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_foreignmissions2 (1)The fact that foreign missions are hard and getting harder is no excuse for God’s church to be slack in going into all the world. But it does mean that we can’t just pattern future work on the way we have done it in easier times. If your church is still choosing missionaries, supporting missionaries, and sending missionaries in the same way it did in 1960—or 1990 for that matter—then it is time to reexamine your strategy.

While every mission site will have very specific needs, let me offer to you some larger strategies that you need to think about implementing for today’s and tomorrow’s mission efforts.

We can work globally without traveling abroad! American churches have hundreds of thousands of foreign/international people living within ten miles of their church buildings!  Chinese, Bhutanese, Armenians, Vietnamese, Russians, Iraqis, Burmese, Somalis, and Cubans are currently among the most populated refugee communities in the U.S.. Then there are over 800,000 international students in American colleges and universities. Even the local community colleges have significant foreign student populations.

Our churches have begun discovering these opportunities in the last decade. FriendSpeak,a Let’s Start Talking ministry, has been training churches in organizing effective outreach programs to our international population for 25 years now, but has really seen an uptick in the demand from churches in the last ten years.

We are getting better at meeting and welcoming these people into our congregations, helping them with their basic needs (including their English skills) and sharing our faith with them.

But we are missing a great opportunity for global outreach!  If we think globally for a minute, we realize that instead of trying to get these internationals who become Christians in our ministries to become great members of our congregations, we could offer them the opportunity to return to their countries (especially international students) and to be vocational church planters and/or Bible teachers/church leaders in cities and countries that American Christians will never get to—and probably wouldn’t be that effective if we did.

I can imagine congregations large and small reaching out to their international people, some of those people becoming Christians, at which point the church starts planting missional seeds in their hearts for their own people, offers them intensive Bible training as well as church planting/leadership training, and then helps them transition back to their own country or another one until they establish themselves.  If only one-tenth of our congregations would do this, we would double the number of “missionaries” we are sending into all the world in the first wave. They would be going into corners of the world that we Americans may never get to in our lifetime.  Tt would cost only a small percentage of what it costs to send Americans to live abroad for a short number of years, and the chances of a sustained work increase greatly.

All we have to do is think globally instead of locally!

Use the resources of American churches to fund foreign national Christians as missionaries to go places that Americans can’t go!  There are Christian missionaries all over the Middle East—Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan—but most of them are not Americans!  I just had two Christian men in my office yesterday that are doing mission work in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and in Muslim parts of China—but they are not Americans!  In our recent LST project in Amman, Jordan, we heard of 150 Korean missionaries—and we met several of them—most of whom are in Jordan until they can return with their families to the Middle Eastern countries which they fled during recent turmoil.

If we want to go into all the world, we would do well to support the efforts of Christians from other countries who can go places Americans may not be welcomed to for generations!

We must become more collaborative!  Can you imagine that ten churches working together, pooling resources—prayer, influence, people, and money—to do missions in some Muslim or Buddhist country would have a greater impact than if just one church—even a megachurch—tries to do it all alone?  What if all the churches in your city took on a region or a continent—and collaborated—that means worked together—in order to bring the Good News to that part of the world?

I’m convinced that the reason we don’t know about some great mission movements in very foreign places is that we simply don’t get out of the house enough to know what other people are doing!

Our churches can remain autonomous and still be collaborative. Big mission agencies are not the answer; a loving and trusting spirit is what we must learn in order to collaborate.

We need to send Christians to do what only Christians can do! This is just a choice churches make.  We can send 20 people to build a church building in Central America, have a great “mission” experience ourselves, but spend twice as much money getting there as it would have cost to pay a local company to build it. So we have really served ourselves more than we have served the local community.

Muslims do a tremendous amount of charity work all over the Muslim world.  How is our Christian hospital going to be different from the Muslim hospital in the next town?  How is our Christian orphanage going to be different from the Muslim orphanage in the next village?

It is not that we don’t need to bring relief and physical healing to those in need—quite the contrary!  But we MUST remember that “faith comes by hearing the word of God.” We must intentionally plan the communication of the story of Jesus into our humanitarian efforts, or we have done nothing more than what non-Christians could have also done for these people.

And, finally, we need to engender a spirit of fearlessness in our young people and then let them go to places that we are afraid of!  I’m a little embarrassed that the worker in China had to tell us to quit sending our teams with so many “safety” instructions because they were sharing them with the Chinese Christians and making the Chinese afraid to share their faith openly. I had a similar sense in Jordan when American Christians talked about our “bravery” but it was a very safe country to be in; it is those Korean Christians who worked in Syria and Egypt and Iraq who were brave! We’ve got to be strong and courageous and not afraid! And if we can’t do that, then we need to teach our children and grandchildren not to be afraid.  We better resurrect the old hymn Anywhere With Jesus I Can Safely Go if we want to go into all the world!

