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Troubled Waters

In February 2009, and again in February 2010, I co-led two successive trips to New Orleans.

Both times, we travelled during University reading week. Both times the trip closely coincided with Mardi Gras.

I wonder why the students came.

Was it pure altruism? Was it a process of self-discovery? Was it the story of a city neglected by its own mayor, state politicians and federal government?

Was it the plea from our friends and partners in the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana? What was it, exactly that brought two separate groups together to travel to New Orleans?

Sometimes I still wonder why I organized the trip. Why did we go a second time?

In this blog series, Christian and I will try to unpack some of the issues around short-term mission trips. We’ll be using my experience as a trip organizer and leader as backdrop, and if he’s worth his salt, Christian will poke some significant holes in my own motivations as a leader.

Along with you, we hope to wrestle through the implications of this whole short-term missions enterprise.

Because it is an enterprise. It’s big business, in fact.

And whether we like it or not, every time we engage in one of these trips, we are, to some extent complicit in the Christian Industrial Complex. What do these trips say about us, about our faith, and the way we live it out? And how do they connect to the ways in which we live our lives when we’re not on some exotic adventure to a far-flung and exciting corner of the world?

I guess one of the questions we need to ask ourselves is whether it’s worth it. And if it’s worth it, how do we best frame these trips to mitigate the amount of damage they do – to ourselves and to the people we’re hoping to serve?

Our hope for this series is that you will engage with the story, engage with the questions, and ask questions of your own. Ask questions of yourselves, of us, of one another.

Whether you’ve led one of these trips before, or whether you’re considering them for the future, ask all kinds of questions. Share your suggestions. Help us to think more thoroughly about the impact of our good intentions on those with and amongst whom we hope to serve.

Andrew Stephens-Rennie

About Andrew Stephens-Rennie

Andrew is an Anglican lay leader who loves pioneering responsive, contextual solutions to the challenge of being church in the 21st Century. He serves as an assistant to the rector for Evangelism and Christian Formation at Christ Church Cathedral Vancouver and is a founding member of the emerging St. Brigids community (
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