GOING overseas with a mission agency for a short-term gap placement offers far more than just a chance to show off your self-reliance and adventurous streak on your CV. It is a chance to deepen your discipleship, serve God, and learn from Christians in the global Church.
Participants who undertake placements with Christian mission agencies do so for that reason. But how much time and support do mission agencies invest in ensuring that participants in their trips are enabled to grow spiritually?
Mike Frith, who set up an information service promoting world mission, OSCAR, after years working as a pilot for the Mission Aviation Fellowship, says that the amount of pastoral support can vary, depending on the type of placement, particularly if there is a lot of travelling involved, but that all Christian mission agencies are committed to this aspect of a placement.
”The whole reason for choosing a Christian placement is for the spiritual dimension,” he says. It is the purpose of team leaders “to help you grow spiritually. . . They may meet you regularly and help you assimilate and learn from what you are experiencing on your placement.”
Many mission agencies offer preparation sessions as well as a debrief to help participants to make sense of what they have encountered, and the impact it has had on their faith.
The vocational recruitment officer for the Church Mission Society (CMS), Susann Haehnel, says that their debrief also helps people to think about whether they will go further into mission. “We talk with volunteers about how the experience has shaped their spirituality and their faith, and talk about where life might take them next. How does it shape them beyond the next two to four years?”
This ongoing discipleship is crucial if mission agencies are to avoid criticism of “mission tourism”: Westerners’ going off to “do good” in developing countries and to feel better about themselves. Mission agencies emphasise that all trips contribute to long-term projects or offer prayer support for existing communities and projects.
”It is about service,” the mobilisation director for Global Connections, Jo Jowett, explains. Global Connections is a network of organisations and churches which promotes mission opportunities, and advises those looking for placements.
“We encourage participants to think about it more as service than what they are going to put on their CV — to have more of a servant approach. We want people to be open to being taught by God about him and the world, the Church, and themselves. It’s about service, not mission tourism.”
Mission agencies do recognise that people on a short-term mission trip or gap year will apply from range of motivations, however, and that developing skills for a CV is still a valid one. “People who start out with this perspective can be transformed by what they encounter. We want to help people prepare for what they might encounter, to be open to being surprised by God,” Ms Jowett says.
Global Connections has developed a code of best practice for short-term mission placements, to give those who want to take up a placement a benchmark to compare opportunities — some of which cost several thousand pounds.
Mission agencies that want to get the best-practice stamp of approval have to go through a rigorous process, part of which concerns the discipleship of the volunteer. Organisations have to show a commitment to “discipling” and developing participants, and to having pastoral-care and support structures in place for all volunteers, besides offering help to each volunteer to adjust back to life at home, and advising on what the next step might be in each participant’s Christian life.
What is available
The USPG Journey With Us programme is a self-funding volunteer scheme that has been running for more than 60 years; it used be known as the Experience Exchange Programme (EEP). Its main objective is to provide opportunities for volunteers from Great Britain and Ireland to experience the life and mission of partner churches, and return to engage their local churches further in mission. Placements typically last from three to 12 months.
Who: Anyone resident in Britain and Ireland aged 18 or over, from any denomination or church background.
When and where: Placements are tailor-made to meet individual preferences, including location and start dates, although participants have to attend a residential weekend before placement: these are held twice a year. All placements are with USPG partners, in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean.
Cost: Varies, dependent on length and location. Twelve-month placements can cost up to £4000, but small grants are available from USPG, and it can advise on raising other funding.
Career-break opportunities: Opportunities also exist for those who would like to use their skills and experience. USPG has previously matched doctors, engineers, teachers, and administrators with placements. Placements will match experiences and skills wherever possible — including those who want to learn new skills. Its Expanding Horizons programme arranges placements for clergy, ordinands, and church workers for up to six months with churches overseas.
CMS describes itself as a missional community. It has mission partners around the world, including those who have come from the global Church to the UK. Its aim is to allow anyone to take on mission work, in the UK or overseas. It offers gap-year trips, short-term mission trips of between four months and two years for people wanting to work alongside Christians in other cultures, and three-year long-term mission placements.
Who: Anyone from 18 to 70-plus who is involved in their local church and is enthusiastic about mission.
When and where: Trips can last from four months to two years, all over the world, from spending a year in an orphanage in Argentina to teaching English in Egypt, or working in a safe house for women and girls in Argentina.
