It was the late 1990s and Chris Clum already had more than 20 years of experience organizing and leading short-term mission trips all over the world. Yet it was his work in Kosovo following the conflicts there in the late 1990s that provided the inspiration to launch Experience Mission, a short-terms mission organization that emphasizes relationships and long-term community impact.
For more than a year and a half in Kosovo, Chris saw and heard the stories of hundreds of families that experienced ethnic cleansing, death, torture, rape, loss and the hardships of trying to forgive and find hope. Heading efforts to bring volunteers into Kosovo, Chris was struck by how the Americans there were able to make strong emotional connections with the Kosovo Albanians as they ate and worked together in the middle of a crisis. What seemingly meant the most to the tragedy-struck Albanians was not the money the volunteers brought, but that the volunteers worked alongside them and took the time to look into their eyes. They had become real people and not just faceless victims.
Chris also recognized the unfortunate reality that, in many cases, the experience itself had become the primary focus of short-term mission trips. He 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 (EM), and from its inception EM has sought to guard people’s 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,” says Chris. “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 expands EM’s 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, notes Chris.
“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,” says Chris.
Additionally, EM’s philosophy is shaped from the belief that building mutual trust and respect with community members is considered an absolutely essential part of the missions program.
“We are 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,” explains Chris.
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.
Meanwhile, Chris is confident EM’s mission will continue to drive the organization’s growth and impact.