Further thoughts on “Missions Trips”

I’ve been thinking more about Sri Lankan theologian Vinoth Ramachandra’s post Who Says “No” to “Mission Trips”?

I offer these guidelines for very short visits by Wealthyworld Christians to other places:

  • If there are more than 5 people it is not a missions trip but rather a “coach party”.
  • If you stayed with the people (nights in Hotels or Guesthouses – unless run by the local church for their own needs, or to their own standards do NOT count they are part of your holiday) less than 4 weeks it is not a missions trip but a “visit”.
  • If you can’t speak the language, and/or don’t know who you ought to show deference to, and roughly how, plus a few other basic cultural rules (which will vary in what they concern from place to place) it is not a missions-anything but simply a visit.
  • If you need special food, except for allowing yourself not to eat a few things as long as you
    visibly appreciate most of the food offered, it is not a missions trip but a tourist visit. (I would not hold it against anyone who refused snake or rat for
    example, or a vegetarian who said “No thanks” to pork.)

I realise that this is much less than ideal, it would allow a one month stay, by five people, who have barely begun to comprehend the people and culture who host them. I’d call that a “fraternal visit”. If the stay is over six months (other conditions as above, but with some attempt to begin learning the language, and a beefed up cultural awareness requirement, added) then I’d call it a short term mission trip.

4 comments on “Further thoughts on “Missions Trips”

  1. Judy Redman

    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?

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