What Short-Term Missions Has To Do With Race in America

http://openwalls.com/image/21987/hands_together_1732x1475.jpgWay back when, one of my best friends shared with me a paper he wrote on the efficacy of short-term Christian missions trips.  His interest in exploring this topic was to find some middle ground between people parachuting into another culture versus having to commit many years and decades to a people group not their own.   In other words, was there a role for short-term trips (of a week to several months) that was an easier on-ramp for the majority of people but that didn’t feel so shallow and self-serving?  My friend was optimistic that such a middle ground existed, and I am inclined to believe that he is correct.

I am reminded of this dynamic as I peruse my Facebook feed and see my black and non-black friends weigh in on contemporary issues of race and class in America.  There is, understandably, a desire by my non-black friends to be supportive but it is mixed with an uncertainty about how to be supportive.  And there is, rightly so, an appreciation from my black friends for the support but a weariness about the ignorance and fatigue expressed by others who do not live the experience directly.

The privilege of the majority is the freedom to opt in and out of the plight of the minority.  So it is with race, gender, and sexual orientation issues.  It can seem irksome when some of us can choose to raise our voices when it is convenient for us and makes us look good, only to slough off the weight and pain at any moment.  But no matter how much we desire to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes,” at the end of the day we don’t wear those shoes and never will. 

I’ll need to reconnect with my friend to get refreshed on his conclusions about short-term missions, but I recall that where he landed was at a wise place.  There should be no doubt that short-term missions trips are more for the participant than for the people she is going to; after all, there is not much that can be done of substance in a week or even several months.  But what benefit that participant should derive from the experience shouldn’t be self-serving but rather self-sacrificing and other-elevating:

·         Self-serving means going just to check a box, assuage guilt, or score glory points.

·         Self-sacrificing means absorbing the experience and being humbled by the awareness of the privilege we now know we live in.

·         Other-elevating means being newly and permanently sensitized to the plight of others different than us, so that we can continue to have that connection and help others make that connection.

It’s not a perfect analogy but I think it has some merits.  What do others think?
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