USA (MNN) — In 2017, Orphan Outreach will deploy 52 short-term mission teams. Of those, 36 will work in Central America. The remaining teams will travel to India, Kenya, and Eastern Europe to serve orphans, orphan graduates, and vulnerable children. While the number of teams serving in these regions is growing, they are locations that some believe are simply too remote, too costly, or too dangerous.
“Our goal is to connect the Church in the U.S. – individuals and congregations – to orphans, vulnerable children, and families in impoverished countries,” shares Katherine Cheng, Director of Missions for Orphan Outreach. “We’re all part of the Body, and God calls us clearly in Scripture to go to the ends of the earth and to make disciples and to share the hope of Christ that we have. We want individual believers and churches in the U.S. to go and fulfill God’s mandate to care for orphans.”
Convenience and cost are often cited as reasons so many people from the United States choose countries like Guatemala and Honduras as ministry destinations. “You can travel to them in a day and not be jet-lagged, versus India where you may connect through at least one – maybe two – cities and total travel time is 20 to 24 hours,” shares Cheng.
But she says fear of the unknown also plays into decisions made about short-term mission trips. “You hear of others doing ministry in Central America. More people are likely to speak the language and so it’s more comfortable.”
Cheng says people often question the safety and ministry purpose of more remote locations. “Not knowing the language, not being comfortable with the food or not understanding the cultural norms are factors.” And what is shown in movies and newscasts can paint a bleak picture of locations like India or Kenya. Cheng says images of overcrowding and poverty can “be a fear factor for folks,” and stories painting short-term mission trips as doing more harm than good in foreign countries can also cause people to question the investment in those trips.
Orphan Outreach partners with national ministries in each of the countries it serves, and has national NGOs to ensure visiting teams are both tended to well and provide true benefit to orphans and vulnerable children.
“One of the questions we always ask ourselves before we go into any country is, ‘Is what we’re doing really serving the best interest of the kids and the communities?’” says Cheng. “Our role really is walking alongside these national ministries so, when we do take short-term teams and volunteers, they’re an extension and the support of what is really already being done on the ground 24/7.
“We don’t want to come with the mindset of Americans who are ‘saving’ these kids, but really it’s empowering and supporting the local work that’s being done. It’s important for us to be working alongside nationals, and not to just go in doing our own thing [and] thinking we know best, but really seeking the wisdom and advice of those who live there.”
Cheng says it’s wise to ask a mission-sending organization hard questions when making decisions about joining a short-term mission team. She is often asked about everything from the qualifications of national ministry partners to the type of transportation offered in-country. She says prospective travelers need to always ask about training. Orphan Outreach provides each trip leader and participant with training on topics ranging from travel basics to cultural sensitivity. And the training also includes the continuum of care for a child. “What is an orphan? Who is an orphan? We want our teams to understand the situation these kids are coming from, the trauma they’ve experienced, their current status as an orphan – whether they’re living in a residential facility or in a family or in a community.”
Short-term trips can be a catalyst for long-term investment in the lives of orphans and vulnerable children. “These short-term trips are a spiritual journey that God uses to transform their own lives and the lives of the kids that they’re serving,” Cheng explains.
Training includes topics like humility and service and understanding God is in control. “As Americans, we’re very much time-oriented and we like to be the ones in control. But when you’re serving overseas in a foreign country outside of your comfort zone, we have very little control. We help our teams mentally and emotionally be ready for change, and to have a mindset of following the lead of the Lord, and then knowing the Lord’s going to use this opportunity to change who they are.
“Our hope out of these trips is that our volunteers would come away changed, that they would be missional when they get back home. Short-term missions is not just a call to be missional overseas, but to really live a life of missions. We want to help teams process that before, during, and after the trip.”
For both those who travel on short-term mission trips and those who can’t, Cheng says education is essential to helping orphans and vulnerable children. “Being wise advocates, part of that is knowing what the needs are around the world, and equipping ourselves with knowledge, and connecting with orphanages and ministries that are doing orphan care ministry. The Lord will use that to lead us in ways to care for orphans”
And Cheng is clear about another vital part of being missionally minded: prayer. “The simplest, yet most important thing that we can do for these kids is to pray over them.”
Join Orphan Outreach on a mission trip this summer to Eastern Europe, India, or Kenya.
Sponsorship is also another way to advocate for orphans and vulnerable children around the world.