God has not given us a task that we cannot accomplish!  Let’s prayerfully grow into being a church of great wisdom and courage. That’s how we become missional!

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_foreignmissions2 (1)In Part One of this blog, I reviewed briefly our history of foreign missions in churches of Christ and then listed characteristics of our efforts, which were

  • We only have the stamina for harvesting, not for planting and nurturing.
  • We believe we should be able to work everywhere else in the world cheaper than in the U.S. 
  • Our mission work is dependent on how many self-motivated missionaries surface in our fellowship as opposed to a strategic global vision.
  • We are not by nature collaborative.
  • Our missionaries tend to be “lone rangers! 
  • We have been and are still too often negligent in carry for missionaries on the field, but especially when they return.

Click here, if you would like to review the comments that went with these points.

 

I suggested at the end of the last post that these particular characteristics would not serve us well going into the near future of foreign missions, so in order to become more effective in carrying the Gospel to the whole world, we are going to have to work differently.  In this and the next post, we will explore these two ideas.

Churches of Christ are represented in a little over 90 of the 196 independent countries of the world with probably around 1000 American workers outside of the United States. We have a lot of work to do—and the challenge of world evangelism is growing. Let me outline why I say that:

  • Americans are less well-liked in the world. After WWII, Americans were welcomed as defenders of liberty. Even into the 60s (our second big wave of mission efforts), Americans were relatively popular because we had defended the world against Communism. That glow was slightly tarnished by Vietnam, but re-polished in most parts of the world through the Reagan era and the collapse of the Soviet Union (another big Mission Wave).  Most of that global popularity has been lost.  Look at this map, charting those who have a favorable view toward the U.S.

worldmap

What you see in dark blue are those countries who like us. Even the other bluish countries have fewer than 50% positive responses.

My point is not about U.S. politics and its participation in the global community, rather that being an American abroad is, at best, no great advantage and, at worst, can be outright dangerous—none of which is really good for the future of foreign missions from the U.S..

  • The world is now urban and becoming increasingly more so!  In 1900 there were only 12 cities of 1 million population or more, but these 12 became 400 by the year 2000. You probably aren’t surprised that Singapore is 89% urban, but Congo is 41%–that’s surprising!  Forty cities in the world boast populations of 5 million plus—and 80% of those are in poor countries, so it is not just the industrialized world where the flight to cities is dramatically changing the landscape.

We Americans have had good rural churches, and now we have good suburban churches, but urban churches are a challenge we have not yet figured out at home, much        less abroad.  Global urbanization is making missions more challenging for us.

  • Poorer countries are getting wealthier. (“The Whole World Is Getting Richer, and That’s Good News,” Charles Kenny, Bloomberg Businessweek, July 29, 2013).  Just ask Google if poor countries are getting richer and look at all the evidence.   If we accept this as true, then here are my conclusions for foreign missions:

o   There are no cheap places in the world to go!! The most expensive city for expatriates in the world is Luanda, Angola—did you expect that? Number four is N’Djamena in Chad. New York City is #32 and the only U.S. city in the top 50!

o   If poorer countries (like African countries) are getting more urban and wealthier, then they are going to be less and less impressed by our humanitarian approach to foreign missions.

To summarize, globally speaking, the people that US–sent missionaries would want to approach view Americans less favorably, they are typically living in very large cities with costs that Americans can hardly afford to live in, and even the poorer places are climbing out of poverty and need our benevolence and services less and less.

These are the challenges in foreign missions for churches of Christ in the near future.

 

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_foreignmissions2 (1)Although some American churches sent missionaries to foreign countries before World War II, most foreign church planting efforts have occurred since the end of that war. Just like the persecution in Jerusalem forced the first Jesus-followers to scatter throughout Samaria and Judea, the world-wide deployment of American military pushed Christians en masse, both military and civilian, into all the world—and they took the Good News with them.

During the 1950s, U.S. churches of Christ focused on Western Europe and Japan. The focus shifted in the 1960s to Latin America, especially Brazil. We were turning inward again in the 70s and 80s, but the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, followed by the opening of Eastern Europe, once again generated a strong wave of missions from U.S. churches. China is the current hotspot; Africa is always a missions magnet.

