The Whole Picture: Wholistic Care on Short-Term Mission Trips


By Kathy Davis | Director of Wholistic Care  

Summer is an exciting and busy time of year for the ministry of World Orphans. Short-term trips are being mobilized, itineraries are being planned, hearts are being prepared, and global church partners are anticipating another week of precious time wholistically serving the church, connecting with the children, and ministering to the needs of the community.

World Orphans short-term mission trips seek to strengthen church partnerships by enabling the US and international church to serve together in mutually beneficial relationships.

I was recently asked the question, “What does wholistic care have to do with short-term mission trips?” This is a really great question! In order to best understand the function of wholistic care across the scope of short-term trips and church partnerships, it is important to understand the foundation and begin with defining the meaning of the term.

‘Holism’, simply defined, emphasizes the importance of the whole and the interdependence of its parts.  The holistic concept in medical practice upholds that all aspects of people's needs, including psychological, physical, and social, should be taken into account and seen as a whole when considering treatment for the patient.

In an effort to combat any alternative and humanistic association with 'holistic practices', the Christian community has been moving to include the letter ‘w’ in the spelling of w-holistic care.  God is wholistic in that He is one God, made up of 3 persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To best understand the functional approach of wholistic care in the lives of vulnerable children, it is imperative to understand the biblical premise:

“Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One” (Deuteronomy 6:4).

World Orphans approach to orphan care is wholistic in that we seek to care for the needs of the whole child (spiritually, physically, emotionally, and mentally) with the ultimate goal of bringing glory to God through physical and spiritual transformation.

“And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.  For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross” (Colossians 1:18-20).

Orphaned and vulnerable children have many needs. While it is important to address the child’s physical and educational needs, it is vital to remember the emotional impact that rejection, abandonment, and abuse will have on an orphan who is attempting to learn, heal, and attach in the context of family.

As a wholistic ministry, we take an approach to caring for children spiritually, physically, emotionally, and mentally through the grace of Jesus Christ. We recognize that true and lasting healing and transformation for the ‘whole being’ comes through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This means that there is hope of full redemption for those who believe, no matter the circumstances. Even against the backdrop of hunger, disease, poverty, abandonment, abuse, injustice, and sin, there is real hope.

“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people—the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel” (Colossians 1:3-5).

The greatest example we have to look to for this approach to ministry is Jesus. Jesus, who is both fully God and fully man, grew mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

“And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52).

  • Jesus grew in wisdom – Mentally
  • Jesus grew in stature – Physically
  • Jesus grew in favor with God – Spiritually
  • Jesus grew in favor with man – Emotionally (Socially)

So, how does this approach to ministry impact the way we serve together on short-term missions trips? Short-term itineraries will often include:

  • Hosting medical clinics for the community
  • Facilitating HisKids Sports with the children
  • Making home visits in the community
  • Discipleship Training for the local church
  • Sharing meals together

One of my favorite ways to wholistically minister alongside the International Church is through hosting medical clinics for the community. With a high rate of unemployment in the regions we serve, medical care is impossible for most to afford. Opening the gates to people who are in physical need provides a precious opportunity for the local church to have wholistic impact in their communities.

Just look at how this one aspect of short-term missions reaches people:

…The front door of the church becomes a place of registration and an open door for the physically and spiritually sick to enter.

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…The sanctuary becomes the room where sinners are welcome, emotional pain is shared, and the hope of the Gospel is offered.

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…The ministry team becomes the arms of Jesus and the offering of compassion to those who are in despair.

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…The church classrooms become examining rooms where illnesses are treated and medicine is offered.

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…The upbeat music outside on the grounds of the church becomes the joyful dance floor where children are playing and love is extended.

I am convinced of this reality – the hope of every heart, both physically and spiritually, is Jesus and the church is the agent of God’s grace to those in need. Short-term partnership trips provide exciting opportunities for the global church to glorify God, deepen the bonds of friendship, and wholistically care for those in need.

“And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:11-13).

Let’s talk! What are ways that you glorify God and encourage the church on your short-term missions trips? What are your thoughts about taking a wholistic approach to ministry?

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