Preparing for a presentation I was giving at a recent Short Term Mission Forum, I realised that this is an area which is often overlooked by both those organising short term mission and those providing member care.
Member Care workers seem to focus largely on long-term mission workers, to such an extent that looking through the Member Care books on my shelves I found that most of them didn’t even refer to short-termers. Likewise, people organising short-term programmes can easily focus on the practical issues and neglect the personal care for the person going.
As part of my research for this presentation I produced some very quick and grubby statistics. They are not academically robust and are merely a straw poll, but the results are shocking. I found that only slightly more than 50% of the people going on individual short-term placements through an agency attended a formal pre-departure training event or a post-return debrief. For short-termers going as part of a team those having training rose to 60%, but those having a debrief fell to just 40%.
Perhaps short-term gets overlooked because it’s not considered as hard as long-term. Perhaps it can’t shake off the mistaken impression that it’s just an adventure holiday with a difference. Yet the people going short-term may be younger, less mature, and less experienced in cross-cultural pressure than long-termers. Moreover, in the course of their mission they may be exposed to challenging situations with which they’ve not had to deal before. So in terms of the impact on them of short-term mission, and processing culture shock and preventing post-traumatic stress, good Member Care is critical to the well-being of those going short-term, whether on a summer team or on a placement which can last up to two years.
Three elements that are essential to provision of Member Care to short-term workers are:
Selection and preparation – While selection may have an element of screening people to make sure they are robust enough to survive their mission, it seems that it may in fact be quite perfunctory if the trip is only for a few weeks. Perhaps the need to get people on board and justify the sending of the team may supersede good care. And while training events may include cross-cultural training it may well focus on the practicalities of behaviour rather than the emotional challenge of adapting to life in a foreign culture.
In-field support – team leaders may not necessarily be trained or experienced in facilitating a supportive environment which can help short-termers adequately process the challenges they face and look to God for the resources they need to manage the transition. Proactive support needs to be arranged.
Post-return debriefing – while recognising the challenges of getting everyone back together for a debrief event, it is important that people have the opportunity to review their experiences and unpack the issues raised as a result.
So what can agencies do to ensure better Member Care for their short-termers? Here are Syzygy’s top tips:
- Ensure that Member Care personnel have an input into the design and review short-term programmes.
- Be familiar with and committed to the Member Care provisions of the Code of Best Practice in Short-Term Mission (the core value of partnership and paragraphs 1.5, 2.4, 2,7, 3.3-3.5, 4.1-4.5).
- Review the Member Care Guidelines and reflect on how they apply to short-term mission.
- Be committed to ensuring that every short-termer is provided with effective Member Care before, during and after their assignment. Bring in Member Care providers from other agencies if necessary.
- Set appropriate targets to measure how many short-termers receive training and debriefing.
- Build an effective and well-trained volunteer force to carry out individual training and debriefing in support of the full-time team.
- Facilitate, fund or provide training for church members to be able to prepare and debrief their short-termers well.
- Liaise effectively with sending churches to ensure that short-termers have an opportunity to debrief in their home church.
Why do we need to provide good Member Care? Not merely because it’s good practice, prudent risk management, an effective witness to the people the short-termers are working with, or a good recruiting model since happy short-termers can evolve into long-termers. Because we love. Because we care. Because we don’t want to be the unwitting cause of people’s long-term spiritual and emotional damage. Or, as our friends at Missionary Care put it:
Because we don’t separate the Great Commission from the Great Commandment