Moving Beyond Voluntourism

Rev. Matt Lacey, director of United Methodist Volunteers in Mission for the Southeast Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church  wrote a blog post this week digging into the term “voluntourism”.  Voluntourism mashes together the words “volunteer” and “tourism” and describes what some critics of short-term mission see as the main problem with the practice of volunteers going on mission trips.

I’ve been on great mission trips and horrible mission trips.  Sometimes people are prayerful and prepared and sometimes they want to do a little good while having a great vacation for cheap.  Sometimes people want to meet Christians in another country and worship together, and sometimes their motivations for going aren’t simple or straightforward.

Rev. Lacey describes how God took his mixed up motivations and opened him up to be more attentive to how God was already at work in the world and calling him to do more – to participate in God’s mission in, to and for the world.  This effect of mission trips is what Anthony Gittins calls “Adventure in Three Movements”.

Mission in Three Movements

In Ministry at the Margins, Anthony Gittins describes the “adventure of mission” in three movements.  First is the Homeland, where our “our identity was forged and where we sank our cultural roots.”  This is where we begin to develop empathy and the ability to understand other people and other perspectives.  The second movement in the adventure of mission is the Wonderland.  Gittins explains that in the Wonderland we experience a culture in which our rules for understanding the world don’t apply.  There may be some commonalities, but we must be intentional in trying to understand both similarities and differences.

Gittins’ third movement in mission is called the Newfoundland.  He states: “returning from the Wonderland, then, we encounter the Newfoundland.  And far from ending, our missionary journeys may be only just beginning.”  Because we have been challenged by our experience in the Wonderland, we return as renewed people – and we may be ready to see our own place in the world with fresh eyes, with an open heart for the work to be done in our Homeland.

Meeting Each Other as Equals

The adventure of mission in three movements is why I love to work with people who volunteer in mission.  No matter how old they are, people want to help others.  And they want to know more about God and how to live with fresh eyes for their own hometowns.  Rev. Lacey states that “the [mission] trip really isn’t about us but instead about how we see and interact with the rest of God’s children” and that we need to be prepared so that whatever learning we do on a mission trip isn’t the responsibility of the people we go to serve.  This is an important point – we go to meet our brothers and sisters in Christ as equals.

My goal is to continue to work with groups of people who are planning a mission project – whether they are fourth graders working in a community garden at their local food bank or a group of retirees building a house in Mexico – and help them to do the preparation of self-examination and the follow-up of spiritual reflection and renewal.  Like Rev. Lacey, it is my hope that we all go out to serve God by “listening more than we talk, learning more than we teach, and seeing God in every person we meet.”

Read Rev. Lacey’s blog here:

Prof. Anthony J. Gittins’ book is available through Orbis Books:   Quotes taken from pages 6-7


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s