Pippa Biddle, a well-intentioned, multiple time short-term missions-tripper, witnessed firsthand some of the drawbacks of mission projects and came face to face with her own “un-fitness” for the tasks she traveled to do. This is her personal experience, so while not prescriptive, we do find it relatable and helpful. Her words are sobering, but they challenge us to think critically now so that we’re able to engage productively later.
The Problem With Little White Girls, Boys and Voluntourism
At 127 Worldwide, we recognize that Biddle’s experience is unfortunately common. Westerners have for too long valued the “experience” over the work they come to do and its effect upon recipients. You may relate to her story even personally. (Don’t worry, it hits us that way too!) 127 sees these shortcomings and, among other initiatives, has adopted some of the very solutions Biddle alludes to in this article.
- Local Heroes
First, we wholeheartedly agree with her desire for a little girl to “have a hero who she can relate to – who looks like her, is part of her culture, speaks her language, and who she might bump into on the way to school one morning.” By minimizing ourselves on any short-term team, 127 aims to spotlight our partners as the hero of the work. Their relationship to the community is invaluable, and we are there to further and encourage those networks and not to platform ourselves. Sometimes it’s inevitable that we’re the ones behind the microphone, but we use even those opportunities to champion our local leaders.
- Local Initiative
Second, we celebrate that Biddle founded a camp in the DR led now almost entirely by Dominicans. It is encouraging to see others who believe in the role of local leaders in vulnerable communities. 127 Worldwide’s local leader ethic however centers on ministries who are already doing gospel-centered justice work. Our partners were ministering before us, and if something happens to 127 Worldwide, they’ll continue the work after us. We interact as equals who bring our own concerns, opinions, strategies, and methods to the table. Sometimes our partnership results in disagreements and we have to compromise on a solution, but we believe that ultimately we’re better together and the effort to collaborate is worth the challenges.
- Participant Preparedness
Third, we also urge GO Team participants to consider their own skills and examine their motivations before traveling. We hope to help every potential participant think well about their role in God’s global mission so that we avoid poverty tourism in favor of utilizing unique giftings for productive contribution. You can read more about 127’s mobilization model to see the breakdown of teams and consider which you might be best equipped to join.
Now watch the video linked below. It is a great example of another like-minded organization executing short-term missions with excellence. We love the line that says “When it comes to what we do with American teams in the community, we need to separate what we do and how we do it from our desire to feel good about ourselves.”
Hopefully you’ll notice a number of 127 Worldwide values as you watch– an emphasis on local leaders, encouragement to learn from the people you go to serve, and awareness of how God is already at work in a community.
We encourage you to watch this one with a critical eye, maybe even a few different times. What stands out as different from other “mission trip” videos you’ve watched?
- No one gets it perfect. We are all striving to improve, and we know 5 years from now we’ll look back and see with clarity the ways we’re messing up today. In light of Pippa Biddle’s reflection on her mistakes and 410 Bridge’s example video, imagine that you are in charge of producing a video about a short term team working with local leaders. What would you put in your script? What phrases, ideas or images would you intentionally leave out?