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Archive for the ‘Standards of Excellence for Short-Term Missions’ Category

We come to the end of this series on the Seven Standards of Excellence in Short-Term Missions. I want to acknowledge my debt and appreciation to the organization SOE that originally published these standards.  This group promotes the standards as well as organizes many groups who voluntarily adopt them. If you would like to read more about the standards and/or the organization, go to their website: www.stmstandards.org and explore it.  Just to clarify, while I have used their standards as the outline, the explanation and illustration of these standards in my blog are purely from me and do not necessarily reflect the intentions or positions of this organization with which neither I nor Let’s Start Talking has no affiliation, but great appreciation.

The last of the Seven Standards of Excellence in Short-Term Mission is qualified leadership. I’ve left this one to last for two reasons: first, I find that qualified leadership is a basic presupposition for each of the other standards. Will the mission be God-centered if there is no leadership? Will true partnerships between those who go and those who receive be established without leadership? Can there be thoughtful purpose and design, appropriate training, and thorough follow-up with leadership?  I don’t think so!

The ubiquitous (sorry, it’s just the right word. Click for a quick definition!) nature of leadership is why everyone writes about leadership. Gifts in such great demand are often neglected, imitated, or abused. Let me explain in our context of short-term missions.

1. Zeal trumps ability in many short-term mission programs. Passion and good intentions are not the same as leadership, but are common substitutes when quality leadership is lacking. Without knowing all the facts, I suspect that the Christian group arrested and held for so long in Haiti for trying to leave the country with a busload of orphans was guilty of only substituting passion and good intentions for quality leadership.

2. Lots of people pretend to be leaders who are not! Again, not all of these people are aware of their lack of leadership gifts, but may truly believe they are leaders. One absolute test of leadership ability is whether and why people follow a particular leader!

I have a missionary friend who certainly believes he is a leader. When he can control a group because of external authority,  people do what he says and stay with him. However, when he tries to lead a group of peers or volunteers, they inevitably either passively or actively rebel against his leadership.

The greatest leader Jesus said of a good shepherd-leader, “. . . the sheep follow him because they know his voice.” (John 10:4) They do not follow a stranger’s (imitator’s) voice. So it is with those who imitate leaders.

3. Abuse in any form is the polar opposite of quality leadership. You can recognize potential abuse when

a. The “leader” starts by reading the rules for the mission trip.

b. The “leader” starts by describing his/her role on the mission trip

c. The “leader” threatens someone with dismissal from the team if they don’t .

d. The “leader” either does not request or disregards input from others.

e. The “leader” is not accountable to someone else.

f. The “leader” has sole control of all of the organizational elements of the mission trip—money, schedule, resources, planning.

g. The “leader” knows things but is unwilling to share the information with the mission group “until they need to know.”

h. The “leader” uses the “because I said so” line!

If you are part of a mission group with this kind of leadership, you should look for another group to join.  Leadership issues lie at the heart of many of the worst experiences with missions.

Secondly,  I left the leadership standard to the end of this series because I want to segue to a new blog series on leadership—not just for short-term missions, but especially in our churches.  Issues and problems with leadership are also ubiquitous!!  I really want to suggest a different model that would transform church leadership, if we can bring ourselves to implement it.

Well, watch for a new series on 1A Leadership starting soon.

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Excellent short-term missions will always include a thorough follow-up, both with the mission site and with the workers themselves. My last post suggested some of the hard questions that short-term mission organizers must ask the host site. Following up with the short-term mission workers themselves is even more critical—and more often than not, completely neglected.

Follow-up With the Short-Term Mission Worker

As with the mission host, you cannot learn how to do your mission better if you do not ask questions that surface any weaknesses or problem areas.  LST asks every worker to fill out a written evaluation and submit it to us before they return home.  These evaluations cover the following areas:

  1. Training. Did your training prepare you well for the tasks you were given? Was there something missing in the training that would have helped? How effective was your team trainer?
  2. Physical Arrangements. Was there anything beginning with the travel to site, then the housing, the food arrangements, the daily schedule, even the free time that could have been better and made for a better mission trip?
  3. Team Dynamics. How was the team dynamic? Were you able to make good decisions together? Were you able to handle conflict when it occurred? Did you get the help you needed from the LST staff when you asked?
  4. The Mission Itself. Were you able to do the work you prepared to do? What surprised you about the work? Is there anything you wish you could have done better?
  5. Personal Response. Are you glad you went? What was difficult? What was wonderful? Would you like to do another short-term mission? Would you encourage others to do one?

