Let's Be Honest
Volunteering in orphanages is an incredibly common and popular STM activity, and it can be confronting to hear it referred to as a harmful practice. The next section will unpack the reasons why there is a global push to discourage orphanage volunteering, including in the context of STM trips and help teams and volunteers consider more ethical ways to support children and their families.

There are some STM activities that are known to increase children's vulnerability to harm or abuse, lead to exploitation or rights violations or have a negative impact on their wellbeing. Common examples include:
• Volunteering in orphanages or shelters
• Participating in 'raids and rescues' for trafficked children
• Medical missions- where unqualified or under-qualified teams or volunteers distribute medicines or hold pop up medical clinics.

With children's rights and best interests in mind STM teams should avoid engaging in these types of inappropriate activities.

Case Study:
Hope Education is an initiative of Hope Global, whose mission is to give quality education to children in post-conflict countries, by developing quality teachers and schooling. Hope Global’s education program comes along side of schools and teachers by providing teacher training that is tailored to the local needs and aligns with existing local and national education plans and objectives.

Hope Global strategically recruits professional teachers and trainers from Australia who are willing to go on a STM trip for 2-3 weeks in order to deliver the training conferences. Each and every trip is made up of volunteers with the specific skill sets needed to help field partners achieve their goals, so every volunteer is making a valuable contribution. Hope Global have had team members who are teachers and head teachers, IT trainers, business professionals, photographers and nurses to deliver the training sessions, yet this list is always diversifying. They also utilise a small number of ‘general’ volunteers on each trip to assist trainers and ensure the smooth running of conferences and training sessions.

As a result of building the capacity of local teachers, Hope Global’s STM teams have contributed to real and lasting positive impacts in the lives of children and young people.
In Christ, and in the gospel, there is an integral connection between grace and truth.

“Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” John 1:17

When it comes to truth, there are two versions: God's and the world's. God's truth is absolute. It's firm, constant and unshakeable; it's based on God's nature and always points to His righteousness and justice. It sets the standards for all areas of our lives. Relative truth – which is the world's version of truth – tells us that truth is ours to determine. It's based on what we feel is right in any given situation or moment in time. It isn't fixed and it bends to endorse our human desires. Relative truth is a slippery slope that can lead to selfishness, deception, injustice and harm.

In Jesus, we see God's absolute truth and standards embodied. However, the Bible tells us that along with truth, Christ ushered in grace. This is an important coupling, as while truth sets the standards, grace makes a way for us in light of our humanity. Grace is the forgiveness that covers our shortcomings. It removes all condemnation so we can try again when we've fallen short or failed. Grace through Jesus is what ultimately makes a way for us to be saved.

The truth and grace nexus is as important to general living as it is to salvation; especially because truth is not always easy to hear. When truth is spoken, it must be seasoned with grace. It must draw attention to the standards without wielding condemnation as a weapon. and it must ultimately bring hope.

There are some tough truths when it comes to short-term missions and you'll find some of these in the pages of this website. It would perhaps be more palatable to apply 'relative truth' to short-term missions and endorse whatever makes us feel good; it would certainly be less confrontational. But we've witnessed the lost potential and seen the harm that's been caused when we take this approach. As a result, we've chosen absolute truth. It's our hope that it will be equally abounding in encouragement and hope. We've designed this website to engage the Christian community in a conversation about good and right short-term missions standards, without casting judgement for what's been and done. It's our attempt to create a platform where we can speak truth, encourage honest reflection and share lessons learnt. We ultimately want to foster good practice in short-term missions so the good news can be heard loud and clear. It's not our intention to discourage participation in short-term missions. Quite the opposite; it's our heart to equip and encourage all who engage to engage well. We trust that the Holy Spirit will guide us all, as a Christian community, to discover the most God-honouring and others-serving expressions of short-term missions.
CASE STUDY: It’s all about education and advocacy
– A pastor’s perspective –

“We’re not interested in a ‘doing-based trip’, we’re interested in a ‘learning-based trip’ ... that’s more about coming alongside partners in the field and watching and observing.” Ps Danny Major, Global Pastor, Enjoy Church, Australia.

Several years ago, Enjoy Church launched a new missions campaign called Collective 61, which partners with several organisations in Cambodia that assist vulnerable women and children. Enjoy Church runs STM trips to Cambodia once a year, with a focus on helping team members develop a holistic understanding of the issues of injustice that create poverty and vulnerability, and to inspire long-term action.

The trips are extremely purposeful. Prior to departure, team members attend a training session on ‘poverty and empowerment’, which challenges their understanding of poverty and the perception that we can ‘fix’ people’s poverty by helping them become more like us. As soon as they arrive in Cambodia, team members are provided with information on Cambodia’s history, the people, and the positive and negative impacts of aid on the community. They visit two rural communities and witness the difference between NGO-led and community-led development, and they see the pride and joy community members take in their achievements when a community has led its own development process.

By meeting with Enjoy’s Collective 61 partners, the team is exposed to a holistic view of human trafficking, including the root causes, local issues, solutions and outcomes. But at no point does the team meet survivors of trafficking or at-risk children, or take part in the projects themselves. During the STM trip, everything the team sees and experiences helps team members understand the global nature of these problems and helps them connect the dots between what is happening in Cambodia and how it’s linked to what we do in Australia; everything from, “… our belief systems, the clothes we wear, the perfume we buy – it can all have an adverse affect in-country,” explains Ps Danny.

When team members return home, each is now aware, knowledgeable and equipped to advocate on behalf of the people and programs they have visited from a more educated point of view. As Ps Danny states, “One of the best things they can do is to go home and begin to change how they live, to speak out, and educate others on the most appropriate part they can play”.