Rev. Lisa Beth White on Short-Term Mission Trips
In advance of Rev. Lisa Beth White’s visit to BUSTH on March 21 to give a seminar “How to Lead a Mission Trip,” she sent the following to help people considering participating to figure out where she’s coming from:
According to Robert Wuthnow, approximately 1.5 million American adults
leave the US each year on short term mission trips. Short term
mission trips have grown in popularity since the 1970s when a few
volunteers began traveling to participate in mission projects.
In 1997, I was an adult volunteer with U.M. ARMY (United Methodist
Action Reach Mission by Youth). Youth groups gather to build
wheelchair ramps, do yard work and light home repairs – and I was
hooked. I’ve worked with adult international trips, domestic youth
trips, and even local mission projects for upper elementary age
students. I stay involved in short term mission because people want
to make a difference, to put their faith to work, and I feel it is
important to help by guiding theological reflection on the practice of
short term mission.
My approach to teaching people how to lead short term mission is to
provide a framework for people to use in planning their own trip, and
to provoke thinking beyond the logistic issues of trips. Small group
discussion of case studies allows participants to begin thinking
theologically about short term mission.
The only other thing I’d add is that when I got involved in STM, I
only saw it from the church viewpoint – that STM was beneficial to
both the recipients and as a tool for spiritual growth for the
travelers. But when I started reading the literature on STM, it
became clear that there are many critical issues to think carefully
about – dependency, objectifying the poor, power and privilege,
mutuality in mission, etc. I hope that my work will bridge the STM
movement in the local church and the critical reflection of the
academy in such a way that the practice of short term mission can be a
more thoughtful process to the benefit of the global church.