Missions

Short-term Mission Trip: The long and short of it all

Feb 2010    

MUTUAL RESPECT AND TRUST

“Authentic church partnership, like good friendship, is built on mutual respect and trust. us, the friendship and partnership model cultivates mutual learning and provides an infrastructure conducive to promoting the “Study Tour on Missions”. Some have argued for only long-term missions as they will allow for the indispensable component of language learning and internalising culture empathy. But there is room in mission engagement for the Short-Term Mission Trips (STM) as a “Study Tour on Missions”.”

SHORT-TERM MISSION TRIPS (STM) OVERSEAS are teams of volunteers spending seven to 14 days participating in various ministries at a destination generally deemed a poorer context from their own. The STM is part of a global explosion of teams criss-crossing around the world.

There has been divided feedback on the impact of the STM explosion among church leaders of STM-sending and STM-receiving countries. Some applaud the life-transforming personal testimonies shared by STM volunteers when they return. The enthusiasm of STM volunteers is infectious in positive ways for both visiting and hosting churches.

On the other hand, other leaders are sensitive to the strain of hosting STM volunteers. As an STM visit is by definition voluntary and temporal, members are without adequate language proficiency or culture empathy with the host context and so require constant support and attention. The frequency of the STM visit only adds to the work of hosting.

Finally, the burden of hospitality kicks in when the reputation of a hosting church is hurt by mistakes made by a visiting STM, however unwittingly committed. STM volunteers are lauded as raw missionaries in formation on the one hand and dreaded as visitors who outstay their welcome on the other hand. This leaves the expectations of both groups at cross-purposes with each other.

This gap in expectations between those who send the STM and those who host the STM could begin to narrow if we rearrange the STM into a “Study Tour on Missions”. This change in words implies a change in mindset such that STM volunteers see themselves as students on an overseas study tour to learn about missions. As students they will need teachers from the host country who can guide them in studying the social realities of the host culture and appreciate the demands of Christian proclamation in the host context.

The achievement of a “Study Tour on Missions” is not what has been done but what has been learnt and how well. The key player in all this is not the student but the host-teacher and the context that the host-teacher comes from.

The teaching method of the “Study Tour on Missions” will be to gain a first-hand experience of the host context through participation and observation. The missionary role on the STM is swopped for that of a student and the host is dignified as the teacher with the wisdom to input the learning process.

If we plan to swop roles on the STM we will also need to exchange the model of sending and hosting churches to that of a church partnership model. The term “sending and receiving churches” focuses on a hierarchical relationship but the concept of “church partnership” emphasises sharing in mission.

Authentic church partnership, like good friendship, is built on mutual respect and trust. Thus, the friendship and partnership model cultivates mutual learning and provides an infrastructure conducive to promoting the “Study Tour on Missions”.

Some have argued for only long-term missions as they will allow for the indispensable component of language learning and internalising culture empathy. But there is room in mission engagement for the STM as a “Study Tour on Missions”.

The long and short of short-term mission trips is to study how Christians of a different culture proclaim Christ and on a platform of friendship and partnership. By Kimhong Hazra

Kimhong Hazra is Lecturer in Mission and Coordinator, Mission Practice, Centre for the Study of Christianity in Asia at Trinity Theological College. She is a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.

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