Let’s admit that it is very difficult to put a team together. Jesus picked twelve and they argued with each other over who would be the greatest! Paul put a team together, but John Mark bailed out on him and not only did his unappreciated actions cause problems on that trip, but on the next trip with Uncle Barnabas as well.
Short-term missions who have no serious form of either selection or approval are irresponsible. Too often a public announcement is made, volunteers come forward, a couple of meetings later everyone heads to the airport and gets on the plane.
If you will go back and read my last post, you will find that all of the most serious problems that occur on short-term missions have a strong chance of surfacing BEFORE the mission ever begins. People who are always late are also tardy to meetings—it won’t be different on the mission trip. People who don’t volunteer for any of the preliminary tasks, people who are happy to let others raise their money for them, people who are flirty and/or seem to be along because they are interested in one of the others who is going, and people who don’t seem to be on the same page with everyone else. You can identify ALL of these kinds of people ahead of time. All you have to do is
- Require training
- Require fund raising
- Ask the hard questions before you get on the plane
If you meet together often enough and pay attention to the interactions of potential team members, you learn a lot about them—unless the coordinator is too busy trying to just present information. Do something with your team. Plan a picnic or a volleyball game or something that requires the group to interact, to depend on each other and you will see a lot.
People who cannot raise their funds may be people that those who know them best don’t think it is a good idea for them to go. LST asks all of its participants to fund raise, even when they can write a check and pay their own way because it is truly a test of humility as well as a test of faith. Asking people to do something that they don’t really want to do is a good filtering process for eventual team members.
If there are any red flags, it must be someone’s responsibility to approach the person in question and talk to them—lovingly, but honestly.
John, it doesn’t seem to us like you really have your heart in this mission. Is there anything we need to talk about because, otherwise, you may want to wait for the next opportunity—when you can really put your whole heart into it.
Angi and David, I noticed you guys are kinda a couple—is this going to be a distraction on our mission trip? Can I tell you about some things that just would really do a lot of damage on the trip?
I know these conversations are not easy, but let me assure you—no, let me persuade you—that they are 100 times easier before the trip than in the middle of the trip after your mission and the testimony of your team have been damaged.
Not every hint of potential conflict surfaces before mission trips. Often just the pressure of a foreign culture creates new tensions that were unpredictable. When that happens, however, the steps for resolving conflict are pretty straightforward—and they are highly effective. You will recognize them from your own conflict resolution practices:
- Address any conflict—or emerging conflict—immediately. Don’t let the sun go down on it. By confronting it immediately, you prevent damage and the people involved are likely still redeemable. If you allow it to grow big, then the resulting damage is larger and people’s defensiveness proportionately greater!
- Use pre-established priorities that the whole group has heard and internalized in their training to resolve issues. At LST, we say: the work comes first, the team comes second, and YOU come last. And that is the matrix we use for solving any conflict, whether organizational, personal, or in the group.
- Speak the truth in love. If people know that you love them, you can be much more direct and much more truthful with them in hard times.
- If the testimony of the mission project is at stake, act swiftly and decisively to restore the holiness of the project—whatever that takes. In our 34 years, I think we have put only three or four people on airplanes home early, but in each case it was because of severe moral failures (sexual misconduct) or serious breach of trust. In each case they were back in the States within 24 hours of our discovery of the situation.
One of the first memory verses I ever learned was, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God” (Matt.5:9) This was my sweet Mom’s attempt to teach me how to get along with my brothers and sisters. It took me a long time to learn that being a peacemaker was an active task, not a passive one. Neither avoiding conflict nor pretending like it doesn’t exist is being a peacemaker.
Christians on mission—whether it is long-term, short-term, or just LIFE, all of us will be happier if we are peacemakers—active, decisive, but mostly loving peacemakers!
(I’m out of the country for two weeks with a very erratic internet connection. Excuse my absence until I return. You can follow my trip on Facebook, if you wish.)