Keeping mission vision alive and growing A quarterly publication of Mission Data International

Who Should Benefit from a Mission Trip, Goers or Receivers?

By David Armstrong

When I lived in Guatemala it would take me up to six months to figure out how best to plug in a church group coming down for a week. I was committed to seeing the Guatemalan churches we worked with benefit as much as those who came to see us. What would meet their felt needs?

Our best ongoing match-up? It was a VBS program or construction project during the day, followed by evenings showing the JESUS film in small villages about 30 minutes off the main road. I can still picture groups of men or youth carrying the projector and struggling to keep up with an older local fellow with the heavy power generator slung over his shoulder.

Each night we showed the film in the Mam or Quiche language in one of the locations where the local group of believers was trying to start a Bible study. The elders of the local congregation would stand around all evening just watching people. Then over the next ten days they would try to visit the homes of those who came to see the film. Invariably they were welcomed in for a cup of coffee and an extended visit about the life of Jesus. As a result, four or five families were added to each Bible study in every village where we showed the film! All because God touched hearts.

Yes, we intentionally tried to design something that would benefit both those who came and those who received them. We took the time to listen to the leaders of the churches we worked with and coaxed them to share what they really thought would help them. It was worth it. One morning I rejoiced to find five church leaders in our office talking to Melvin, the young pastor who had worked with a visiting team. They wanted to Melvin to help them make a plan for doing the same thing themselves, because they had never done anything so effective.

Empowering partnership. That’s one of the seven key standards of excellence in short-term missions. Partnerships take a lot of time, but isn’t working together part of what God intends?

An excellent short-term mission establishes healthy, interdependent, on-going relationships between sending and receiving partners, and is expressed by primary focus on intended receptors, plans which benefit all participants, and mutual trust and accountability.

 

Learning and Sharing in the Snow at Bear Trap Ranch

It was October of 1982. Despite the snow, a group of 70 short-term mission leaders had gathered at Bear Trap Ranch, nestled high in the Rockies above Colorado Springs. Just one phone line at the small lodge, and no cell phones in those days! (Remember?) As they walked between buildings, they kept their eyes open for black bears who liked to check out the dumpster.

They were there because they had started short-term mission organizations or led the short-term efforts for larger mission agencies. They were committed to doing a better job sending church and school teams overseas on mission trips. They shared ideas and tried to solve common problems they all experienced. And for the next 30 years they met regularly under the banner of the Fellowship of Short-Term Missions Leaders. I have been an active participant in many of these meetings.

Today, in 2014, the passion among short-term mission leaders continues to burn. Much has been learned. Books have been written. But organization and church mission leaders change, new groups are formed, and sometimes the lessons that had been learned can be forgotten. Some fall back onto the assumption that surely it isn’t that hard to effectively and safely lead a team overseas!

So short-term mission leaders who strive to improve continue to gather, still in the fall, and still led by volunteers. We now meet in partnership with Missio Nexus under the banner of the Standards of Excellence in Short-Term Mission. The most recent meeting was just a few weeks ago in Atlanta, where we also oversaw a short-term mission track for the 1000 attendees at the annual North American Mission Leaders Conference.

Raising the Bar on Mission Trips

You have heard the critiques of mission trips. A couple weeks ago I spent an hour listening to the pain of a gentleman who had recently experienced a very sad and disturbing trip. What made it even sadder for me was that he had found it on ShortTermMissions.com. In ten years we had never heard anything negative about the trips sponsored by this organization. I spent another half hour listening to the leader’s version of the story. It was the worst I had personally heard.

There were several complicating factors: the unexpected death of a field leader, betrayal and major theft by another field leader, numerous mismatched expectations between the team leader and four of the people on the team, and then add in drinking by the team leader. It grieves me to think about it. But it has been a kick in the pants to move ahead with two items we have been considering for some time:

1. Actively supporting Mission Trip Reviews.

MissionsTripsReviews.org provides a format where people can rate their mission trip. It isn’t as easy as rating the delivery of a toner cartridge by an Amazon provider or rating microwaves (ours just died). But it does allow participants to rate the leadership of the team and organization, the administration of the trip, and the value of the project they worked on.

It is scary to be critiqued but it helps us improve and makes us the better for it.

2. Requiring all organizations we work with to become members of the SOE.

The second action moved up on my to-do list is requiring the organizations who post trips on ShortTermMissions.com, currently 112 of them, to commit themselves to implementing the Seven Standards of Excellence in their programs.

These changes won’t magically solve all the problems, but will raise the bar on the trips offered through ShortTermMissions.com.

News, Gratitude, and Prayer

Thank you for praying!

  • In our last newsletter we asked you to pray for our customer service director, Dani, as she and her daughter participated in a mission team to Kenya with others from their church. “It was amazing,” says Dani, “My daughter wants to go back! Many salvations and opportunities to disciple new believers. I have never been somewhere where people were so open to respond to the gospel before.”
  • We also mentioned that the AskaMissionary.com website was undergoing a major upgrade and redesign to help visitors easily find the content they care most about. The new design features a more modern look, a system of subcategories, and a responsive web design that adjusts smoothly to screens of all sizes.

Please pray for us…

  • Please pray for us as we continue working with the SOE to push for better quality mission trips. We have been part of the steering committee since the start and are delighted at the significant growth taking place.
  • Pray for us as we upgrade the services of ShortTermMissions.com to better connect people and groups with mission trips and missionary internships and to insure that only the best quality trips are posted on ShortTermMissions.com.
  • We are also looking for a few more M-DAT board members. The current board will be discussing options this week and then making phone calls. We would appreciate your prayers for God’s leading.

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