by Melissa Hawks Posted on Tuesday, October 04, 2016
The colored pencils and Crayola markers were piled high.The image stands out in her mind as she tells the story. Ronne Rock, Marketing Coordinator for Orphan Outreach, remembers the first of many short-term missions trips she’s been a part of to Guatemala. Her team and ones before them had brought plenty of school supplies and Neosporin, typical recommendations for teams visiting orphanages at the time.It was 2009 and the first first time Ronne had visited Mi Pequeño Refugio. After her team spent the day playing, teaching, and laughing with the kids, she paused to ask the women who ran the orphanage if they needed anything before the team left for the night. That’s when the image of the school supplies became burned into Ronne’s brain.“Milk,” the sisters answered, “We need milk.”A necessity. Simple and life-giving. The short-term mission team had come with plans to meet needs they believed were necessary, and with a single question found the real needs of those children and that staff opened up to them. The visit led to Ronne and the team telling Orphan Outreach about the orphanage. The introduction led to a long-term partnership between the two ministries - one that focused on holistic needs like education, nutrition, health, life skills training, and safety.Sarah Herbeck, Orphan Outreach’s Mission Coordinator, talks about a way of addressing this very issue prior to a team being on the ground while discussing a group that served in Honduras, “Because every team we send is going to a partner ministry directed by a national, they will be able to benefit from a long-term vision and not only meet physical but also spiritual and emotional needs. During the preparations this team was able to ask what was really needed by the nationals leading the ministries and our full-time staff in Honduras could help them think through what is valuable and safe for the kids.”Having the opportunity to collaborate with people already involved in the ministry led this specific team to be the support they needed to be. Sarah shares that the team spent time “doing science experiments and playing games with the kids,” which made them feel important because people had come from so far to visit them. She describes one of the most valuable aspects of their trip as the caregivers and director having “a time of rest” while “other nationals with expertise were able to provide training during that time.” Time for full-time caregivers to receive training or plan can be a rarity.“I’d like to see short term missions teams come more prepared.” Ricky Cotto shares. “Not prepared in a sense of schedules, activities, and programs, but prepared spiritually, physically, culturally, and emotionally.” A mission trip leader to Anand, India, where teams have served at Elwyn Parekh Children’s Home for years, Ricky has practical suggestions. They include the team investing time in discipleship together prior to and during the trip, learning how to manage the effects of jet-lag and long plane rides prior to taking trips, and being culturally sensitive about a country’s customs and beliefs. Ricky says that being a good representation of Christ means be willing to let go of your arrogance and ego by humbling yourself enough to learn.“I've seen teams show up and say…’we're just here to serve and be lead by the Spirit,’” Ricky continues, “When I hear that I automatically think ‘You have no idea what to do and have not prepared for this trip.’ Be led by the Spirit, but also be intentional with your mission.”The attitude with which a team goes into a mission with leaves lasting impact as well. “We are welcomed where we go. I believe not because of the material things that we bring but because of the posture that the group comes with. A posture of cultural awareness, servanthood, peace, and love,” says Ricky, discussing trips to village towns in India.Sarah agrees, “I don’t often see intentionality in training before hand and humility in participants. It's not possible for every team to be perfectly trained but there are some basics that should be covered. Training should provide an avenue for individuals to wrestle with why they are going and hopefully enter another culture as a learner-partner not as a savior-server.” Intentionality is a key factor in the development of new, more specialized training for future Orphan Outreach mission trip participants.And there are other more practical suggestions given by the nationals who run the ministries Orphan Outreach partners with. Dingpuii from Gan Sabra in India reminds the teams not to be wasteful. “Americans leave full bottles of water lying around and don’t eat all their food.” This models something different than what they teach the children at Gan Sabra. Food isn’t plentiful and teams should be aware of that.Another more difficult piece of feedback Dingpuii gives is an emotional one. “Don’t become overly attached or choose a favorite child and give close attention to [only] them the whole week. It’s hard for the staff to handle the kids when the team leaves.” Spreading out the emotional energy you have to give allows for each child to feel cared for and makes the separation at your inevitable departure easier.Coming prepared to meet spiritual and academic needs with workshops is a request from Lily Ferrer at Hope & Future in San Tomas, Guatemala. Her home provides holistic care for teen mothers and their children, and she longs for teams to create learning opportunities for her students about spirituality and academic subjects like math, reading, and English which will speak to a variety of ages.Irene and Alfredo Salazar from the Down Syndrome School in Guatemala City have encouragement for mission teams too. “The kids are ready to be sponsored. Trust that we are using the support in the best way we can.” They suggest that the support of a team may begin with a visit, but lives with the sponsoring of children they have met on their trip so that each child is provided for on an ongoing basis. Sponsorship provides special needs kids with therapy and care not normally provided through hospitals. And it also opens the door to ongoing education. Continued support opens up a world of possibilities for their futures.Katherine Cheng, Director of Missions at Orphan Outreach, says the point of orphan care is, “seeking the best interest of kids, whether that is helping them find families or have a safe environment where they can feel safe, secure, loved and have their needs met and are given a chance to thrive” and this can be supported by the Church at large by them sending in teams, “to be a part of that,” which will open up their eyes to orphan care so that they may play a role in children finding families and quality care.”Do you see where the focus lies? The children. This is about them.What Ronne learned with that one question, “what are your needs?” is what each of these people are saying as well. Short-term mission teams, it’s not about you; it’s about the people you’re going to work with. Do research. Prepare mentally, emotionally, spiritually, culturally, and physically. And then, be open. Be flexible. Be willing to ask the question upon arrival, “What are your needs?” and then subvert any agenda you have to meet those needs.Are you ready to join Orphan Outreach on a short-term mission trip? The 2017 calendar is being updated regularly with trips to Guatemala, Honduras, India, Kenya, Latvia, and Russia. You'll receive training and be part of a team that is part of long-term care for orphans and vulnerable children. http://www.orphanoutreach.co/mission-trips/ #ServeOrphansWell is a five-part series on the impact of short-term mission trips in caring for orphans and vulnerable children. Our thanks to all who have contributed to this article and the series.