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Gap-year mission work is still possible

03 February 2023

Short-term mission opportunities are opening up again after the pandemic, albeit with some differences, Huw Spanner discovers

Lee Abbey Fellowship

Community members on the kitchen team at Lee Abbey

Community members on the kitchen team at Lee Abbey

SINCE 2020, Covid has severely curtailed the opportunities for gap years and short-term mission offered by Christian agencies both at home and abroad. Many young people have been deterred from applying by anxieties about the threat of the virus and the uncertainties it created. Now, however, there seems to be a general sense that the danger has passed.

“Officially, there’s still a global pandemic,” the chief executive of OM UK, Matthew Skirton, observes, “but travel seems to be pretty much back to how it was pre-Covid. That’s the experience of most of our teams these days.”

So, is it now just business as usual? Of the 13 organisations the Church Times contacted, three did not respond (one owing to illness). Two others, Tearfund and USPG, replied that they no longer offer short-term opportunities.

It was not an easy decision to make, Tearfund’s head of media, Sarah Greenwood, says. In part, it was because of the impact of Covid on overseas travel, “plus the fact that the model of short-term volunteering fits less well with our strategy of empowering local communities to develop their own solutions to escaping poverty.”

USPG suspended all its short-term placement programmes in 2021, and does not have any immediate plans to resume them.

Of the other eight, most confirm that things have returned to normal. Mandy Taylor, who handles applications at WEC, says: “We have no real Covid-related concerns about sending people out any more.”

Some report that there is still some hesitation in applications. The Revd Tom Collins, who is a chaplain at Lee Abbey, believes that people have become slow to put themselves forward for volunteering. “I think a lot of churches are seeing this as well,” he says.

Others are finding that there is a particular shortage of people volunteering to lead teams. Crosslinks’ short-term mission co-ordinator, Jaki North, has seen a big drop in the number of people coming forward (she is looking for mature Christians and reliable people aged 21-30). “From conversations with other people who run camps and things, it seems that everyone is struggling to find leaders,” she says.

One development that several have welcomed is a different attitude in applicants. “In interviews, there has been a real shift in why people are wanting to go: a move away from simply wanting an experience to actually looking to go for a longer period of time,” CMS’s vocational recruitment lead, Gilberto Da Silva, says. “ It’s not just a two-week holiday, or whatever.”

OM UK’s short-term opportunities co-ordinator, Ginny Drake, concurs. “Before the pandemic, people used to say: ‘What can I get out of this? What do I want to experience?’ Now, particularly with our outreaches to refugees from the Middle East, North Africa, and Ukraine, people are asking themselves: ‘What do I want to give?’”

Mrs Taylor has noticed something similar. “Before Covid, there was a higher percentage of younger people looking for shorter trips. We’ve still got youngsters applying, some of them available for only two or three weeks in the summer; but now we’ve got more people in their forties and fifties looking for longer trips.

“It’s as if Covid has galvanised them into going ahead and doing something more meaningful with their life, something they’ve been thinking about for a while.”



AWM-PioneersTwo volunteers on an “Edge” team, in North Africa with AWMUNDER its online strapline, “AWM is about making dis­­ciples of Jesus Christ, seeing churches planted and transforming the Arab world”, this agency offers “exciting ways to start getting in­­volved with what God is doing” in North Africa and the Middle East, and among the Arab diaspora in Europe.
AWM can provide a tailor-made placement with one of its long-term mission teams, lasting anything be­­tween a fortnight and a year. It also sends out “Edge” teams of up to ten people, typically for one to three weeks at Easter, or over the summer.
In an average year about 30 people, mostly in their twenties, go out on teams. Last year, the agency was accepting applications “in hope and in faith”, but still ended up sending out 25 or so, although most of these were to teams in the UK.

Things are more or less back to normal now, although “the uncertainty of the pandemic has now been replaced by the uncertainty of a cost-of-living crisis.” The only lasting impact of Covid is that people seem much more willing to do a lot of their preparation and orientation virtually, “although we do still try to do things face-to-face”.

