Are short-term missions shortsighted?

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“Short-term” mission trips.  It is a relatively new venture that works well for Western churches.  There has been much argument over the past few decades as to the importance or impact of these trips.

Who benefits more?  Those we go to serve or the groups going?

It can be helpful to ask long-term missionaries their views on incoming summer teams.

Is there presence helpful or hurtful?  Do these strangers visiting a strange land require extra time, effort and resources for the locals, or do groups bring a much-need blessing?

Another demographic to ask similar questions are the local charitable organizations or churches.

I have been on, or lead, over thirty of these trips during my time in youth ministry.  I do believe much good has come from these experiences.  I certainly know the impact these trips have had on my students.  Like our actual time-serving, some of the impact was very short-lived.  However, over the years I have witnessed profound changes in hearts and lives and, perhaps most importantly, a genuine and lasting passion for missions in many people.

Sadly though, too often these trips become glamorize cultural experiences that have little long-term effect on either side of the equation.

A recent piece from The Onion (satire news source) highlights a very real and growing concern for short-term mission trips.

http://www.theonion.com/articles/6day-visit-to-rural-african-village-completely-cha,35083/

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I am just as guilty of this as anyone…I will admit that.  Following any of my trips, I am eager to post pictures and share stories that will last until the next adventure.

What we often fail to realize is that the people we intend to serve need much, much more than our presence and some photo op’s for two weeks.

Their lives, struggles and needs continue well past our “work vacation” and sometimes actually increase because of our time there.

I know of local organizations who actually lost money because of incoming groups.

I also know of groups raising close to $40,000 simply to travel some exotic country and virtually zero dollars remained in that country.

I have experienced both of these situations personally as well.

Knowing what the real needs and estimated costs to meet those needs would be, sometimes I shudder to think how much good could be given for the cost of one plane ticket.

But..we want the personal experience.

I have begun to ask this very honest question upon my travels:

What do you need the most?  How can we support and serve you the most effectively?

Do you know what their honest answers are?

Resources.

The truth is that every single place I have been and situation I have encountered, I have met amazing women and men who have inspiring vision, uncanny ability and ample time to really help their community.  What they lack is perhaps the one thing that my group possesses in abundance.  Money.

While I am still in favor on traveling to these places to visit people, hear their stories, encourage them and hopefully help in a practical way, I think it is essential that we bring more than just our smiles and “selfies”.

I recently asked on of my students to reflect and share his thoughts on past experiences and what he believes would be the best type of service trip.

Here is his response:

“Humanitarian work is different from tourism, as the purpose of the trip is serving the interests of the local population. Of course, those who leave benefit from the trip as well. But today mission trips are somewhat growing into some sort of “sustainable tourism”, a “to do” thing, offering wonderful cultural experiences to people from developed countries but only impacting the local situation superficially.
Many people today want to go on mission trips. The chief question in order for their trip to be helpful is to seriously ask yourself what you have to offer. Will your teaching of english in this school be of substantial help to the local population? For most fluent english speakers the answer is yes, provided that the kids focused on are attending a medium to long-term educational program.
Indeed the missions with the most impact are not the amateur ones but those of professional NGOs such as Médecins sans frontières for example. Partnering with that  type of organisms could probably be an efficient way to go about saving poor regions of the world – although i’ve never looked into it.
To me, an efficient trip would also imply spending at least three weeks to a month on spot – there is not much you can do efficiently in two weeks even if you are relayed by another group afterwards. Sadly most people, and I too for the moment, are not ready to leave a whole month in the summer vacations.
Of course, as discussed, I think it is also important to bring a cheque. A lot of places do not really need a hand, but are cruelly strapped for money.”
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Do you agree or disagree?
For those of you leading summer mission trips this summer, I would love to hear your thoughts either in preparation or reflection.
I will post various comments this summer and also create a list to think through before planning or leading your next short-term trip.
Perhaps these trips must continue  but perhaps we can do a better job being a blessing to those we go to serve.

