For the last three years, I’ve had the privilege of serving as the global missions coordinator for Vox. The missions team, a small group of us, guide the local and global relationships and donations. Together, we looked to the ECC for guidance and created the following statement to help direct our decision making:
As a community, we covenant to equip loving, giving, growing followers of Christ to live out his good news by serving those in need and seeking justice for the oppressed. We recognize that we are a part of the larger body of Christ, and seek to partner with international organizations and individuals in their efforts to live the good news of Christ.
Our team equips people serving within their own communities. For local Voxites, we offer the Good Neighbor Fund so that Vox Covenant members can request resources to help them with their efforts to be good neighbors. It’s the best way we’ve found to foster authentic community within the limits of our size and budget. We say it every week at liturgy, too – go and be the church.
It gets kind of tricky when you talk about the global church, though. How do you connect authentically to people and places when you don’t live there? We are still trying to discover what faith and service means in the East Austin context and we live here full time. It’s for this reason that we have partnered financially and relationally with people living around the world, serving in their own communities. Right now, we are in the middle of a three-year commitment to the Create Commission and the Ashish Center, both in Delhi, India. In addition, we extend the Good Neighbor Fund to Vox Covenant members living overseas. This allows us to reach around the globe while ensuring that relationships and wisdom will guide our resources to where they are most needed. We trust that our partners in Delhi know best how to spend time and money in their communities. That they, in their language and with their gifts and education, are much better stewards of God’s kingdom in their own contexts.
We have sent several people to visit them, but we respect their time and we come on their terms. Gideon and Mick went to be a part of the Create Commission’s artist in residency program last year. We are hoping to send people who are trained as administrators or therapists to the Ashish Center, a school for differently-abled children, because that is what they have asked for. We value the mutuality in our relationships; they are professionals manifesting God’s kingdom on earth and we send vocational-based teams to them so we can share, learn from and bless each other. They need us and we need them.
Traditionally, the American church has been a place to find support and funding for short-term mission trips. What this has meant is that the most resourced and connected young people go overseas to serve for a short term in a community in which they are probably not familiar, regardless of skill or education. This has historically created, to be honest, a glut of white, upper-middle class missionaries going into communities, staying a short time and leaving. There is a troubling lack of diversity associated with American missions (read more about it in “Red, Brown, Yellow, Black, White—Who’s More Precious In God’s Sight?: A call for diversity in Christian missions and ministry”) as well as an oft-ignored problem of missions doing more harm than good (we read “When Helping Hurts: Alleviating the Poverty Without Hurting The Poor…And Ourselves” as a team).
I like to think that I can speak this harshly because I am a recovering short-term mission-aholic. Real talk: as a teenager, I myself was a well-resourced young person going on short-term trips to paint houses for people, build schools for people, dig wells for people and educate their children the way I saw fit. I wasn’t building relationships, but empires. I served people with the idea that my culture and my values would shape them, and I was there for one week (Mexico!) to three months (India!) at a time. True, much good came of it in my life; God redeemed my arrogance and folly. But I wish I could undo some of it.
It is not all about perfection or efficiency – this work is messy. We aren’t proposing a solution to poverty, but we do hope that by investing in local people and long-term visitors that we are reclaiming some of the diversity and beauty of God’s kingdom. The voices that shape India should be Indian, and we are happy to stand beside them when they ask us to. As a team, we love connecting Voxites to similar communities based on their gifts, areas of expertise and professions so they may serve and learn efficiently and expertly. It is our belief that these types of short term exchanges serve other communities and our community best. When people from our community do go into the world for a short time, we are happy to connect you and champion you when it’s appropriate, but, as a church, we will invest the majority of our resources in people in it for the long haul.
[Constance is a Vox Covenant member finishing her time on the Vox missions team.]