Age: 18+

Cost: Varies, from under £400 a month for a placement in the UK to about £1000 a month overseas. AWM can give advice on fund-raising, and there are trusts that can help with grants

Apply: Deadlines vary, but are typically six weeks before the start of an Edge trip. For Venture, apply at least three months before the date you hope to go

More details: awm-pioneers.org/go/go-short-term



FOR gap years, Church Mission Society is looking for people who are “adventurous, curious and want to be challenged in their relationship with Jesus”. You could spend between four months and one year doing anything from children’s work with the church in Uganda, to teaching English in Egypt, to youth work in Peru. CMS’s website also promises that “you will not return the same.”

CMS also offers opportunities for a short-term mission placement of up to two years in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, or Latin America, working in health care, teaching, project management, community development, the arts, church initiatives — “or something completely different”, its website suggests.

Typically, CMS sends eight people on gap years annually. CMS’s vocational recruitment lead, Gilberto Da Silva, reports that last year, because of Covid, it did not send anyone out, “but we did begin to see a lot more interest”. So far this year, it has sent out two people, with another three looking to go from September onwards.

As a result of the pandemic, CMS is looking at ways to do a lot more of its contextual training virtually. “There was talk initially about trying to do virtual mission,” Mr Da Silva says, “but you really can’t substitute for being with people in person.”

Age: 18+

Cost: From £5000 to £9000, depending on where you go, plus a contribution of £350 towards the necessary residential training and checks

Apply: All year round

Further details: churchmissionsociety.org/gap



Simon AdcockA member of a Crosslinks gap-year team, in the Gambia in 2018A GAP year with Crosslinks, its website says, is “a great way to get a taste of overseas mission work and have fun”. Teams of up to ten school-leavers go out with two leaders, usually for about five months, currently to South Africa or Thailand. Crosslinks has just sent out its first three teams in two years, and is now recruiting people to go out in 2024.

“We get most of our team members through personal recommendation,” Crosslinks’ short-term mission co-ordinator, Jaki North, says: “Basically, someone goes, has an awesome time, and tells everyone about it.”

Given that no teams went out during the pandemic, the number of applicants for 2023 was much lower than usual; but, for 2024, Ms North has already had 15 applicants before she has even started advertising. It is, she says, “pretty much business as usual.”

Crosslinks also tailors short-term mission trips for individuals and couples in five continents, working alongside one of its mission partners. Placements can last anything from two weeks to two years.

Age: UK residents aged 18+ by the time of the trip

Cost: For gap years, besides your airfare, Crosslinks will ask you to raise at least £3500 towards the cost of board and lodging, local travel, insurance, visas, orientation etc.

Apply: Any time

More details: Email: jnorth@crosslinks.org or visit crosslinks.org/go2024



L’ARCHE is a worldwide movement creating communities “of all faiths and none”, in which people with and without learning disabilities live together. For its 11 centres in the UK, it recruits about 100 assistants each year.

L’Arche’s head of partnerships and communications, Chris Asprey, says that they have “come back to life again after Covid”, and are actively seeking people who want to spend a year in community. It is, he suggests, “a chance to make a powerful impact in the world, while having your whole perspective on life transformed along the way”.

Given that many of the people it works with have underlying health issues, L’Arche “strongly encourages” assistants to have an up-to-date vaccine against Covid.

Age: 18+

Cost: Assistants on a gap year receive free training, accommodation, and food, and a small subsistence payment totalling £3709 over 12 months

Apply: Any time

More details: larche.org.uk/assistants



SERENE in its 280 acres on the coast of North Devon, Lee Abbey is once again fully open and thriving, one of its chaplains, the Revd Tom Collins, says; but it has not returned to “the old normal”, he says. “The pandemic prompted the community to listen again to where God is calling us, and the past two years have actually been a positive time of renewal.

“Our community life — what we’re inviting our guests into — is now really focusing on the main thing, which is being a place of encounter. As a community, we’re called to encounter God, to encounter each other, to encounter the beauty of the environment, and to encounter our guests and to be shaped by that encounter.”