I started personally at the end of the 60s, worked with the European guys from the fifties, and have been involved in all of these mission moments since, which is where the following generalizations about our mission work come from:

  • We only have the stamina for harvesting, not for planting and nurturing. If we can’t plow, plant, water and harvest in five years, we look for more receptive fields. When receptive fields get tougher—and they all do–, our money and missionaries go home.
  • We believe we should be able to work everywhere else in the world cheaper than in the U.S.  Very few churches will pay their missionary more than what their local preacher makes—regardless of the cost of living in both countries.
  • Our mission work is dependent on how many self-motivated missionaries surface in our fellowship as opposed to a strategic global vision. Our churches support those who knock on their doors, rather than searching for the right people to send to fulfill their strategic vision for some place or part of the world!
  • We are not by nature collaborative. I have been to relatively small Eastern European cities where two missionaries arrived to work, neither of them knowing that the other had plans to work there.  I have seen mission teams go to cities to plant a new church where there were existing national churches who did not even know they were coming. I have been at missions conferences when American churches in the same city discover that their neighboring church was trying to start a new work in the same mission point where the first church had been planning to send a new missionary.
  • Our missionaries tend to be “lone rangers! We believe in mission teams and almost always send multiple people to new works, but before these teams reach the five-year mark, most of the groups have dwindled to one couple!  Most of our long-term mission work that extends longer than five years is done by a lone person or family—who have a true spiritual gift for working alone.
  • Although the importance of missionary care is rising, thanks primarily to Missions Resource Network, we have been and are still too often negligent in carry for missionaries on the field, but especially when they return.

Admitting to these characteristics of our mission efforts together is important as we go into the future and think about the extraordinarily challenging task of going into all the world with the Good News of Jesus.

I want to continue this post by talking about the world that our future mission efforts must address and why the above characteristics will not serve us well going into that future; however, I do believe that with a new perspective, we can expect to be more successful and bring more glory to God.

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DSC01466You haven’t heard from me in almost a month because of our trip to the Middle East. Sherrylee and I spent over two weeks in Amman, Jordan, and then a few days in Israel. In Jordan, we partnered with the Books and More library, led by Harvey and Nancy Bacus, and offered the Let’s Start Talking program to that community.

We, along with Steve and Valerie McLean from Santa Barbara, California, helped over fifty people practice their English, using the Gospel of Luke as the text. About half of our participants were Muslim, some were Orthodox Christians, some were unbelievers, some were new believers, and all of them became dear friends.

Amman reminds me of Vienna in the Cold War days. Back then, anyone who wanted to bring Christian influence into the Eastern bloc countries used Vienna as the springboard because it lay embedded, almost surrounded by those Eastern countries.  This geographical placement also made it a center for eastern refugees as well as a staging area for groups wanting to penetrate the Communist walls.

Like Vienna, the country of Jordan has highly strategic common borders. It lies next to  some Palestinian zones, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Syria, and is not far from Lebanon and Egypt. Palestinian refugees have been in Jordan for a long time; Syrian refugees are coming every day to escape the ravaging civil war in their own country. Others have fled to Jordan from Egypt and South Sudan as well.

Jordanians, Egyptians, Syrians, Palestinians, Lebanese, one German, and a number of Koreans were among our Readers in Amman.  Who would have thought: Koreans in Amman!  But they were actually quite numerous—and quite inspiring.

Many American Christians are surprised to know that there is a great deal of mission work being done by non-Americans.  I have mentioned the Ghanaians before, and the Chinese certainly belong to this group, but the Koreans also represent some of the most dedicated members of our Family. We met many Koreans, most with young families, who had been living in Syria and Egypt prior to the uprisings, then had to leave for their own safety, and who are just staying in Jordan until they can return to the people they were serving.  They wanted to improve their English to make their service more effective.

Several of you used the word courageous in your encouragements to us; let me just say that Jordan is a country with religious freedom, and although it is predominantly Muslim, there are many Christians who live there quite safely.  Many of us Westerners forget that Christianity existed in all of these countries for as long as 600+ years before the beginning of Islam.  When people told us they were Christian, we asked if their family was Christian also and in almost every case, they said, “Of course!” Their family had been Christian for as far back as they could take their family tree.

I was told that until Jordan’s most recent history that Christians and Muslims lived in designated cities, in a separate-but-equal kind of arrangement. This kept the peace, but now that they are living together in cities like Amman, they don’t know what to do with each other. They really don’t know each other very well, and are sometimes afraid of each other. Yes, it goes both ways. The Muslims are afraid of Christians, just like some Christians are afraid of Muslims.  They really don’t know each other!

