Can You Take Young People With Additional Needs On Overseas Mission?

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 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’ people? Why shouldn’t everyone, including people with additional needs or disabilities, be able to experience trips like this too?  So often, 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 people can be included?

Last year I had the great privilege of taking a group of people on a 10-day short-term mission trip to South Africa.  12 of us joined with groups from across the UK to build homes and hope for disadvantaged families in a township, work with the local children through a kids club, and to see 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 person with additional needs, just as much as it can be for anyone else.

There are many ways that a person with additional needs can be supported to participate in a short-term overseas mission trip. My journey with Timmy (not his real name) has helped me to understand these better and so I share with you some of the questions I found myself asking.

  1. Planning and preparation. How can we know as much as possible about a young person with additional needs before the trip starts?
  2. How can we manage the schedule by breaking the trip down into bite-sized chunks to make it easier to provide the support needed for each stage of the trip?
  3. How can we provide a ‘safe space’ for a young person to be able to get some calm time away from the noise and hubbub of the work site when they need it?
  4. How can we identify specific roles/jobs to help someone make a good contribution to the project, while not becoming overloaded?
  5. How can we ensure we regularly check in with the young person to ensure that any issues are caught early?
  6. How can we ensure people have another person to support them?
  7. When is it appropriate to be flexible about rules or guidelines that were in place?
  8. How can we celebrate progress?
  9. How do we effectively use the power of prayer?
  10. How do we follow up well after the trip?

There are lots of other learnings from this short-term mission trip; things that we will do better next time, things that will ensure that more people can engage in a life-changing, transforming, experience like this whether they have additional needs or not. Of the many significant moments that the young person with additional needs we took on mission this year contributed to the trip, perhaps their greatest legacy will be the trail that has been blazed for others to follow.

“Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labour in vain…” Psalm 127:1a

Mark will be unpacking what he has learned about these issues at the Short Term Mission Forum event in October 2019.

First published at The Additional Needs Blogfather on 26 July 2018.

Photo by Mark Arnold.

The views expressed in this blog post are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the GC network.

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Mark Arnold

Mark Arnold

Additional Needs Ministry Director at Urban Saints
Mark Arnold (The Additional Needs Blogfather) is the Additional Needs Ministry Director for Urban Saints’ pioneering additional needs ministry, including training, consultancy, conference speaking and resourcing. He is co-founder of the ‘Additional Needs Alliance’, a learning and support community of almost seventeen hundred organisations, children’s & youth workers, parents and more who are passionate about inclusion and belonging in the UK and beyond: www.additionalneedsalliance.org.uk He is a ‘Churches for All’ partner, a member of the ‘Council for Disabled Children’ the ‘European Disability Network’ and the ‘Living Fully Network’, serves on the executive for ‘Children Matter!’ and writes a monthly additional needs column for Premier Youth and Children’s Work (YCW) magazine as well as being a writer/contributor for Firefly Community, Key Ministry, The Mighty, Different Dream, DAD.info, and BRF Parenting For Faith. Mark is dad to James, a 17-year-old Autistic, with Epilepsy and Learning Disability.

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