LIVING OUR MISSION
Experience Mission was founded in 2003 by Executive Director Chris Clum as an outgrowth of a movement toward short-term missions. For centuries, churches of all different denominations and backgrounds have been sending missionaries to reach out to underdeveloped areas of the world. This "Missionary Support Model" provided people the opportunity to be involved through giving money to missionaries who in turn represented their passion for the world.
In the early 1980s, the mainstream emergence of the short-term mission movement began to change the face of missions. Starting as a relatively small and novel phenomenon in the late 1950s, by the early 2000s it was estimated that more than one million individuals were participating in short-term mission trips each year, and this number has continued to grow. Short-term missions have generated millions of dollars and volunteers toward humanitarian projects in underdeveloped communities around the world.
This model of mission trips has allowed people to be far more involved in demonstrating their passion for the world by putting them in direct contact with those they serve and support. The short-term mission trip becomes the connecting point that allows for relationships to develop. People still give money, but now they can also participate by giving their time, resources, and skills. Once the connection is made through a short-term mission trip, people continue to stay in touch through the EM network and other online social networking sites.
Starting Something New
Before the start of Experience Mission, Executive Director Chris Clum had more than 20 years of experience working as a part of short-term missions organizations. He traveled to communities all over the world organizing and leading short-term mission trips. However, during the 4 years leading up to the founding of Experience Mission, he was impacted significantly by the work he was leading in the aftermath of the conflicts of the late 1990s in Kosovo.
In September 1999, Chris was asked to be part of a small team that flew to Macedonia where they travelled and walked for hours alongside KFOR troops and returning Albanian refugees in order to get across the border and into Kosovo.
Using a piece of paper with handwritten names of families and a town they came from, the team travelled throughout Kosovo, trying to find families who had fled the country the previous spring and were now returning from a refugee camp in Sarande, Albania. Over the next year and a half, Chris heard from hundreds of families about ethnic cleansing, death, torture, rape, loss and the hardships of trying to forgive and find hope. One significant connection was with the Barisha family and their friends from Suva Reka. Their story was featured in Newsweek during the summer of 1999.
Heading efforts to bring volunteers into Kosovo, Chris was struck by how the Americans were able to make these emotional connections with the Kosovar Albanians as they ate together and helped work on homes in two towns Semetisht and Suva Reka. This personal touch along with the financial support of donors was a very powerful combination. One successful businesswoman who joined one of the teams told Chris that she came expecting her primary purpose to be to do as much as she could to help address the practical needs. Although the funds had been able to do so much, she was overwhelmed by what it had meant the most to the Albanians she worked alongside. It had been the simple fact that she had come with the money. She had worked beside them and taken the time to look into their eyes. They had become real people and not just faceless victims.
But the resources were still critical in providing opportunities for people. Some resources helped rebuild homes. Other funds were used to help establish an English language school, which in the aftermath of the war meant a job translating for all the NATO and international organizations in the country helping Kosovo rebuild.
The ethnic cleansing and destruction of the war left many people feeling broken. Chris was moved by this, and he wanted to inspire hope and give the people he had built relationships with a sense of confidence that their life and circumstances could dramatically improve. One of many examples was a young Albanian man who had graduated from the newly built English school. He told Chris that he couldn't believe that people cared so much. "All of you have saved my life, my family's life, and have helped my country. You have made us all feel big again. You have been a picture of what God's love really looks like, because in God's eyes we are all the same."
After accumulating experiences in Kosovo and other places around the world, Chris began to wonder how powerful short-term mission work could be if more emphasis were placed on building healthy, lasting relationships with people. Because of this, taking time to understand the importance of personal dignity has helped shape our over-arching philosophy. EM is unwaveringly committed to completing meaningful, pragmatic service projects and creating opportunities that might not otherwise be possible. However, building mutual trust and respect with community members is considered an absolutely essential part of that process. EM is constantly aware that the level of trust, respect and personal dignity experienced by all involved has a tremendous impact on both how people see mission work and how they understand what God's love looks like. (See EM's Model for Mutual Influence)
Beyond the Experience
At the start of short-term mission trip movement, much emphasis was placed on evangelism and practical service. Teams felt they were going because they had something to give (faith and resources). With time, short-term missions in general have became more sensitive to culture and to the issue of imposing faith on those they went to help. Unfortunately, as people talked about how impactful this new experience of service was for their own lives, the emphasis began to shift away from the mission work itself and more on the individual experience of those who served.
Today, a mission trip has evolved from a relative novelty to an almost requisite "coming-of-age" experience for young Christians. In many cases, the experience of the week itself has become the primary focus of the trip, and those who receive assistance have seen all too clearly that they have become "targets" intended to facilitate change in those with disposable time and income. Of course, nobody intends to violate the dignity of the people they are serving, but Chris feared that when many teams leave to go home, the community and its people could be left with mixed feelings.
It was largely in response to this issue that he decided to start Experience Mission, and from its inception EM has sought to guard peoples dignity by emphasizing relationships and long-term community impact. Too often volunteer teams can become so consumed with a particular project that they fail to make the relational connections that create this powerful impact. Therefore EM emphasizes relationship building, and our staff members develop relationships with local community leaders to ensure that the needs of the community are the first priority. The primary focus is on serving the communities, not providing a life-changing trip for volunteers.
This foundational principle by its very nature expands our vision for the future beyond short-term missions. If mission trips are to be a part of a long-term vision, then the trips themselves cannot be the end; they must be part of something much bigger. Because of Chris Clum's previous experience, it has always been our intention to develop a self-sustaining short-term missions program to build the organization and raise support for partner communities in order to allow our ministry to focus on service and ministry beyond just the mission experience. (See EM's Model for Sustainable Change)
Living Our Mission
Since the summer of 2004, EM has grown its presence to over a dozen local communities, where volunteers serve on mission trips every year to support the local community vision, providing resources and build relationships along the way.
Since its humble beginning, EM has grown from a small, one-man operation to one of the leading short-term mission organizations in the United States, and the organization has an excellent foundation from which to pursue its mission and goals in the future. Currently, EM is recruiting teams and individuals to serve in over 20 partner communities in the U.S., Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe, and Africa. We hope you consider serving with EM as part of truly “living your mission" today.
Experience Mission Africa
Experience Mission sent its first pilot Immersion team to Southern Africa in 2012. The first team spent a total of five and a half months in total working in South Africa, Lesotho, and Mozambique. Their successful trip laid a foundation for what would grow to become Experience Mission Africa.
The Immersion programme has grown expenentially since the first trip in 2012. The programme has expanded to not only running one trip per year but in 2016 it facilitated six different Immersion teams and one short-term team. Interest to come to Southern Africa and serve on a longer, short-term basis has grown so much that since 2012 Experience Mission Africa has seen over 150 young adults come and serve on African Immersions.
Experience Mission has now established an office in Centurion Gauteng South Africa. It is registered as a South Afircan non-profit organization called Experience Mission Africa. It is continuing to build the Immersion Programme, short-term mission programmes, and has a vision to be more inwardly focused for the future. It is now the hope of Experience Mission Africa to mobilize our own.
It is the heart of EM Africa to become less dependant on the West's help and mobilize our own force to bring encouragement, upliftment, and share our testimonies and experiences with others. We are currently working on developing a programme that will allow the African people to do just that. Through cross-cultural experiences and community upliftment programmes we will create trips to mobilize youth groups, university groups, church groups, and more to ministries in communities that have a desire to see positive change happen for the kingdom of God in their community.