Thursday, May 27, 2010

Faithful Debriefing

In the current issue of The Christian Century, Mark Wm. Radecke addresses the ten worst practices of short-term mission trips. As a university chaplain, Radecke speaks from long personal experience in taking students on mission trips in the United States and overseas.

A key point in his article is the necessity of helping students to “figure out” what is going with them as a result of being part of these experiences. He writes,

When I began leading mission trips, I assumed that participants would naturally come to new understandings and integrate them into their faith and life. What I failed to appreciate was the importance of reflection—so critical that some practitioners refer to it as the "hyphen in service-learning." When reflection is minimal or missing—when those involved in short-term missions do not ruminate on their experiences, ponder the situations of those served and relate them to their own faith—a precious opportunity is lost.

As a former campus minister, I learned this lesson myself “in the trenches.” I have lost count of how many short-term mission trips I have planned and conducted with college students. I could develop my own list of positive and negative learning, but I think that Radecke has identified a key idea. How do we help students process what is happening so that it makes a difference in their lives?

Several years ago, I took a group of students to work in a youth detention facility in Baltimore. Actually, it was more of a holding facility for juveniles who were being processed and evaluated before being sentenced or placed in long-term incarceration. My team was made up of smart, upper middle-class college students who had never stepped into any type of penal facility. I can remember spending several nights talking until midnight with weeping college students—both men and women—who were devastated by the life experiences of these young offenders.

Several of those students went on to work with young people as educators or ministers. Others became more compassionate lay men and women in churches. All had a better understanding of the evil that haunts many young lives.

Did this ministry help change the lives of the youthful offenders with whom the students spent time? Probably not. Do I feel guilty about that? Sometimes. But I do know that the college students were never the same because they made the experience a turning point in their lives.


Anonymous said...


Good stuff. Mission trips are such an important part of learning to live like Christ. Something always happens on a mission trip. Talking about it is essential for understanding and applying to ones walk with Christ.

Eric Spivey said...

Ircel - Just completed my D.min project on just this subject. Called it Missional Formation. Proved the necessity of reflection with missional service and missional service to reflection and spiritual growth. Let me know if you want a digital copy. ERic