It seems that many youth groups are increasingly aware of their homogeneous nature. Youth Workers with this realization see the importance of helping students become aware of a world beyond themselves. Mission trips are often a part of this program. However, this is not necessarily stated. In addition to the service component that is integral to a mission trip, adults often hope that students would get an appreciation of what they have and that they will understand that there are persons who live differently from how they do.
There are pluses and minuses to this approach. Of course, it is necessary that we recognize that the world is diverse. With the increasing awareness of the plurality of the world and with “the world” coming more and more on our doorstep, a homogenized approach to life can be a disadvantage. Although the populations of schools, businesses, etc is changing, it is still possible to go back leave these arenas, return home and act as if we are all alike and that reality is, well, not quite a part of us. Thus, we never fully embrace each other and never cohere in any degree. So, yes, there is still a need to recognize the other. Then there are those who are able to build a cocoon around themselves and their children so that “the other” is someone outside (or below) their life. All this to say, there remains a case for intentionally exposing students to those who are different. But there is a downside to the way in which this is often done through mission trips.
The ways in which youth groups sometimes seek to use mission trips to enlarge awareness of others, can leave in place the concept of “those others.” “Those people” to whom we go remain “the other” to be pitied and helped, leaving us feeling virtuous. However, they are not engaged as God’s creation who have been placed in particular socio-economic spheres for various reasons and who bring unique gifts for the world. Thus, often, the space is never critically examined nor the gifts affirmed.
What would be useful would be an explicit acknowledgment about the need for a greater understanding of diversity and the development of the requisite tools with which to do this, and this could include the mission trip. What Kathleen T. Talvaacchia said about a spirituality of multicultural teaching is apropos here. In Critical Minds and Discerning Hearts: A Spirituality of Multicultural Teaching, she wrote:
A multiculturally sensitive pedagogy attempts to develop a spiritual sensitivity that allows us to see those we teach more fully and completely as human beings, and thereby meet their learning needs more effectively (Talvacchia 2003, 4).
In other words, a method of teaching that is aware, discerning of and responsive to a plurality of cultures will better meet educational goals because in it we will seek a transcendent way and lens of being responsive through which we will recognize and therefore teach the full humanity of persons who are engaged in the educational enterprise. This is linked to her understanding that we need to know the student as individual as well as the group from which he or she comes. In knowing the group, one understands the complexity of its politico-socio-economic location in the wider society as well as the complexity of relations within it. Thus, although Talvacchia is speaking in the context of the classroom and to teachers in a multicultural context, the idea of developing that spiritual sensitivity that allows us to see others as “fully and completely” human beings is relevant.
How can you enable yourself as youth worker or pastor, parent or volunteer and enable the youth with whom you work, to develop a spiritual sensitivity which allows them to see those form their culture and others as full human beings?
Loving God, Loving Neighbor