Going on an overseas mission trip can often be a transforming and life changing experience; offering an opportunity to serve in a very different culture and environment, challenging our worldview and our perceptions of our role in the world. Taking young people on a short-term mission trip experience can equip them and inspire them for a lifetime of service, or at the very least cause them to think critically about the consumerist ‘it’s all about me’ culture that we live in.
But why should transforming overseas mission experiences like this be only for so-called ‘mainstream’ young people? Why shouldn’t everyone, including young people with additional needs or disabilities, be able to experience trips like this too? So often, young people with additional needs are excluded from overseas mission trips like this unless they are accompanied by a parent or carer, but is that the only way that all young people can be included?
I recently had the great privilege of taking a group of young people on a 10-day short-term mission trip to South Africa. 12 of us, including 10 young people, a female leader, and myself, joined with groups from across the UK totalling 120 of us together, to build homes and hope for disadvantaged families in a township, work with the local children through a kids club, and to see the young people blossom, grow, and be transformed by the experience. Included in the group was an autistic young person for whom this was their first experience of being overseas away from their family. What sharing this journey with this young person taught me is that anyone can go on a short-term overseas mission trip, and that doing so can be a really valuable and inspiring step in the development of a young person with additional needs, just as much as it can be for anyone else.
There are many ways that a young person with additional needs can be supported to participate in a short-term overseas mission trip. My journey with Timmy* has helped me to understand these better and so I share some of these learnings with you as I ‘think out loud’ about this for the future...
Read the rest of this article on Mark's blog:
*Timmy is not his real name
Mark Arnold is the Additional Needs Ministry Director for Urban Saints’ pioneering additional needs ministry, including training, consultancy, conference speaking and resourcing: urbansaints.org/additionalneeds