Many churches are choosing to move toward a missions program that supports family-based care for orphans and vulnerable children. Grace Church, based in Noblesville, Indiana, is demonstrating this shift through their partnership with the Ethiopian nonprofit Berhan Yehun. Their partnership is a wonderful example of how a short-term missions program based on best practices can take a family-strengthening approach.
Grace Church believes that the best place for a child is in the family. Caring for the vulnerable is a central tenet of their missions work, so when they learned about the ways poverty can lead to child-family separation, they decided to work with vulnerable children who were at risk of becoming orphans.
The church was drawn to Berhan Yehun after learning from one of their members about the issues facing families in Kore, Ethiopia, and the significant impact Berhan was making there. Many adults in Kore are living with leprosy, HIV/AIDS, or other debilitating diseases, and have few means of income to provide for their family’s daily necessities. Children have often lost one or both parents, and many are living with extended family.
To support the needs of these families, Berhan Yehun developed an innovative family preservation model in Kore. Instead of removing children from their families and placing them in orphanages, or even turning toward the option of foster care, at their Day Center Berhan provides vulnerable children with daily necessities such as meals, school supplies, counseling, and hygiene care, while the children live at home with their families. Berhan also has programs that support parents in finding alternative forms of income. Their ultimate goal is to prevent family separation and strengthen family relationships while helping these families break the cycle of poverty,
Grace Church has come alongside Berhan Yehun in their efforts to strengthen families and protect vulnerable children with financial support and short-term mission trips. Here are six ways their partnership practices short-term missions (STMs) that promote family-based care.
1. Working through an intermediary partner
Instead of reinventing the wheel, Grace Church chose to work through an intermediary—the US-based nonprofit Hands of Hope—who facilitates the partnership with Berhan. Faith to Action’s Short-Term Missions Guidance explains how these types of multiorganization partnerships ensure STM best practices, as intermediary organizations can provide accountability and oversight and logistics support and facilitate communications between churches and local partners serving families on the ground.1
2. A listening approach
Together, all three partners designed the STM program based on Berhan’s current assets, hopes, and needs on the ground, another best practice in STM. Grace Church and Hands of Hope took a listening approach by asking what Berhan families needed and developed the partnership and missions program based on their answers. The Director of Outreach and Partners at Grace Church, Alison Druckemiller, explained that their conviction to serve the body of Christ through STMs is about “wanting to serve where they have a need, not promote our agenda.”
3. Pursuing a long-term partnership
A prominent value of Grace Church’s overall missions program is creating long-term partnerships. On their website they explain that “a trip [with Grace Church] is never over once everyone heads home, but the relationships made between the partner ministries and the trip participants carries on”.2 Many participants from their Ethiopia STM program return year after year, developing trust and respect with Berhan. Grace also provides sponsorships and grants to Berhan through Hands of Hope. Long-term partnerships that support families and communities long after the mission teams leave are vital to healthy STMs.3
4. Accreditation for using best practices
Accreditation is one way churches can show their commitment to effective STMs. Grace Church sought and successfully received accreditation from S.O.E., a membership, accrediting, and resourcing organization. S.O.E. has a rigorous process for evaluating churches based on their 7 Standards of Excellence, a code of best practices in STM.
5. Thorough preparation and evaluation
Grace is also known for providing extensive training prior to their mission trips. Participants go through a curriculum that teaches about the cultural context of the communities they are visiting, challenges facing vulnerable children and families, and guidelines for avoiding harm, as well as the importance of family-based care. Teams are also led through debriefing meetings during and after the trips, and surveys are given to all parties.
6. Trusting your partners
A major key to the success of Grace Church’s STM program is the strength and integrity of their partnership with Berhan Yehun and Hands of Hope. No partnership can survive without trust, honesty, mutuality, and respect, and the three organizations have these in spades. Grace Church’s trust in their partners enables them to have a hands-off approach, giving these organizations the room and flexibility to meet the needs of the families in Kore where they are.
Alison Druckemiller says that trust is of the utmost importance in missions work, and thus her advice to other churches looking to support orphans and vulnerable children is to vet partners carefully. “Look for partners that are not pushing their own agenda, but are truly serving the children and their needs. Know what your values are for serving orphans and align with partners that believe the same way.”
- Berhan Yehun, https://www.berhanyehun.org/about-us/where-we-work.
- Grace Church, http://gracechurch.us/Stepping-Out-on-a-Trip.html.
- See Chapter 3 of Short Term Missions: Guidance to Support Orphans and Vulnerable Children.