Yesterday I spent a couple of hours with Eric Iverson from Youth Works, an organization that runs short term missions trip for students. Eric and I met on an enterprise rental car shuttle van in Chicago a couple of years ago and have been trying to get together ever since. I really enjoyed our time together and feel like he's the kind of guy that, if he was smart enough to live in Southern California, I would enjoy being around more often.
I was excited to talk to him because I've been wrestling with the whole idea of short term missions for quite a while and posted about it here several months ago.
A big piece of Eric's role at youth works is to help them re-shape the age-old formula of traditional short term mission projects which is basically: Middle class suburban youth group pulls into neglected community and paints, re-builds, etc. then loads vans and goes home feeling good about what they just did for the kingdom.
His vision is that Youth Works would begin to 'work themselves out of ministry' by helping students understand a more holistic picture of society, culture, justice etc. in the hopes that students and youth groups will begin to think about how to be part of the bigger solutions on the front end. If, instead of cleaning up a neglected neighborhood, youth groups began to think about how the church can be part of preventing the neglect in the first place. Of course, He articulated it much better than that.
It seems like youth leaders find themselves in a bit of a catch-22. By simply showing up in vans we only provide band-aids and may, in some cases, actually be pro-longing the problems we think we're fixing. But, band-aids aren't bad and if applying a band-aid exposes our kids to the gaping wounds of others perhaps they'll be motivated to be part of the bigger solution.
Instead of 'either, or' I think this is a perfect opportunity for organizations like youth works to help create a 'both, and' approach. I'm glad people like Eric are wrestling through it.