Volunteering on short-term mission – Is it worth it?
There are differing opinions when it comes to short-term mission trips, and it’s an issue, which has caused debate in recent years as to whether or not they are actually effective. Arguments, such as ‘They cause more harm than good’ and ‘They just cause dependency’, are frequent in commentary surrounding it. Yet, if you want to make a difference but can’t give up months on end, surely short-term mission has a worthy place?
Mission Direct, a Christian volunteering charity based in the UK, which has taken almost 4,000 volunteers overseas, recently began a new campaign surrounding exactly this issue. They are accepting invitations from churches all over the country to go and speak in morning services on ‘Short-term Mission, Why Bother?’ As a charity, they were established to meet the UK demand for short-term mission, providing two-week trips for volunteers who wanted to impact disadvantaged communities in countries all over the world. Travelling to destinations, such as Africa, Brazil and the Dominican Republic, their volunteers spend two weeks helping local professionals to build vital facilities needed by the community, such as schools, homes, medical centres and safe houses. They differ from most short-term missionaries in that the charity doesn’t own or run any of the projects – the local communities do.
Mission Direct will seek in-country partners, who are already trying to provide their own communities with something they need – not something a board of Trustees in the UK thinks they need. They’ll make a long-term commitment to the project, based on the need of what they’re providing (eg. six classrooms over three years), and volunteers then have the opportunity to join the project for two-weeks to help progress it. Teams work in relay, so what the first team starts, the last team will complete. The charity works to empower these in-country partners, ensuring they are sustainable and able to continue long-term without their support.
“Reviewing the work of our volunteers at the end of each year makes it impossible not to see the impact our trips have on local communities. And it’s not just about the build,” says Regional Manager, Simone Olagoke. “In the afternoons, volunteers get immersed into the communities to support other projects, such as feeding programmes, drug and alcohol rehab centres, and homes for girls escaping the streets or FGM and forced marriage. The build impacts the community in providing education and medical care, which they wouldn’t have access to otherwise, whilst the afternoon work impacts the volunteers at a heart-and-soul level. We see faith evolve, relationships bond and perspectives change of the volunteers on these trips.”
For many years in the Dominican Republic, Mission Direct supported a project aimed at rehousing families – from living in shacks into safe, secure homes built by local tradespeople with the help of Mission Direct volunteer teams, and have, to date, helped to build 70 new homes for people in need. In 2016, a team of volunteers helped to lay a new waterline, which now serves a community of 120 families who were previously cut off from such utilities. They also support a project which houses abandoned children with severe disabilities, and are currently waiting for the go ahead to help build a new, fit-for-purpose home for them.
In Zimbabwe, the charity has been working since 2012 to build classrooms for a school in Mutare, where infrastructure can’t keep pace with the growing population, and where children attend school in shifts, or not at all. With a long-term commitment to build two classrooms a year, the charity has completed 13 classrooms with a further three planned for 2019/2020. With these long-term commitments come relationship and, speaking to in-country partners, the impact of this is tangible. “When the volunteers come, they come right into the community in which they’ve come to serve, and I have been so blessed by divine interventions, praying, and preaching to the locals through these. People are so interested to learn other cultures and to interact, and their visits leave lasting impressions on the communities they serve – through teamwork, spiritual experiences and the determination to make a difference. With them comes unity of people as one.” Alick Murombo Gudyanga, United Baptist Church, Zimbabwe.
Short-term mission, if done respectfully and with the direction of the communities themselves, can evidently be incredibly worthwhile. Mission Direct’s work demonstrates practical faith in action, ‘sleeves rolled up’ Christianity, which follows Jesus’ instructions in Luke 10:37 to ‘Go and do likewise’, in the story of the Good Samaritan.
Mission Direct also supports projects in Brazil, Cambodia, Moldova, Kenya, Malawi, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and the UK (which are three-day trips instead of two weeks). Find out more at www.missiondirect.org.