"Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority on Heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. And teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” - Matthew 28:18-20
Doing Short-Term Missions Well
His Hands His Feet is passionate about doing short-term missions well. We invest extensively in training our team members to serve with humility, avoiding the "white savior" mentality, and prepare team members for the culture shock and heart break that they will encounter in third world countries. Here are some of the areas that we address in our pre-trip trainings:
It's critical that team members are flexible, open minded and available to serve in any way. Plans often change while serving in Latin America, where the importance of keeping to schedules, honoring times and managing details are not valued as much as in the United States. El Salvador and Guatemala are "face to face" cultures, where people and relationships are worth much more than being on time.
Submit to missionaries and nationals
We often tell our team members that our role is to bring relief and support to those who are serving on the "front lines" of battle. Our teams can be likened to relief troops who bring support to soldiers serving on the front lines against a very real enemy. It is critical for team members to be LEARNERS and to serve with humility. We will be working under the leadership of North American missionaries and national leaders who understand the culture and know what's appropriate and inappropriate. Team members are encouraged to listen, learn and fully submit to the missionaries and nationals we partner with.
The value of family reunification, empowerment and transition homes
We strategically partner with organizations that value family reunification and long-term family plans for children in orphanages. Sadly, many of the children we serve have been placed in government orphanages due to abandonment, abuse or neglect. Other children have been removed from homes due to poverty ("economic orphans"). When possible, our partners help with family reunification through empowerment (helping to provide jobs, housing, etc.), counseling and family support. We strongly believe that every child deserves to grow up in a family and it is difficult for children to thrive in orphanages. Since government orphanages are the only options for many children, we are honored to provide special, life shaping moments for the children through our teams (taking them on field trips, hosting events such as quinceaneras, etc.) where kids can just be kids.
We are also thrilled to support the work of transition homes in El Salvador. Tragically, many teenagers end up living on the streets after being emancipated from orphanages. There is no government assistance to the homeless community, so our partners provide regular meals to the homeless. Our short-term teams will have the opportunity to prepare and distribute meals. The transition homes provide life skills for kids who are emancipated out of government centers and are willing to live in community and honor the boundaries and guidelines of the homes. These young adults learn job skills, attend classes and live with trained "house parents" who provide desperately needed skills (cooking, shopping, laundry, etc.). It is truly an honor to partner with and support these transition homes.
Give your best
We will show respect to those we serve by giving our best. His Hands His Feet teams will not bring donations that are worn out or "second best". Team members will be taught to show thoughtfulness and respect through their dress, how they communicate with those they serve and what they bring. In some situations, it is more appropriate to give donations to the orphanage directors (avoiding the "Santa Claus" North American image). However, when it is appropriate, we will distribute donations (stuffed animals, "Silly Bandz" bracelets, etc).
Our July 2011 El Salvador team was asked by an orphanage director to provide shoes to all of the children. After a fun day of fitting and distributing shoes to each child, we found ourselves in the final room with the teenage girls. Sadly, we realized that we did not have enough shoes (or the right sizes) for these precious girls. I'll never forget watching our team members remove their shoes and jofyully give them away to a giddy group of Salvadorians. Each shoe fit each teen perfectly and while the girls in the orphanage were thrilled, I believe the North Americans were even more impacted. They learned in a powerful way that it truly is better to give than to receive!
We are also cognizant of the appropriateness and inappropriateness of taking photos. We typically assign a team photographer (to avoid having multiple team members taking photos and creating a paparazzi feeling). There are many situations in which photographs are completely prohibited to protect the dignity and honor of those we are serving.
Team members will receive re-entry training before returning home. It is vital for team members to have the time and space to process all that they have experienced before arriving home. We strategically spend our last day on our trips talking, sharing, praying and processing our week of service. Our desire is that our team members return home with a different view of their lives; how they spend their money, time, passions and talents. We will continue to process the re-entry emotions and challenges as we integrate our experiences back into our "every day lives". While some team members have questioned the importance of re-entry training, they have later expressed how critical this process was and how much it helped them to prepare to answer questions, or deal with the lack of questions and interest, about their trips from friends and family members upon returning home.
Check out these great resources!
Here are some of our favorite articles and links on doing short-term missions well...
"Things No One Tells You About Going on Short-Term Missions Trips" by Michelle Acker Perez
Eight Ways to do Short-Term Missions Better by Laura Parker ("Stressed Out Missionary")
Lose the White Savior Complex by Laura Parker ("Stressed Out Missionary")
Health Short-Term Missions: Do it Like Jesus by Jamie Wright ("The Very Worst Missionary:")
Using Your Poor Kid to Teach My Rich Kid a Lesson by Jamie Wright ("The Very Worst Missionary")
Projecting Poverty Where it Doesn't Exist by Steve Saint
Short-Term Missions Trips: Maximizing the Benefits by Glenn Shwartz
In Praise of Short-Term Missions by Dave Datema
A MUST READ ARTICLE on poverty and North Americans' misconception of the word "blessing"
The One Thing Christians Should Stop Saying
Please contact Jenni Ramsey at firstname.lastname@example.org for our short-term trips manual.