Advocates for short-term missions view the blend of travel-and-service as transformative, both for those who go and for communities in which they serve. Meanwhile, critics see serious danger – not only of poor allocation of resources, but also of lasting harm to local children, families and communities.
Which are correct? For people who’ve spent significant time in the field, it is hard not to see critical truths in both.
This reality hit me again in a book I was asked to endorse not long ago. It offered rich insight on how to effectively advocate for vulnerable children around the world. Significant attention was devoted to the hazards of short-term missions, emphasizing the many ways good intentions can go wrong. But as I read the authors’ biographical information, it struck me that both co-writers had first become lifelong advocates for vulnerable children through experiences of short term missions.
That’s a reality that plays out virtually every day amongst the estimated 2 million Christians that participated in short term missions each year.
Such visits can displace local workers and dispirit local initiative. They can cause visitors to over-estimate their own capabilities and local residents to under-estimate theirs. When the intended beneficiaries are vulnerable children, the dangers are especially keen — the forming and tearing of critical attachment bonds; the supplanting of primary caregivers; the continuation of unhealthy forms of care for children because they cater to Western visitors.
And yet thoughtful visitors can also encourage local leaders and build up local communities for lasting good. They often return home changed, less self-absorbed and more committed to serving – sometimes for a lifetime.
So what can be conclude from all this? Perhaps we could sum it up this way:
Short-term missions trips carry potential for much good and much harm. Wise engagement is critical, especially when we hope to benefit children.
Convinced of this, and believing that the stakes are especially high when children are involved, the Christian Alliance for Orphans has developed new guidance for organizations, churches and individuals engaging in short-term missions.
These principles — along with brief guidance on how to put them into practice — are contained in the new booklet, “Wise Short-Term Missions: Principles for Benefiting Orphans and Vulnerable Children.” It is our hope that these principles will help cultivate strong consensus across the field – specifically regarding mission trips that intend to benefit orphans and other vulnerable children.
These principles are offered as a complement to the existing “Seven Standards of Excellence in Short-Term Mission,” which establish a tremendous foundation for short-term missions generally.
We hope that this new guidance will help every church, organization, and volunteer participating in short-term missions to be more thoughtful and effective, particularly in respect to vulnerable children. Ultimately, we pray that every missions experience will:
- Leave a lasting impact in the lives of all who participate
- Bring enduring good to the children, families and communities served
- Honor the God who describes Himself as a Father to the fatherless
Together, we are on a journey toward wiser, more fruitful short-term missions…