Mission trips again…

Tim teaching on the Thai-Burma border

This is my third contribution to the mission trips conversation. This particular conversation (and there are/have been of course many earlier ones ;) was started by Vinoth Ramachandra’s post: Who Says “No” to “Mission Trips”? If you have not read that read it before reading on…

I was pointed to that post by y colleague Jonathan who offered a characteristically thought-through and rich metitation, so I responded here and here (I neglected to make explicit – for anyone who is a casual visitor here – that I have an interest to declare). Since writing those posts I have seen another response (from someone with a stronger declared interest) the Kouya Chronicle‘s “Short Term Mission Trips: Just Say No?”

On a lighter note Lingamish offers thoughts on Clownin’ for Jesus. And among the various comments to all these posts I found Judy’s particularly good at stating the case for good mission trips, so I’ll reproduce it here:

Tim, I agree with what you say, but I think there are some legitimate things that people can do in short term visits that are more than being tourists – they just shouldn’t be called “mission”.

First, my denomination takes groups of young people to Aboriginal communities in the north and centre of Australia, and to villages in various parts of South East Asia and the Pacific. They spend time being oriented to the culture beforehand and more time being debriefed afterwards and a couple of weeks staying in a community. We call it Faith and Cultural Exchange and the desired outcome is that the young people will get an exposure to eachother’s culture. I am not sure that we ever bring young people to stay in our urban communities, though – which is the logical extra. The young people come back radically changed and energised to work for justice and many of them are involved as leaders in working for justice a decade or more after their visits.

Second, people in local churches get together to go to various places to do building projects. My region has a relationship with a theological college in PNG and every year they take an architect, a qualified and experienced builder and a team of volunteers over there to do more work on their buildings. They pay for their travel, they pay for their food and they raise money to cover the cost of building materials. The architect and the builder went over to scope the project in consultation with the locals before it started and as a result, the students at the college have far better accommodation and teaching facilities than they had four or five years ago. The volunteers find out a bit about the local culture because many of the locals can speak English, but what they are doing is equipping local people to do mission, not doing mission themselves and I haven’t heard people talking about it as mission.

Does this sound reasonable to you?

It does. More than reasonable, it offers fine examples of the good that short term visits by rich-world Christians to other Christians can achieve. These good things should not be thrown away. I’m not asking for that. “Merely” stressing that people on such short term visits need to be prepared, appropriate people, and need also to understand that the goal is not so that they can give, so much as that they can learn. And all this needs to be achieved in ways which do not result in the sort of sadness that Vinoth Ramachandra describes so well. Anyone thinking of involvement in this “business” should read his post and have conversations along similar lines at both ends of the trip (starting point and destination). Such trips are not a “right” they are a privilege! They should be earned not by cash but by behaviour and through relationship.

PS: The always interesting William Black has added a (long but thoughtful) post: Short-Term Missions – Boon or Curse