Gaining Ground in Gabon

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On July 6 a team of 13 high school students and leaders from The American Church in Paris will leave the comforts of France and venture to Gabon, Africa.  This year we are blessed to have a group from New York join our team for the two weeks of service.  This year’s trip will mark my third summer in Gabon and I am amazed to see what God has accomplished during these years.  There have been uncertainties and difficulties, but all along the way, God provides and proves faithf

When I first arrived with my youth group from New York back in the summer of 2011, our team was overwhelmed at the sheer size of the task ahead of us.  We spent one week with the Hope House trying to develop relationships with these forgotten children and teenagers. The second week consisted of clearing land in a jungle and preparing trenches for the cement that one day would begin the foundation of a new church for the village.  We worked hard and shed many tears and drops of sweat.

 Last year, a dynamic group from ACP traveled back to these same sites to continue the work.  Being French-speaking, our team was able to connect with the Hope House and establish strong personal connections.  Wonderful ministry was accomplish through a Vacation Bible School program, shared interests and hours of dialogue.  In the village of Ebel Abenga, our Parisian party began and completed the actual foundation of the building! 

 And now the two teams unite in a combined effort to gain even more ground in Gabon.  The combination of experience, fluency in French, and passion for the people of Gabon is exhilarating as we are only days away from departure.  Due to an unattainable increase in rent, Pastor Israel had to leave the Hope House and is beginning the work of constructing their very own building that will better accommodate the needs of the children.  Through God’s provisions, an angel from ACP requested his company’s help to provide 100% of the materials need to complete the construction!  And so our teams will spend the first week with the children of Hope House running a VBS program again and helping build their new home.  Our second week will be back in the village beginning construction of the walls that one day will house a church, school, and medical clinic. 

 I am thankful for the support of these two church communities in proving for these trips and grateful for the hard work and dedication of our team members as we embark on God’s calling to Africa. 

If you would like to follow our team’s progression and reflections while in Africa, please subscribe to the blog linked below

http://acpyouth.wordpress.com/

 

The Power of Volunteering

Volunteerism is the voice of the people put into action. These actions shape and mold the present into a future of which we can all be proud.

– Submitted by Helen Dyer, Parks Funding and Volunteer Coordinator, Teller County, CO Division of Parks, Colorado, USA

We all have choices to make; choices about how to spend our time, our talents, and our treasures.  Let me be more precise.  We do have choices to make but perhaps not about anything we possess.  As a person of faith, I believe that what we have is given to us by our gracious God.  We are stewards of everything we own, the time we have, and even  life itself.  So the question becomes… what are we doing with our life?  Are we living for ourselves or others?  Is our life making a difference in the world around us?

Nelson Mandela quoted, “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”

Volunteering is a powerful way to make a difference and be the change we want to see in the world.  This does not have to be a 2-week trip to remote parts of an African jungle. This could mean volunteering one Saturday morning a month for your local community center or soup kitchen.

At my church we are privilege to have many opportunities for volunteering locally and globally.  No matter your religious affiliation I encourage all to discover opportunities to volunteer and serve,  Through service opportunities, both global and local, it is our hope to positively impact others through our presence and resources.  This happens whether we are physically constructing a home or school, providing medical aid, feeding the hungry, teaching, or bringing laughter and smiles of joy upon the faces of children.

I believe  there exists opportunities for everyone to use what time (great or small) they have and match it with a passion.  When this occurs, the power of volunteering impacts the volunteer as well.  What happens is that volunteers discover  their hearts touched and changed.  Ralph Waldo Emerson once said,  ”It is one of the beautiful compensations of life, that no man can sincerely help another without helping himself.”  

 By volunteering you discover that by giving you receive!

You may never know the power of your volunteering, but every single act of kindness and generosity does make a difference. Regarding her work with the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta India, Mother Theresa once said, “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.” 

This reminds me of a story:

One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean. Approaching the boy, he asked, “What are you doing?”

The youth replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out.  If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.”

“Son”, the man said, “don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You cant make a difference!”

After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish,and threw it back into the surf.  Then, smiling at the man, he said, “I made a difference for that one.”

“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”

-Nelson Mandela