Lee Abbey has vacancies for a year or more in its estate, house, kitchen, and bookings teams, and is looking for people with a willingness to serve and to join in with community life, including its daily rhythm of worship — and also “to go on a journey of their own encounter: learning to know God better and know themselves better”.

Mr Collins reflects that Covid has raised big issues in many people’s lives that otherwise might have been hidden. “At Lee Abbey, there is very much a life to get on with, but there is also opportunity to be healed and released and empowered.”

Age: 18+

Cost: Members of the community receive free accommodation, food, and a small allowance

Apply: Any time

More details: leeabbeydevon.org.uk/community/current-vacancies



OPERATION MOBILISATION is perhaps best known for the Logos Hope and Doulos Hope: two former cruise ships repurposed as floating Christian bookshops that travel the world. These are largely crewed by volunteers who join for either three months or a year. OM UK also offers “loads of things” that people can do in a gap year, however, its short-term opportun­ities co-ordinator, Ginny Drake, says.

“Reach” is a five- or six-month programme based in the UK, Eastern Europe, or Africa that includes “some really good teaching and equipping”, Ms Drake says. Even the UK option includes over­­seas out­­reach, with at least two, two-week trips, perhaps to Poland, Serbia, and/or Moldova.

This year, OM UK is launching the initiative Interrail Outreach. “The idea is to get a group of six people aged 18-25, buy them an Interrail pass each, and challenge them to get to Istanbul and back within eight weeks, and share their faith with everyone they meet,” Ms Drake says.

Participants will be given training in how to share the gospel with dif­­ferent people, and provided with evangelistic literature in several languages. They will also visit OM teams and get involved in ministry.

Covid had a huge impact on re­­cruit­­ment over the past two years, with only “a couple of dozen” people volunteering, Ms Drake says. But, as restrictions ease and fears subside, numbers are well on the way back to the 250+ UK partici­­pants who used to serve short-term with OM UK each year.

Age: 18+

Cost: Varies greatly. OM UK can provide guidance on fund-raising

More details: Visit uk.om.org/shorts, uk.om.org/reach or uk.om.org/interrail-outreach, or email shortterm.UK@om.org



OPPORTUNITIES provided by Teachbeyond UK include spending anything from a few weeks to two years teaching around the globe, from Canada to Papua New Guinea.

The agency’s short-term trips were put on hold during the pandemic, “because at that stage they were mostly camps”, the agency’s mobiliser, Angela Russell, explains. “We are now trying to create more of a package for someone going out for two to six weeks maybe, so that they can experience what long-term mission would be like, and test their own calling.”

Mrs Russell is currently working on three options, in Albania, Lesvos, and Brazil. These mostly involve teaching English as a foreign language, but can be tailored to an individual’s qualifications. Candidates must have a TEFL qualification and must go through the full process that is involved in applying to be a missionary. “We’ll listen to their testimony,” Mrs Russell says. “We’ll see what they’re involved in already in their local church, their local area, and we’ll check whether they would be a good fit.”

Covid has not made any great difference, she reports. “People may need to get vaccinated if the place they are going to requires it — that’s the only thing, really.”

Age: 21+

Cost: Varies widely depending on where you go. TeachBeyond UK will guide you through the process of fund-raising

Apply: By March 31, to go out in July or August

More details: teachbeyond.org.uk/go



WEC specialises in “reaching the unreached”, working in more than 80 countries on six continents. Each year, it sends 20-25 people on short-term mission trips, which nowadays it tailors for individuals or couples.

One thing that makes these distinctive is that “we really want people to get insight and understanding of what it is like to be a long-term missionary,” says Mandy Taylor, who handles applications.

“When people enquire about the opportunities we offer, we want to know: ‘What is God saying to you? Where do you think he wants you to serve?’ And then we try to match them with one of our teams.”

The programme was curtailed by the pandemic, but now things are pretty much back to normal. WEC recommends that people get vaccinated, but it is not a requirement.

Age: 18+

Cost: Varies greatly, according to where you go and how long you stay

Apply: Any time, but at least three months in advance

More details: Email: hello@wec-uk.org or visit wec-uk.org/mission-resources/short-term

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