Short-term missions (STM) is about participating in God’s plan for the world and is grounded in the desire to share God’s love and to support and benefit communities overseas. Trips are designed to either have a learning focus – imparting knowledge about local and global issues and challenging visiting teams’ assumptions. Or they’re exposure trips; focused on giving people an inside perspective on other countries, cultures and contexts.
In the case of learning trips, teams will often come home and take some type of post-trip action – whether that’s immediately upon their return or over a longer period of time. Exposure trips are often taken up by people who are sensing a longer-term call to missions or overseas development, and can be an opportunity to explore that calling and to get a more realistic sense of what it might be like to live in that country.
COVID travel restrictions have, of course, put the brakes on all of this and there is still a significant amount of uncertainty about what the ‘new normal’ of short-term overseas travel will look like as borders reopen. Yet even though our bags are gathering dust, we can still engage in learning. It might be an opportune time for you, as a church or individual, to assess your approach to short-term missions and think about what your participation really means.
Several years ago, ACCI developed a website – ethicalmissionstrips.org – to open up the conversation about how to engage more ethically and more effectively in short-term missions. Rather than a list of do’s and don’ts, the website provides a structured way of thinking through what constitutes ‘good’ and ‘right’ (the basis of ethics) in short-term missions and how to apply it to different contexts.
Good intentions are a great starting point for short-term missions but we must be careful not to stop there. Without thinking these things through, our short-term missions and volunteering efforts might not contribute to the lasting change we deeply desire. In fact, they may actually hurt the communities and people we aim to assist.
We invite you to work through our ethicalmissionstrips.org website, to think through the four key considerations that make up the ethical framework and to consider how you apply them to your short-term missions program or trip. By doing so, you will be better positioned to relaunch your short-term mission – when the time comes – and have a positive impact on the people and places you plan to visit.