“…Short-term mission will fail unless you include all the things that should happen before you get there, and all the things that should happen after you get back home. …”
Although “failure” might not be the word we would choose, certainly short-term mission falls short of its full capacity to transform people unless the ‘before and after’ are tended to as carefully as the outreach visit itself.
A short-term mission is not a one-time experience or a single event. It is a process of interconnected relationships and responsibilities that play out over time. From the time the short-term mission experience is conceived, people and prayer are in motion to prepare the field for the arrival of the visiting participants and the participants that will be met during the visit. Prayer, financial, logistical, emotional and communication supporters are needed before the ‘project’ can come to fruition.
And as the plans unfold before leaving the doors of the church, folks are needed to sign on as ‘re-entry’ supporters – people who are good questioners and listeners as the pilgrims debrief their experience. Recruiting folks to participate along a sent of criteria and preparing and training them for the experience is required of the sponsoring church or organization. And those who offer themselves for the journey must prepare themselves emotionally, spiritually and physically prior to departure.
Once folks return home, the prayer support needs to continue – re-entry is a real phenomenon, and those who ventured on the mission experience will continue to need spiritual support as the depth of the experience unfolds in their lives. Those who have been identified as ‘re-entry’ supporters will need to spend time listening to the stories, and ask questions that assist those who went on the mission trip to articulate what implications the experience had for them, and how their experience might have an impact on the congregation. And of course, there is the relationship with those who were visited – in what ways is it appropriate to stay connected with them?
Excellent short-term mission is characterized by: God-centeredness, empowering partnerships, mutual design, comprehensive administration, qualified leadership, appropriate training, and thorough follow-up.
These guidelines for excellence were developed with overseas mission in mind. Increasingly we are engaging in short-term mission near our own back door. When a group from the congregation engages in feeding the hungry, for example, it seems appropriate to pursue the same principles of “before and after” that are used in overseas mission. Identify prayer partners, logistics, communication support, etc.; and when the day of feeding is over, have folks who did not participate available to discuss the experience. What transforms an outreach project into a mission venture is the capacity of everyone in the congregation to gain insight, experience and reflection on the work that was shared.
Anne Reed serves as Canon for Mission for the Diocese of Southern Ohio. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.