The storyline is fairly common. An 18-year-old decides she'll change the world, so she trains with a team, raises the money needed for the trip, throws some clothes in a suitcase, and heads halfway around the world to "be the change" over the course of seven days or two weeks. This phenomenon began during the 1950s, with Christians primarily focusing on Gospel preaching, and large organizations like the Peace Corps focusing on humanitarian work. While good things have come from this movement, it wasn't all good. That's not a secret.
Short-term mission trips (STMs) have been—and often rightfully so—accused of creating a variety of problems in their aftermath, while offering little to no good in the interim. Perhaps you have heard of trips that involve problems like:
- Creating dependency
- Robbing locals of dignity and job opportunities
- Focusing on the trip-goer with no regard for the locals accommodating the traveler
- Poor leadership and inability to understand culturally appropriate behavior
- Lack of relationship with locals
So, why bother? Why continue pumping money into a $3 billion industry when we know how destructive these trips can be?
Well, don't cut up your passport just yet. A lot has been learned since the 1950s.
Good can (and does) blossom as a result of a thoroughly planned and well-executed mission trip founded in longevity of relationship. Haven't you heard about the teams that show up to assist those serving every single day, offering just a bit of respite for weary souls? Aren't there times when a fresh-faced, young, energetic trip-goer offers a shocking level of encouragement when he looks into the eyes of a tired pastor and says, "You're doing incredible work. Thank you for the way you serve your community and set an example for people like me." And what about the friendships? When a trip is facilitated through the lens of ongoing relationships, incredible friendships are formed—friendships that reach across the globe, celebrate the highs, and grieve the lows together.
At World Orphans, we have two types of STMs.
Journey Trips encourage, educate, and empower team members towards lifelong orphan advocacy, while also providing post-trip discipleship opportunities for individuals, teams, or churches. These teams work alongside our church partners in 12 countries, providing both support to the churches and caregivers in those locations, as well as an education about the World Orphans family-based approach to caring for orphaned and vulnerable children.
These trips provide team members with opportunities to see the incredible work our church partners are doing to ensure that vulnerable families are receiving care and support. Additionally, while outside of their comfort zones, team members may experience a variety of opportunities to grow and learn. That growth and learning should never be the only focus of a trip, nor should that come at the expense of the local leadership and families being served, but sometimes, beautiful stories like this unfold—
Sherrí bent down next to the little girl, Miranda*, and the sweat began to drip from Sherrí 's face. As Sherrí knelt down to her level, Miranda reached for the cloth in Sherrí's hand, tugging forcefully. Sherrí's natural instinct was—as most of ours would be—to pull it back, grasping what belonged to her, but she felt God saying, "Let go."
Sherrí, a woman in her forties, was on her first mission trip. Haiti isn't too far from the United States, but many will tell you it is one of the most emotionally and mentally challenging places to visit. During pre-trip training, Sherrí was vulnerable enough to share with her team that she was fearful of being outside of her comfort zone, but she went anyway.
As the team pulled up to Pastor Carlos' school on the third day of the trip, it was warm inside, and the heat of Haiti radiated through the building. The team split up to visit each of the classrooms. After team members visited several of the classrooms, the teachers released the children into a general area, where they could play and sing songs with their visitors.
Sherrí squatted down in the crowded room of sweating, yelling, dancing, and singing children, making herself eye-level with them. The children, intrigued, began to touch her hair and then immediately smell the residual coconut oil on their hands. Dozens of small fingers—dirty from the many things children get into throughout the day—found their way into Sherrí's hair. Giggling girls rubbed the sweet-smelling oils from her hair into their own.
A few minutes later, Sherrí sat—amid the cacophony of dozens of children—face-to-face with Miranda, who began pulling the cloth from her hand, and Sherrí was deciding how to respond to that still voice saying, "Let go." She loosened her grip on the cloth she'd been carrying in her hand all day, knowing it could be replaced. Sherrí waited for Miranda to take off running, but she didn't. With the gentleness of a mother, Miranda took the cloth in her hands, looked into Sherrí's eyes, and then carefully began to wipe the sweat from Sherrí's brow. Tears spilled onto Sherrí's face. She was humbled by this act of love from a child and grateful for a God whose strength carries us in our weakness.
Church Partnership Trips
Church Partnership trips are the most frequently mobilized trips through World Orphans. They are rooted in a complementary relationship between two churches guided by a common vision and sustained by an equal willingness to learn, to serve, to grow, and to extend grace to one another under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
To ensure the Church Partnership trips and the relationships those trips are rooted in remain healthy and beneficial to the families being ministered to through World Orphans, we repeatedly come back to these values of Church Partnership:
- Relationship over Resources
- Equality over Superiority
- Reciprocity over Control
- Learning over Teaching
- One Body over One Part
- Affirming Dignity over Serving Needs
- Accountability over Intentions
- Healthy Dependency over Unhealthy Dependency
- Increase Capacity over Increase Charity
- Economic Empowerment over Sustainability
Actually, Don't Take an STM.
Don't go on a short-term mission trip. Get your church to become a church partner and take annual trips to encourage, learn from, and support the orphan care ministries in another country. Learn about the orphan crisis, then take a Journey Trip and become a lifelong advocate for orphaned and vulnerable children around the world. The fact of the matter is an STM should never actually be short. Rather, these trips should benefit the host (the receiving church) in a healthy way, while cultivating advocates, friendships, and partnerships that stand the test of time.
Orphaned children and vulnerable families are at the center of World Orphans care, and we recognize that these families need long-term solutions and opportunities rather than short-term relief. A daunting number of children—approximately 150 million—have been orphaned around the world. These children don't need another person to go on a short-term mission trip that results in cute pictures, good stories, and zero change; rather, these children and caregivers need a community of people that will link arms with them.
Advocates. Friends. A Tribe.
So, once again, please don't take a short-term trip, but if an international trip is part of your lifelong journey towards becoming a defender of the vulnerable, an advocate for the widow, and a friend to the fatherless, you might hold on to that passport. If a trip can result in helping without hurting, friendships that last a lifetime, and more economic opportunities for the locals, then it might be time to pack your bags.
*Identity changed for protection