A Challenge for Short Term Mission Teams
I have a challenge for you to consider if you are coming on a short term missions team. You probably find yourself really busy right now with fundraising and ramping up and raising awareness about your upcoming trip. You may be doing some reading (don’t forget to read “When Helping Hurts” and “Generous Justice”) and having phone calls with other team members to help your team mentally, emotionally and spiritually prepare for what you are about to see, hear, smell, taste and do. However, there is one thing in your preparation that I feel is a must to include –
“What are you going to do with what you are about to experience?” I feel it is too late to ask that question when you return to Western life. Ask it now.
I have one word for you to take to heart and include in your plan. ADVOCATE.
There has been a move over the past few years away from calling teams Mission Trips to rather calling them Awareness Trips. I think this is a good move that more accurately expresses what is accomplished on these trips. After spending 10 days in Uganda or Ethiopia or Haiti, you are leaving with eyes wide open to some issues specifically among the poor, widows and vulnerable children. You also are leaving with your heart wide open to a beauty that exists among the poor and a desire to meet them with Jesus focused compassion.
But, what is this Awareness for? Without some forethought, it is easy for the power of this awareness trip to end as soon as your feet hit your home soil. It is easy for the Awareness trip to become an amazing experience that you cherish for a long time, and that you look forward to doing again, but without intentionality it can lose a measure of powerful impact as you re-enter normal life.
What if you chose on the front end that you are going to advocate when you return to your home country on behalf of the poor, the child, the widow and you came up with a plan before ever going on your trip of some practical things you could do? I see this as a basic stewardship principle in operation. There are those around you who are going to invest in you to come on a team, so now you get the opportunity to provide a return on that investment. The return is not in the actual trip. The return is in the amazing work that God does in your heart and mind AND the awareness that you now have that you are able to go to work raising others’ awareness of issues in the world that God desires His Kingdom to advance into.
I have seen some people do this and they are making a huge difference as they return after coming on an awareness trip – these are some of our greatest friends. However, for a large number we have seen a trip become an experience that did not quite get the return on investment it had the potential of. For some, they return thinking that they need to move to Ethiopia to make a difference. After some time that dream fades and so does the capacity to really make a difference. For most, the best plan is probably not to move here…however I feel that it is a non-negotiable that you do need to use the Awareness you have.
You are going to leave a place like Ethiopia with a few things:
- A greater, first hand awareness of issues such as poverty, widows, vulnerable children, etc.
- A special stirring that God has put in your heart.
- A love for the people, especially the broken, hurting and vulnerable.
- A connection with vast resources (compared to other parts of the world, no matter who you are) that could assist in seeing God’s Kingdom advance among the people whom God raised your awareness for.
I would suggest a couple of components to creating a plan that you will work after your trip upon your return to your home country.
- Make a decision that however much it cost you to come on this mission trip, you will raise or give at least that amount to one of the organizations you come into contact while on your trip over the next year. This fundraising happens before you start raising money for your next missions / awareness trip. Let’s face it, trips are expensive (typically between $3,000 – $5,000 per person). This way you are raising awareness and helping resources to get back on the ground to those working day in and day out among the poor and vulnerable.
- Make a decision that you will be an Awareness raiser. Start a group in your city/ college / church that cares about issues such as poverty and vulnerable children and families. If you are a Mom, call a bunch of other moms together to be about keeping Moms and children together in the country you visited. Sponsor a child or a family or a house or an orphanage. We need grassroots awareness brewing to see change come.
- Use your debrief times with your supporters to raise their awareness. They made an investment in you. Now, you can give them a return, not by talking about how you saved the world or about the disgusting places you went to the bathroom, but rather by talking about the difference that can be made by people taking simple, achievable actions with their personal resources and prayers. Highlight the places you visited and the work that is being done on the ground and the ways that others can partner with that work, without even needing to get on an airplane or get a Yellow Fever shot. They will be grateful to you for giving them ideas of where and how they can make Kingdom investments with their resources and they will feel a return on their investment in you.
If a purpose of your trip is to have your awareness raised, then that is for sure going to happen. The question is, “How will you steward that new awareness that you have?” It will take some forethought. It will take some work. And it will mean returning with a heart and head full of steam – ready to Advocate on behalf of the forgotten, the lonely, the broken…the vulnerable, the child and the widow.
Much Peace to you as you continue to make your plans. May The God who loves the vulnerable without measure meet you in the middle of it all.This post was inspired by a conversation with a friend of mine who works for World Orphans. They brought one of the most amazing teams to visit us. They understood that they were here fully to have their awareness raised. They make their team members commit to raising at least as much as their trip cost within 1 year of returning to the US and to starting awareness groups. And, they knew that they had plenty of work to do after they got home.