By Dr. Jim Raymo, Director of Grad Studies, BGU on behalf of SOE
“You see, missions doesn’t work!”
It was one of those phone call I had hoped never to receive.
A few months earlier, while serving as USA Director of WEC International, I was contacted by the youth pastor of a local church. He was planning a short term trip with about fifteen members of his youth group to an African nation. He wanted to know if I could send some materials to help prepare him and the team for their trip. I offered to send over the leader of our short-term department to offer guidance and talk with them about cultural and language issues. He declined and said he simply wanted written information, which we sent.
The latest phone call filled me in about the team and experiences on the now-completed trip. Apparently, they were to be welcomed and chaperoned by a local national pastor of solid reputation. As the team’s flight arrived, the pastor waited anxiously for his “charges” to deplane. When he saw them he was horrified.
The team members, mostly teenage girls, were all wearing shorts. In the local culture, this attire made a statement about the girls they would never have wanted to make. The African pastor quickly pulled the team leader aside and explained that the girls needed to quickly go into the rest room and change into more suitable clothing before he could leave the airport with them.
When the team leader shared this with the girls, they all rebelled, insisting this was a hot country, and they had brought nothing else. “Shorts are what everybody wears in the summer,” they argued.
“Maybe in your country, but not here,” said the local pastor. A heated discussion followed, with the pastor suggesting the local purchase of more appropriate clothing. But in the end, the short term group dug in their heels and refused to change. The African pastor left them in the airport, and they had to fend for themselves for the two week visit. When the group returned to the States, their single message was, “missions doesn’t work.”
That is the type of unsatisfying story those of us in mission leadership have heard for years. Questions about best use of finances, disruption on fields, mission priorities, and cross-cultural disasters have all swirled around discussions of the viability and effectiveness of short-term mission trips.
For these reasons and others, in 2001 a group of STM leaders from U.S. based mission agencies, churches, and Christian universities sensed that God was leading them to facilitate the formation of a set of standards similar to codes that had been developed in the U.K. and Canada. They went to work gathering input and feedback from five mission networks and more than 400 mission leaders. Through a two-year process, these leaders and the standards committee developed a set of best practices, put them through a series of reviews, synthesized and incorporated feedback, and in 2003 launched the Seven Standards of Excellence, a product of thousands of hours of work, discussion, and prayer.
These standards provide a foundation for effective short-term ministry. As detailed further on the SOE website, they include:
- Empowering Partnerships
- Mutual Design
- Comprehensive Administration
- Qualified Leadership
- Appropriate Training
- Thorough Follow Through
SOE is urging STM practitioners to review and adopt the Seven Standards of Excellence in Short-Term Mission by joining with others in the SOE network. By doing so and displaying the SOE Seal, an organization demonstrates that its STMs strive for Christ-centered and effective missions strategies, partnerships and stewardship, and joins an impressive network of organizations that represent the very best of those practicing STM. See the website for a list of advantages and steps in joining with others to accomplish standards of excellence in STM.
SOE, a Mission Nexus member, provided this article. Member organizations can provide content to the Missio Nexus website. See how by clicking here.