Talking about race with short-term missions teams

Brad M. Griffin Image Brad M. Griffin | Jun 14, 2012

Summer is upon us, and for many of us in youth ministry that means taking groups on short-term mission trips. Whether you're serving in a nearby city or thousands of miles away, chances are you will be working among host communities that differ from your group in terms of race. Maybe a little, maybe a lot.

Race was one of the important themes in our Deep Justice work that led to the short-term missions curriculum Deep Justice Journeys. I was reflecting on this recently when racial conflict showed up in my own neighborhood. As we hold the tension between the extremes of either ignoring race or making everything about race, somewhere in between we find that dialogue can be a source of growth and healing.

According to more than one sociologist, we carry something like an invisible backpack of privileges and/or limitations based on our race (the same is true of gender). For those who are white Americans, this pack is filled with opportunities that we usually dont ever think about or realize.

Peggy McIntoshs work on White Privilege is telling. In her classic daily effects of white privilege list, she highlights fifty points that, in general, apply to most white Americans. (Note that permission is required for use of the full list).

Here are just a few of her observations:

  • I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.
  • If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.
  • I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.
  • I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.
  • When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.
  • I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.
  • I can be pretty sure of having my voice heard in a group in which I am the only member of my race.
  • I do not have to educate my children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection.
  • I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.
  • I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.

More than twenty years later, this list (all 50) mostly still holds up.

As you prepare students to engage those in host communities (or in your own) of other races, consider talking more about race ahead of time. There are exercises in the curriculum that talk about race and ethnicity more (heres a sample session about identifying your cultural location), but you could also take the list above and ask some questions to get kids thinking about how much their race really does impact their daily life in different ways from neighbors of different races.

What ideas do you have for helping students think about and interact with racial issues on short-term trips?

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Brad M. Griffin Image
Brad M. Griffin

Brad M. Griffin is the Senior Director of Content & Research for the Fuller Youth Institute, where he develops research-based resources for youth ministry leaders & families. A speaker, writer, and volunteer pastor, Brad is the coauthor of over fifteen books, including Faith Beyond Youth Group, 3 Big Questions That Change Every Teenager & 3 Big Questions That Shape Your Future, Growing Young, and Sticky Faith. Brad and his wife, Missy, live in Southern California and share life with their three teenage and young adult kids.

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