Cost: Varies according to location and length, but, for longer placements of a year, typically between £5000 and £8000, plus a £350 fee to CMS for support and training and DBS checks.
Career-break opportunities: Medical or financial skills are easy to place, but there is also a need for HR and administration and other transferable skills. One current vacancy is for those with skills in sustainable-farming techniques to train farmers in western Tanzania. CMS works individually with skilled workers to explore the right opportunity abroad.
Contact: www.churchmissionsociety.org or email email@example.com.
Time for God
Time for God is an ecumenical organisation that connects volunteers with churches and Christian organisations in the UK and overseas, and recruits host families in the UK to look after volunteers from abroad. It runs a “sending” programme for volunteers, and a “hosting” programme for people who want to host volunteers.
Who: The majority of volunteering opportunities are for 18-to-30-year-olds, but a few placements exist for older volunteers, and there is no upper age limit.
When and where: Opportunities are varied, from working with a church in the UK in projects with children, young people, or vulnerable adults, to working overseas in placements in South Korea, Hungary, France, and Hong Kong, as well as other destinations. Placements usually run from August to September, or in January.
Cost: Volunteers at projects in the UK are paid a living allowance of about £160 a month, and placements overseas cost between £1200 and £2000.
Career-break opportunities: For those with teaching experience, vacancies currently exist in South Korea and Hong Kong. The placement is free (although flights must be paid for), and volunteers earn a small wage.
Oddments is a full-time Christian theatre company that performs contemporary Christian drama in schools, churches, youth groups, and prisons. There are a few opportunities for internships each year for individuals to perform alongside the permanent cast, travelling around the UK. Every cast member is involved in all aspects of a production, from making props, behind-the-scenes work, and administration to performing on stage.
When and where: On offer is an 11-month internship programme starting in September and finishing in the following August, based in Yeovil, Somerset.
Cost: About £1250 for the year, but that includes all food.
Career-break opportunities: Those with relevant skills in creative industries are welcome, but having an enthusiasm for drama, and seeing lives transformed through drama, is the most important requirement for anyone wanting to apply for the internships.
Crosslinks is a mission society that works across the Anglican Communion. It offers short-term mission opportunities for gap-year students, on summer camps and individual placements, working with different churches and partner projects.
When and where: Locations vary, depending on where Crosslinks mission partners and contacts are currently based, but, in the past few years, individual short-term volunteers have served in Africa, Asia, Europe, and South America. Placements usually last between one month and two years. Summer camps run for up to three weeks, and are usually in the UK. Gap teams go out from January to May each year, and recently have been sent to Gambia, Thailand, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Kenya.
Cost: Costs vary, depending on location and length for individual placements. Gap-team places cost about £3500.
Career-break opportunities: The priority for Crosslinks is Bible teaching, but it can also facilitate placements for volunteers with other professional skills, such as nursing or teaching. Short-term mission opportunities are advertised; alternatively, placements can be tailor-made.
Contact: See http://crosslinks.org/short-term/opportunities for more details.
Latin Link works with churches and Christian organisations in Latin America. It sends teams out on short-term mission trips through its Step programme, and arranges individual placements under its Stride programme.
When and where: Step teams go out for between two weeks and four months. The two-week programme takes place during the summer holidays; the longer-term programme starts every year in March. Step focuses on practical projects such as construction, and tends to attract gap-year students, but anyone over 18 can go. Stride offers placements for individuals, couples, and families to experience cross-cultural mission. Placements are varied, from social working to teaching to engineering.
Who: Anyone over 18.
Cost: Step costs from £950 to £2900, depending on duration. Stride costs about £800 to £1000 per month.
Career-break opportunities: LatinLink is currently advertising for an English teacher in Mexico, and an administrator for a street-kids project in Guatemala.
Contact: Apply via the website www.latinlink.org.
Operation Mobilisation (OM) is a Christian mission movement that works in 110 countries. It offers hundreds of opportunities for short-term mission, either in countries, or based on its ship, Logos Hope.
What and where: Placements can be as short as a week, or longer for a gap year. Volunteers are always sent to an existing project, to work with a long-running ministry. The opportunities are varied, from trekking to villages in Nepal with Christian literature, and performing music in Vienna, to building rafts in Moldova to reach remote communities.
Who: Most placements are for 18-plus, although OM also runs a programme for teenagers, TeenStreet.
Cost: As varied as the placements, but generally from £250 to more than £1000.
