“Vacations with a Purpose” on the Rise

Source: InChrist Communications - February 7, 2008

$6 billion! That's one estimate of what 1.6 million American Christians contribute in labor annually as they travel to remote areas of the world on short-term mission trips. The catch phrase to describe this increasingly popular phenomenon is "vacations with a purpose."

Gerry and Sylvia Powell, a 60s-something couple from Beattyville, Kentucky, have spent almost all their vacation time volunteering on trips to help missionaries. To date, they have been on more than 30 trips with Wycliffe Associates, and they aren't slowing down.

Wycliffe Associates was founded in 1967 to support and encourage Bible translators in tangible, practical ways. The ministry provides opportunities for volunteers to use their gifts and abilities in hands-on projects, meeting the real needs of Bible translators wherever they live.

Instead of heading to a resort or a favorite vacation spot, the Powells have found the experience of working in places that don't have an amiable, human-sized mouse or drinks with little umbrellas to be more purposeful and satisfying. Their objective is to help missionaries with construction projects, a calling that has been both joyous and rewarding.

[Editor: Think for a moment: Who are potential Gerry and Sylvia Powells in your fellowship? Anyone come to mind? How might you encourage them to redirect their vacation time toward mission purposes?]

The Powells are not alone. A growing number of Americans are using their time off to help others.

To serve this movement, Wycliffe Associates' investment into short-term missions is growing. They devote $10 million a year in recruiting, training and sending volunteers overseas to assist missionaries. The "vacation" of choice for 1,500 Wycliffe Associates volunteers is missions.

"Part of our investment in short-term missions is the completion of our new Volunteer Mobilization Center, a 16,000-square-foot facility in Orlando that will be used to mobilize thousands of volunteers heading out on short-term missions," said Bruce Smith, president and Chief Executive Officer of Wycliffe Associates. "Designed and built primarily by volunteers, the center will service a growing tide of American's seeking to use their free time more productively."

[Editor: Do you ever sit back and think, "Wow, Wycliffe really lives by the creed, 'Go big or stay at home.'"? Thank God for Wycliffe. If you work for an agency that isn't Wycliffe, what are you doing or what could you do to take advantage of this trend or even help it grow?]

Baby Boomers Lead the Way

"Baby boomers" and empty nesters have come to the point in their lives where they think less about keeping up with their neighbors and friends by accumulating more material things and have begun pondering more about how to enrich to their lives and the lives of others. Time magazine reported that boomers volunteer at a rate of 33 percent, contrasted with 24 percent for those 65 and older. Last year, 65.4 million people did volunteer work, but 75 million volunteers will be needed in 2010, the magazine reported.

Wycliffe Associates has recognized this as well. As hundreds of thousands of new volunteer missionaries rise from the ranks of retired baby boomers, they will challenge the status quo of missions and how organizations will respond to them. Wycliffe Associates is positioned to usher in a new era of Christian service in missions by involving thousands of boomers in the acceleration of Bible translation worldwide.

[Editor: Have you seen Boomers in your church moving from a desire for success to a desire for significance? What opportunities does this open for mobilizers?]

Disasters Accelerate this Trend

"This idea has gone on in small ways for a very long time," says Doug Cutchins, co-author of the book Volunteer Vacations: Short-term Adventures That Will Benefit You and Others. But the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks brought on a surge of interest in this small, but growing segment of the travel industry. The 2004 tsunami disaster that wreaked havoc on Thailand and Indonesia sparked even more attention to service-oriented tourism.

[Editor: What doors have recently opened along these lines to provide access the least reached peoples on the planet? What doors may just now be opening or opening soon?]

Advice for Those Who Want to Participate

Kim Hurst, the founder of World Tracks, a training organization for short-term mission teams, and Chris Eaton, founder and president of Bridge Builders, an organization that assists colleges, churches, and other organizations in developing service experiences, have written a book entitled Vacations with a Purpose. It is designed to help people prepare for and successfully engage in short term projects. Tony Campolo raves about Vacations with a Purpose, saying it is "detailed, biblically based, and inspiring. I will be using Vacations with a Purpose as I supervise mission study groups in the future."

Wondering if you really have any abilities to offer in a vacation with a purpose? Writing in Discipleship Journal, Dale Painter advises, "Don't limit your assessment to your professional skills. Often a change of pace from employment-related duties is important." Manual skills or interests in gardening, building, outdoors or writing may represent valuable resources to service organizations.

According to Bruce Smith, President and CEO of Wycliffe Associates, "We can use anyone overseas or here domestically. Every skill is needed in the mission field and is especially valuable to Bible translators, who want to spend most of their time actually translating languages into Scripture. Folks should not worry if they have not had formal missionary training. They are welcome and invited to come use the skills God has given them."


Dale Painter raises the common question of whether it is it worth it to "waste" money on a trip when you could send the money to other mission efforts.

"Most people agree that visiting a developing country changes you for life. You have real images in your mind: kids sharing beds; a home with cardboard walls; wires hanging from the ceiling with one light bulb powered by an extension cord stretched from another building. When you hear someone say that God supplies all our needs, you think a little harder about all that entails. You have more of a sense of partnering with God in bringing good news to the world," he said.