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Archive for the ‘Short-Term Missions’ Category

Do you need to spend ten hours on learning Chinese if you are going to go to China for a two-week missions project?  Do you need to spend five sessions learning about Communism for your mission trip to Albania?  If you are the missions ministry leader at your church or the youth minister in charge of the teen mission trip,  and you believe that everyone who goes on a short-term mission should go equipped—which I hope and pray you do–, how do you determine the best way to equip those workers going out from your church.

Let’s look in the next few posts at some suggestions about the content of training for short-term mission teams.

God first!

Everyone who goes on a short-term mission needs to be prepared spiritually! Just like you get vaccinations and take vitamins before the trip, you need to help your workers bolster their spiritual health before they go.  They need prophylactic preparation to prevent spiritual sickness, they need instruction on managing their spiritual health while they are there, and then they need to know what to do if they get sick.

  • Talk about motivations for going—and be honest because most people have multiple motivations, including adventure, travel, self-improvement, improvement of personal skills, and—of yes, helping someone else to know Jesus!  Preparation should include acknowledgement of these motivations along with a healthy way to prioritize them.  Acknowledging the lesser motivations helps remove any guilt or shame workers might otherwise carry with them. Good preparation will help them know ways to focus their motivations so that their activities will be both appropriate and effective for reaching their higher goals!
  • Talk about the spiritual goals for this trip. It is not enough to just hope that somehow conducting a VBS will make an impact for Christ. How will you know if you have made a difference or not? Do you have short-term and/or long-term goals? Are you planting seeds or harvesting because of what others have done before you?
  • What spiritual challenges might workers meet?  Most short-term mission projects are mountain-top experiences for the workers, but in every mission situation, there are also inherent possibilities for spiritual challenges.  If your workers are prepared for those challenges, they are more likely to overcome them effectively.

                For instance, sometimes workers are confronted by “differentness” at the mission site: different doctrines, different rites, different styles of worship–and it shakes up their spiritual world for a while. Other workers are challenged when they try to verbalize their own faith and fail to do so adequately. Some workers find moral temptations more alluring away from home and are challenged!

I’ve often said that being on a mission field is like being in a pressure cooker and any little crack in your spiritual armor may be put under enough pressure to split wide open and leave you very vulnerable.  Preparation for such challenges before a worker goes should give him/her an opportunity to check for cracks!

  • What role will praise and prayer play? If you will have daily times together for praise and prayer—and I hope you will—then you will need to prepare for those times before you go!  Nothing is more discouraging than haphazardly prepared devotionals with half-baked thoughts and dashed-off prayer to cap it off.  Nothing is more encouraging than good time with God and your fellow workers, when you are giving thanks, praising Him, listening for His instructions for the day, interceding with Him for those people with whom you are working, and asking Him to work powerfully through you.

Putting a spiritually healthy team on the plane, a team prepared for spiritual challenges while on the field, must be one of the highest priorities for your mission preparations.

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short term mission globeI moderated the four panels on short-term missions for the Global Missions Conference in October. This is a summary of the last three panels. The previous post summarizes the first panel. You can find it at the bottom of this post.  MW

 

Why and How Should Teens Do Short-Term Missions (Buster Clemens, Youth minister at Highland Church of Christ, Memphis, TN, and George Welty, Youth minister at White Station Church of Christ, Memphis, TN.)

The two panel members in this second session had not heard the great debate of the first session. These two ministers had at least forty years of youth ministry between them; in other words, they weren’t fresh-out-of-college youth ministers. These two guys have between them literally hundreds of kids in their programs. These guys both do at least one youth mission trip each year personally, and they help organize others for their students.

How do they feel about short-term missions?

Buster just told his story, how he was a young man with a quite predictable, successful future, then he participated in a short-term mission and it changed his life. He left the safe lane and became a youth minister, so he could help young people find what he found. One of the main ways he does this is to make sure they all have short-term mission experiences–like he did!

These guys had not read those academic studies that said short-term missions have no impact on those who participate. They have years of experience and lives of hundreds of their young people who contradict the conclusions of those studies.

They did acknowledge, however, that without proper planning and preparation, that a lot can go wrong. There is, however, no need for every church to re-invent the wheel. Many resources exist to help you evaluate your church’s teen mission program. (MW: Start with “Standards of Excellence for Short-Term Missions”   www.soe.org ).

 

Short-term Missions Opportunities in Hard Places. (Craig Altrock, LST; Tom Langley, World English Institute; Benny Baker, Mision Para Cristo)

This third panel began by confessing confusion over the topic that I had given them. What is a “hard” place? Were we talking about unreceptive places, about inaccessible places, or perhaps unsafe places. As they talked about unreceptive and inaccessible places, their message seemed clear: sometimes short-term missions are the only productive way to work in these places. I can tell you that LST was created for the unreceptive people of Germany and Western Europe, and over three decades later, what created opportunities in Germany has created the same kinds of opportunities all over the world. World English Institute is also penetrating places previously considered inaccessible.