Career-break opportunities: Plenty of opportunities exist for those with specific skills. Current skilled vacancies include an IT officer on the Arabian Peninsula, an IT support officer in Canada, and a communications facilitator in Madagascar. OM also sets up church partnerships for churches in the UK who feel called to fulfil their vision to reach out to the poor, and can organise vision trips for church leaders to help them to discern where God is leading them.
Contact: For all vacancies and short- and long-term opportunities, visit www.uk.om.org.
Tearfund offers placements lasting from two weeks to six months in 12 different countries. Volunteers learn first-hand about the reality of community development work by working alongside Tearfund partners and the local church.
When and where: Placements are available in countries from south-east Asia to Africa and South America. Trips run throughout the year. Tearfund is also offering 12-week Government-funded International Citizen Service (ICS) trips to Bangladesh or South Africa for those aged 18-25.
Who: Anyone aged 18 to 80, although family placements mean that younger children can go with parents.
Cost: From £600 for short trips to £4000.
Career-break opportunities: Placements are available for those with specific skills and training: in social work, medicine, or plumbing, for example. Tearfund used to run a separate skills bank for those with qualifications and experience, but now it encourages people to be willing and flexible. Vacancies currently exist for plumbers, dancers, and actors for an educational project in Bolivia.
Nicci Maxwell trained as a doctor in her native South Africa, moving to the UK in 2008 to work in neonatal intensive care with Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust. In September 2016, she started a 12-month mission placement in Uganda with CMS
I HAD been interested in the idea of mission before I knew I wanted to do medicine. As a child, I remember seeing pictures of the famine in Ethiopia, and knowing that I wanted to do something to help in person, not just send my pocket money to charity.
The opportunity for a gap year always appealed, but the timing never seemed right, with studies, postgrad training, then a Ph.D. before heading off into a consultant post. I had got to the point where I thought I probably wouldn’t be particularly useful in mission, and should perhaps give up on that dream.
But, after my father fell ill back in South Africa, and then died, I started thinking again about my childhood ambitions of serving overseas. I signed up for a two-week Developing Health course run by the Christian Medical Fellowship, and, within 48 hours of starting, felt God challenging me that now was the right time. I contacted CMS, who matched my skills to a placement in Uganda, working in a hospital paediatric department.
So far, it has been an amazing journey, having to let go of my own plans and let God take charge. God has graciously and gently started to peel my sticky hands off the steering wheel of my life.
He has been working on my prayer life, too. I have more time and more things to talk to him about; so I’m loving my prayer time, even on the really hard days. I’m seeing answers to prayer, too, with some really “hopeless cases” miraculously getting better.
The experience of being here is changing me for the better, too: making me more compassionate, and teaching me to work in community. I knew that this year would change me in ways I couldn’t even imagine, and it certainly is living up to that expectation. I can’t wait to see what happens next, because I know God has a plan that I probably haven’t even begun to imagine yet, and I know it’s a good one.
Nicci is blogging about her experiences at www.niccimaxwell.wordpress.com.
Joanna Frith took a year out before studying Spanish at Southampton University. She took up a ten-week placement in Bolivia with Tearfund and International Citizen Service (ICS), and a placement with European Christian Mission in Spain
THE emphasis with Tearfund was on serving. It was a real journey for me to discover my identity in God, and I grew in confidence to believe that God had really given me some gifts.
I was part of a team working for a church and with its educational charity, teaching students about HIV. I struggled at first with being in the team, and finding my place in it. But I soon learnt that kindness, love, and a smile went a very long way, especially when I wasn’t sure how to approach a situation. Learning to humble myself in the community and team I was serving in gave me a new sense of purpose and identity.
I used to care a lot about what people thought of me, but, as the placement went on, he gave me a fresh vision about who I was serving: the people of the community, my team, and ultimately him. He rearranged the attitudes and preconceptions that I had about certain situations and jobs we had to do, and slowly realigned them with his thoughts and gentle encouragement.
On my return, I went on an individual placement with European Christian Mission to a church-plant near Cordoba, in Spain. I helped out with the youth group, the worship team, and Bible studies. Out there, I was mentored by the pastor’s wife. She really helped me, especially during the times when I found it hard being away from home.
God taught me a lot. Now I am at university, he is still reminding me of what I learned. My placements also made me realise that all I want to do, for the rest of my life, is to worship, whatever that may look like. I would definitely like to use my Spanish in serving more overseas. If God enabled me to use worship and Spanish at the same time, then that would be amazing.