term trip a relational experience that offers both the hope of Jesus and teaches students the value of understanding another culture-all while doing sustainable work that benefits them for the long-term?