What really captured the conversation in this session was the question of those places in the world that might be considered unsafe! Benny Baker has worked in Nicaragua for many years, and one of his main strategies has been to bring short-term teams in–lots of them–and to send them all over the country, including some places where they went with armed guards.

Our American obsession with safety (see the whole Ebola-in-America drama going on right now!) was referenced more than once. Benny argued strongly and well that safety is a solvable problem with good information. He argued that most churches, schools, and volunteers make their decisions about whether it is safe to go to Mexico or Africa or anywhere based on what they see in television.

Benny offered three good sources of information that are available to anyone wondering if it is safe to send their teens or their members–or to go themselves–to a particular spot. The first is just common sense, but the other two need to be out there where you can get to them too:

  • Pick up the phone and call the local missionary or your most trusted person at the site you are considering.
  • Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) – a U.S. State Department sponsored source of daily information on a global scale.   http://www.osac.gov
  • Fang Protective Services –dedicated to enhancing the safety and security of faith-based humanitarian and medical mission teams as they care for the most vulnerable members of humanity. http://www.fangprotectiveservices.org

 

Session Four: New Opportunities For Adults in Short-Term Missions (Leslee Altrock, LST; Chris Altrock, Senior Minister at Highland Church of Christ, Memphis)

If you thought that short-term missions were only for teens or college students, then these two panel members were prepared to change your thinking. Leslee described the great shift that Let’s Start Talking has experienced in the last few years. Once almost exclusively a college student/ summer short-term mission ministry, now LST finds itself recruiting, equipping, and sending twice as many adult church members as college students. Retired, almost retired, long retired, families on vacation, homeschoolers, teachers off in the summer–the demographic is huge of those church members who have always wanted to do mission work, but they didn’t have a vehicle. Now there are many opportunities.

Chris mentioned many of the activities of their church members that perhaps earlier wouldn’t even have been called a short-term mission. He emphasized how important these were to the local church’s outreach, both at home and abroad.

My Concluding Remarks:

  • Short-term missions are not going away any time soon–nor should we want them to.
  • There is no excuse for doing a poor short-term mission project. There are enough resources to guide you and enough people who do them right. Use them. Join them.
  • There is a short-term mission experience that every Christian can do! And they will be better for it. And the Kingdom of God will be advanced because they did it.

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short term mission globeEvery three years, missions leaders among Churches of Christ stage an event called the Global Missions Conference. In size and scope it is a poor cousin to the International Conference On Missions hosted annually by the Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ. The smaller scale, in my opinion, is more because of greater resistance to central organizations rather than a lesser commitment to missions in Churches of Christ. A comparison of missions history between the two fellowships, however, would be a great dissertation topic for someone.

The Global Missions Conference was held October 16-18 at the Goodman Oaks Church of Christ in Southhaven, Mississippi, a suburb of Memphis, Tennessee. I have not heard an official number of attendees yet, but I would guess it might be near 1000, although I suspect that many local people did not register.

I had the privilege of organizing the Short-Term Missions track for this conference, which consisted of four separate one-hour classes conducted over two days. My concept was to develop a practical topic for each session, then invite highly experienced workers in those areas to form a panel to discuss each particular topic, first among themselves and then with those who were present.

I was quite pleased with the classes, which were all well attended, so I thought I would summarize the content and share it with you as well.

Session One: The Changing Look of Short-Term Mission (Panel Members: Ken Graves–Harding University Director of Global Outreach, Dr. Bob Carpenter–Oklahoma Christian University Professor of Missions, Dr. Gary Green–Abilene Christian University Director of World Wide Witness, and Ben Langford–Oklahoma Christian University Director of Center for Global Missions.)

Without exception, all of the panel members agreed that the emphasis in short-term missions had shifted in the last two decades from evangelism to humanitarian aid/social justice. Some of them saw this shift more as cultural, while others understood it to be a theological shift. The cultural proponents held that the post-modern shift to tolerance as the highest virtue creates an environment where people are no longer willing to “judge” other people’s views, much less feel the need to “correct” them.

Those who argued for a theological shift were divided–which made for a great panel discussion. One argued that students no longer believe in Hell or Judgment Day, so there is no motivation for evangelism. (As moderator, I kept my opinions to myself and just facilitated, but this is my blog, so I’m going to insert myself here to say that I see both the cultural and theological arguments as virtually the same–and in my experience, the portrayal of the current generation of college students especially is absolutely true–sadly!)

One of the panel members, however, argued that the shift from evangelism to social justice activities was nothing to worry about, that, in fact, when we teach a poor farmer how to irrigate that we are participating in God’s plan to save the whole Creation. You’ll recognize this argument perhaps as one that younger preachers typically have juxtaposed against a type of evangelism that was only interested in the soul of a person and not the whole person. I’ve thought a lot about these comments since the conference and will share some of those thoughts with you soon–but they need to ripen a little.

