Building Local Capacity through Short Term Missions

It’s mid-summer in the US, and that means hundreds, if not thousands, of Christians are departing and returning from short-term missions around the world. Many of these teams visit orphans in developing nations, conduct Vacation Bible Schools, assist with building projects, and share the love of Christ with everyone they come to meet.

For many full-time orphan advocates, it was one of these trips that initiated their journey toward dedicated ministry work. I know this – I’m one of those people! Thirteen years ago, my family (six of us, with the youngest at 5 years old) embarked on our first mission trip to Russia. That experience opened our eyes to the needs of children around the world, and began a journey that has deepened our faith, humbled our hearts, and made it normal to have daily chats with dear friends all over the world.

Throughout my journey, I have discovered several foundations for global orphan ministry, echoed within CAFO’s Core Principles. These principles have provided wise guidance toward the development of CAFO’s Global Movements Initiative. Two of the key principles are:

  1. Gospel Centered Ministry – our service must be anchored within our response to the gospel. “God, our loving Father, sought us, adopted us, and invites us to live as His sons and daughters. We love because He first loved us.”
  2. Central Role of the Local Church – “The local church in every nation possesses both the Christian mandate and many other resources needed to care for the world’s orphans in a nurturing, relationship-rich environment. Every initiative to care for orphans should prioritize and honor the role of the local church, carefully pairing what foreign resources may be necessary with local believers willing to open their hearts and homes to orphans in their community.”

Keeping these principles in mind, I am convinced that effective short term missions for orphans should focus on long term results by equipping local believers. While that encompasses a wide variety of activities, sending churches can make the most impact by building the capacity of local partner churches and Christian organizations around the world.

“equip the saints for the work of ministry,
for building up the body of Christ”
Ephesians 4:12 ESV

In a recently published manual, Protecting Children in Short-Term Missions, ACCI Missions and Relief explains this concept through its principle, Support & Strengthen Local Capacities. “As the issues that put children (and their families) at risk, leave them vulnerable and contribute to their family’s poverty are complex and usually require long-term cross sector solutions, they are rarely issues that can be fixed by STM [short-term mission] teams. As a result, the focus of any action undertaken by STM teams is best directed towards empowering, supporting and strengthening the local actors (individuals, families, communities, organisations, and government bodies) who are committed to being there for the long haul.”

George Ndhawa, a passionate orphan advocate and one of the leaders of a local-church led adoption movement in Kenya, states that “the local church has the mandate from God to care for the orphan… Short term mission leaders should first consult with the local pastors and ministry leaders to find out what the big need is, where they need strengthening. They have been there a long time, and they know what the local needs are… We need to collaborate on setting up programs with the local church, focusing on giving the local Christians quick training. If a short-term team will be coming for a two-week trip, the first week should be spent training the local church, and the second week allowing the local Christians to implement what they learned. The short term missionaries can give daily feedback and encouragement to the locals. When they leave the country, they leave an empowered team to continue the work locally.”

It is my prayer that each of your own churches and organizations will embody these principles in your short term mission strategies. Through building the capacity of local churches, we will see orphans become sons and daughters of forever families, the global church will respond to the mandate of the Father to care for the orphan, and a watching world will witness Christians exemplify the love of God through their own love for the children in their midst.