That’s what made the last night of our Let’s Start Talking program in Amman so very special.  At the end of our two weeks of working with these people individually, we invited all of them to a big social event!  The first people to arrive were Muslim women, covered heads and in heavy black coats, then the Egyptian, followed by the Koreans, then the Jordanian Christians, and more and more until the room was packed with all kinds of people.

They counted the jelly beans in the jar, then played people bingo—with the boy from Sri Lanka the most popular autograph because he played cricket!  After that we divided into teams—not by nationality, not by religion, not be gender, but just by counting off to do the Marshmallow Challenge.

And so the evening went, with the curse of the Tower of Babel being reversed by the activity of God right there in Amman.  We said good-bye to our Readers with hugs and words of sincere affection. But we also left our new friends with new friends.

This is not the end of this story—more likely just the beginning, but already the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God who has been working in this very country for all of human history, had once more done an amazing work. The story of Jesus had again been told.  The seeds are planted.

But the immediate result on this last night was a couple of hours of joy and peace, perhaps even the beginning of reconciliation!  Praise God.

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conflict-resolutionThe best time to prevent conflict on short-term mission trips is before you go!

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.)

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The Way SignSherrylee 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.

LATE

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?

LAZY

“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?

 

LEGALIST

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.

LOSERS

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.

Conclusion

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!

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American Georgetown University men's basketball team and China's Bayi men's basketball team fight during a friendly game at Beijing Olympic Basketball ArenaA friend of ours just returned from a short-term mission trip  where she worked under very primitive conditions. All I am going to mention is there were rats as big as cats—that says it all, doesn’t it!

They had a good trip, they accomplished all they went to do, but in reporting privately to her family about the trip, she said, “They prepared us well, trained us well in every area—except for getting along with each other!”

Several years ago, we had three women from the same congregation who had been friends for decades go on an LST project to a Baltic country.  These three women, all mature Christians, shared their faith daily with former Communists, but by the time they returned home, they weren’t talking to each other anymore.

 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).

Whether you are going for one week or one month or one year, every short-term mission group– young or old, large or small (number of workers, not size!), experienced or inexperienced—needs preparation and equipping for loving one another under what often can be very challenging circumstances.

Why do short-term missions sometimes bring out the worst in us?

  • People who have figured out how to navigate successfully their normal circumstances are suddenly confronted with unfamiliar, foreign situations that challenge their competence.  This makes good people tense!
  • People who are used to being in control are not in control. This makes them critical of those in control, who aren’t doing things properly!
  • We are not usually forced to be around others 24/7 to whom we are not married. (And some married people are not used to being with each other 24/7). In such circumstances, no warts or quirks or distinctive differences can be hidden, so a much higher level of tolerance toward otherness is required.
  • Jetlag, long hours, little exercise, “bad” food, lousy beds, no hot water—the first four days it’s just camping out!  The longer the mission trip goes, the crankier these external irritants can make us.
  • A short-term mission is a high-stakes mission!  The higher the stakes, the less tolerance there is for error! Or perceived error!

Let me illustrate with a personal story that makes me laugh—now!

Sherrylee and I had not been married but four months when we moved to Germany as members of a mission team. We were deeply in love (and still are!), but within 48 hours of arriving, we had this huge fight because we needed to catch a street car, and we didn’t know how to buy tickets.  She, being the totally confident one that thinks she can charm her way out of any awkward situation, wanted to just get on the street car and talk to somebody and figure it out on the .way.

I, on the other hand, who does not ever want to get in trouble and has to know ahead of time what the “rules” are, was not about to get on the streetcar before we had figured out what the ticketing procedures were.  Of course, that was extraordinarily difficult when we couldn’t read the signs and we couldn’t speak the language, and the tram conductors only stopped for a few seconds (or so it seemed). But Sherrylee would just have to wait until I figured it out.

Oh, no!  She started getting on the streetcar—as if she thought I would just defy everything in me and get on with her and trust her to make it all work!!  What was she thinking—but I couldn’t stop her, so I got on too—illegally! And I was just panicked. It was Adam and Eve all over again.  And I was furious about it.

In retrospect, it was such a little incident with no significance—and we are still married 43 years later, but it is just these kinds of small, insignificant tests of patience and tolerance that too often undo the much-less-committed-to-one-another relationships in short-term mission groups.

If you don’t prepare for conflict, then you are not a well-prepared mission group.

Watch for the next post on how to prepare for conflict on short-term missions.

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