The death of mission trips and rise of accompaniment experiences
"Instead of investing in mission trips for privileged Americans, channel that money to spur on economic development so those who are being sent back to their countries of origin have some real opportunities for a better life when they return."
As a North American who resides in the southern hemisphere and serves alongside companion churches, I agree wholeheartedly with Jackson in the sense that too many so-called "mission trips” function as "Christian tourism” or "extreme Christian adventure."
While local mission trip hosts struggle to benefit in the long-term, North American visitors return to their comfortable homes and congregations to great fanfare and fulfillment.
As Jackson stated, such mission trips often reinforce Western domination and imperialism and also contribute toward dependency and manipulation of indigenous people across the southern hemisphere.
In addition to my own countless mistakes over the years (I am white, North American, male, and most of all -- totally imperfect), I have firsthand experiences of North American groups from a variety of Christian denominations which visit as members of such "mission trips.”
While most have positive intentions, I would argue that -- for a variety of reasons -- far too many do more harm than good.
I fully agree that we should eliminate all "mission trips” that reinforce imperial relationships of domination and dependency, as too many North Americans utilize the "banking system” of global partnership, in the sense that their self-appointed role is to "deposit” Christian faith and "advanced” knowledge and/or technology into the "empty accounts” of disadvantaged companions.
In addition, there are others who have little interest in actually forming relationships or engaging with local hosts, for they would rather "do a job”, achieve a sense of personal accomplishment, or simply be entertained and treat local hosts like tour-guides or hospitality operators.
The time has come to radically reconsider mission trip ventures, their purpose, and overall consequences for guests and hosts.
For example: What is the purpose or rationale of mission trips?
How does the Bible guide us (or push us off-balance) through such important questions?
How can theological voices from the southern hemisphere be utilized?
How do we examine missionary history, learn from it, and allow such critical lessons to shape our efforts into the future?
How does our current situation in a globalized post-colonial world impact such reflections?
How do mission trips contribute to (or impede) the overall mission of God?
With the above questions in mind, it is tempting to eliminate the mission trip process altogether.
While an elimination of foreign mission trip activity (short-term and long-term) is appealing for some, a more faithful and realistic response is to form a prophetic transformation of global mission trip participation (short-term and long-term) that resists imperial domination and more faithfully promotes reconciliation, transformation, and empowerment.
In other words, instead of mission trip activity in its current and common form, we should encourage "accompaniment experiences” that embody the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s concept of "accompaniment.”
In 1999, the ELCA adopted "accompaniment” in its planning document Global Mission in the 21st Century: A Vision of Evangelical Faithfulness in God’s Mission.
Accompaniment, viewed as "walking together in solidarity that practices interdependence and mutuality”, calls upon North American churches and global companions to:
1) Affirm the diversity of viewpoints that exist among companion churches
2) Encourage companion churches to question and analyze the priorities and practices of one another
3) Be transparent and engage in honest and sincere dialogue
4) Move beyond traditional relationships of the past between North to South and South to South
5) Involve churches and agencies affected by decisions in decision-making processes and
6) Acknowledge that churches in both the South and North will be in solidarity with one another in their weaknesses, struggles, and mission.
Excerpted with permission from briankristenkonkol.blogspot.com. Originally posted Sept. 17, 2010. To read more about accompaniment and Brian Konkol's blog in its entirety, follow the link at Lutheran Blogs.