Sherrylee and I have been involved in short-term missions for 45+ years, starting with the Campaign Northeast teams that we were on in college, continuing through the Lubbock Christian and Harding teams we received as missionaries in Germany, and then through the thousands of teams that we have sent through Let’s Start Talking since the first two in 1980/81.
Honestly, very few of these teams have had truly serious conflict/problems. On the other hand, almost all of them have had the lesser, but sometimes quite disruptive smaller problems that can diminish the effectiveness of your short-term mission.
For instance: one team member would excuse himself from the missionary’s table at family dinner and go across the street to a kiosk to buy snack food because he didn’t like what the host was serving; or, a couple of college students decided not to be a couple during their project and polarized their team in respective corners; or one student decided his missionary was not working hard enough; or, the worker who volunteered to manage the team’s money and was so intent on being frugal that the team had to eat peanut butter and crackers three times a day; or, one student was jealous of another who had more money to spend—everything sounds really petty when it is isolated into a list like this. The fact of the matter is that ALL of these created big problems for a small group of people—and, to some degree, diminished their testimony!
You can group the most typical conflicts into a few big areas. If I warn you about these, perhaps it will help you know where you need to focus your preparations. We talk about them as the 5 L’s
Number #1 – Love
Of course, I’m talking not talking about spiritual love/brotherly love, but about romantic love. It really doesn’t make any difference which way you go with it because at best love is a huge distraction and at worse a mission trip catastrophe. And don’t think that this problem is confined to youth group mission trips. Adult teams can be brought down by Love as well.
Look at all the issues surrounding romantic love that can create problems on your short-term mission team:
- Two people fall in love with the same team member
- Two people in love break up
- Team member falls in love with a local Christian who is not attracted to him/her.
- Team member falls in love with a local Christian who is attracted
- Two local Christians fall in love with a team member……
- Team members falls in love with local Christian who is already loved by another local Christian…..secretly or openly.
- Team member falls in love with local non-Christian
- Local non-Christian falls in love with team member
Remember that all of these scenarios are played out in a very short time frame, so all the emotions, whether good or bad, are intensified by “not enough time” if the feelings are wonderful, and “too much time” if people are living with jealousy, heartbreak, envy, and anger.
Most good short-term mission trips simply make “love” against the rules—and you know what I mean. In spite of the rule, it is still one of the most common areas of conflict on any short-term mission trip.
I really think sensing time differently was one of God’s ways of cursing and dividing humankind at the Tower of Babel. If you have even three people on your team, inevitably one of them has a different sense of time than the other two.
What do we do with either the one who is always late for team devotional, for team meals, for their appointments with local people? OR, what do we do with the person who gets so tense that they explode because the team is ten minutes late for a church service that never starts on time anyway?
The answer is that you convince both types that the problem is not the “one,” who is using a different clock; that person is not going to change during your mission trip! Period. You yourself must change your own response to that person. Remember that patience and longsuffering are gifts of the Spirit also. In fact, they are the real gifts. Timeliness is not even mentioned in that list, is it?
“I didn’t come here to wash dishes; I came to share the Gospel!” Yes, we heard these words come out of a worker’s mouth when the missionary wife asked him to help after supper. You know the person: he’s sitting on the couch while everyone is cleaning the apartment. She’s reading her book while everyone else is setting up for the party. They need a nap just when the team was going grocery shopping. . . . .Why are they on this short-term mission?
This is a little trickier because it can involve doctrinal or moral issues that surface during a mission trip. Here’s a relatively common scenario: during the course of an off-the-record, after work conversation, a person finds out that another team member (or the local preacher) holds a very “___________” (supply your own label) view on baptism, or women’s roles, or worship, or grace, or same-sex issues, or _________________ (insert your own hot button here). With this information now in the open, some people find themselves wondering about fellowship issues, whether this person ought to be teaching people, about the church or ministry that would send such a person, or if they should mark this person to the rest of the team!! This is a black-and-white person who only associates with people on their approved list. Mission work of every kind tends to put you in contact with lots of people not on your approved list. Treat them ALL with respect and love.
Did you know that some people use short-term mission trips to accomplish their own agenda? They want to travel, they want to meet friends who live abroad, they want to renew a romantic relationship with someone on the team, they want to do research for their next book, or they want to get away from a troubled marriage or a bad relationship.
Almost everyone has mixed motivations, but Losers are those who are manipulating the short-term mission opportunity exclusively for their own personal agenda. You will recognize them quickly because they are just barely interested in the main activities of the trip, usually choosing activities that meet their own personal goals instead.
If you know the main areas of concern, you can watch for hints in your recruiting, speak to them in your training, and address them quickly during your project. That’s our next post!