Being academicians, the panel members quoted some disconcerting research that made the following claims:

  • short-term missions do not make a significant difference in the lives of participants
  • short-term missions do not produce long-term workers
  • short-term missions are not cost-effective ways of doing missions.

As I listened to them quote these results as facts, I could no longer keep quiet because not only did these results go against my whole lifetime of experience, but also against some other very good research with which I was familiar, but which was a little older than what they were quoting.

For instance, the research among young people in Churches of Christ that Dr. Carley Dodd and others published in 1995 as The Gospel According to Generation X: The Culture of Adolescent Belief found a significant correlation between a summer mission experience and the retention of faith after leaving high school. Another good example of contradictory statistics is the research published by Dr. Craig Altrock as the result of his dissertation work at Harding School of Theology as The Shaping of God’s People: One Story of How God is Shaping the North American Church Through Short-Term Missions (2007). His study of Let’s Start Talking workers , not only recent but many from years past, confirmed what we in this ministry all know anecdotally, that those who had good short-term experiences were changed significantly, both in their spiritual formation and in their spiritual activity (if one cares to create false dichotomies!)

I think I can offer a possible explanation for why current research may suggest different results from slightly older studies. First, as the whole panel has confirmed, when we examine short-term missions as a category now, we are only looking at service-oriented experiences. For a whole generation of our fellowship, the word missions refers only to caring for physical or social needs of peoples, not seeking and saving the lost.

Painting houses and digging wells, even healing the sick and loving on orphans, while most certainly the purest of Christian ministry, but if absent of the Word, could all be done by good Muslims or good Agnostics. These kinds of activities in and of themselves do not complete the Great Commission. And, if this is true, then why should we expect short-term mission activities that focus on these services to produce the same kinds of impact and results that short-term missions focused on telling the Story of Jesus have had?

And that was just the first panel! I’ll finish the report on the other three panels in the next post.

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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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Dan BouchellePart 2 of a series of guest posts by Dr. Dan Bouchelle, President of Missions Resource Network

Here are a couple more suggestions for doing STM in ways that bless both those you go to serve and those you take on the trip. For earlier entries see my last two posts.

  1. Do what the locals cannot do themselves: It is tempting to take groups of Americans to developing countries to do hands on projects that make Americans feel useful in fighting practical problems. So, we take dozens of people thousands of miles and spend tens of thousands of dollars to do carpentry, plumbing, concrete work, painting, pass out fliers or hand out food and clothes. This is good and hard to criticize. It is doing good and not wrong per se. But often it makes no sense to the local people and can create resentment in places where people with the needed skills in the church or community badly need the work and can do a better job for a fraction of what Americans spend getting there. Not to mention, hiring local people helps the economy, fights poverty, and creates opportunities to form relationships that could lead to making disciples. If you are going to do a service project, bring something the locals cannot do or hire done with your help. If you are bringing a group of people with special skills, e.g., medical personnel, and the local church requests you come as part of their ministry strategy, that is a good use of your trip. Also, doing an English as second language ministry is a great way to help out. People in many parts of the world are desperate to learn or improve their English and will jump at a chance to talk with Americans even if that involve reading the Bible together. Let’s Start Talking does this extremely well and I highly recommend them to any church wanting to do short term missions. LST logo
  2. Do what you are asked to do: It is easy to forget our reason for going and decide we want to rid the world of ____________ and then try to find someone who will let us fulfill our dream in their location. For example, we all want to see people get clean drinking water, end sex-trafficking, reduce preventable diseases, etc. We see the news about huge problems around the world. We feel guilty about our blessings. We want to “make a difference.” So, we develop this dream to go and fix problems other places. But, when our goal becomes to satisfy our need to feel significant rather than help people who really want us there and can benefit from our presence, we can end up being a problem and spend lots of time and money on projects that come to nothing after we are gone. Most of the systemic problems we want to solve are too complicated to address meaningfully by a trip of a week or two. A short-term mission trip may not be the way to address the issues we want to fix and no one may be asking us to fix them anyway.
  3. I know of one ministry that recently spent tens of thousands of dollars drilling a water well in an African village so the people did not have to rely on contaminated river water over a two mile walk away. However, when they returned, they learned the women of the village walked past the new well as they continued to make the two mile hike to the river to get water. Turns out, this was the only time the women of the village were able to talk among themselves and get away from their husbands’ expectations. That meant more to them than clean, convenient water. Perhaps that well should have been drilled two miles away, or maybe the ministry should have listened more closely to what the people in this location believed they needed. There are broken water wells all over the developing world lying unused because no one was taught how to maintain them. But, the people who put them in have some cool pictures to show back home about how they made a difference. The stories like this are endless. The point is, we don’t always know what is needed and need to listen and think long term as we follow the lead of the people on the ground. This is not about us.

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