If you have asked for this kind of evaluation, you have taken the first step in following up with the workers, but you haven’t finished. LST gets this information in written form, but we spend time and money on following up with workers that most short-term missions omit!  Here is what Let’s Start Talking does at every EndMeeting with every worker:

  • Help Workers frame their experience! Frames contain the elements of a picture as well as keep extraneous items out of the picture. Workers have already begun deciding what they will include and exclude in their memories and feelings about their mission trip. We encourage them to include everything that gives God glory and exclude the rest.
  • Celebrate Workers’ experiences and help them talk about it! Putting words to their feelings and experiences not only helps each worker understand what they did better, but it encourages and inspires others. Real community is built around shared experiences, so a celebratory—as opposed to an inquisitorial–environment in which to first “report” about your mission trip cements both the individual and the communal experience.
  • Affirm the faithfulness of Workers. Especially in an evangelistic mission trip, workers often do not get to see the fruit of their work. I usually tell the story of the Ukrainian man who was unmoved by the story of Jesus the first time he read with Craig in 1991. Fifteen years later, the Craig returned to the Ukraine to discover that this same man was a Christian and had written three published books defending faith in God to the scientific community in Ukraine.  After telling such stories—and we have many after doing LST for thirty years—we encourage the returning workers to believe that God can do the same miracle of faith with the seeds they have faithfully planted.
  • Prepare Workers for reverse culture shock. Because the links of common experiences between people at home and the workers are broken for a period of time, some workers are shocked to feel like outsiders upon their return home.  They also don’t understand why people are only superficially interested in their mission project. Helping them understand the dynamics of unshared experiences is very helpful in ensuring a better homecoming for each worker.
  • Teach Workers how to report well. Since the first question they will hear upon arrival at their hometown airport is how was your trip, we teach them to have a 20-second answer ready. Then we talk about what to include (people stories, work stories) and what to exclude from their private and public reports (free time pictures, problems). We encourage them to seek opportunities to report in order to motivate others to go and/or to give!
  • Encourage the workers to continue the mission! The mountain-top experience that most short-term workers have does not have to be a one-time experience.  I share with the LST workers that I believe God has given them special gifts to use in missions—that’s why they have been able to accomplish this mission successfully, from the initial commitment to the fund-raising to the training to the travel to the work itself! But special gifts bring special responsibilities, so what will they do with these gifts now?

Finishing well requires as much effort as starting well! That’s why an excellent short-term mission will finish well with great follow-up!

Next post in this series:  Excellence in Short-Term Missions requires qualified leadership!

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After a brief hiatus, I am returning to the blog series on Standards of Excellence for Short-Term Missions. If you would like to read or re-read the previous posts in this series, please look for them in the Categories box to the right of this column.

Yesterday at a local airport hotel, I met with eighteen LST workers for what we call an EndMeeting. EndMeetings are mostly for our workers, but we collect their host site evaluations at that time as well. LST has insisted that all our workers participate in EndMeetings in spite of the extra cost in both time and money because an excellent short-term mission project always will include thorough follow-up with both the workers and the mission sites.

Follow-up with the Mission Site

At LST, we ask every mission site to complete an evaluation form that asks all of the hard questions.  If we don’t ask the hard questions, then we will only get the answers that we want to hear—which will not reflect the truth!  And if we don’t hear the truth, how will we know if we have been helpful, if we have served the Kingdom well, or if we have brought glory to God?

Here are some of the questions every short-term mission project should always ask as follow-up to their mission project:

  1. Did you receive all the information you needed from your visiting group in order to prepare for them well? Did you receive it in time to prepare well? What would you like to have had prior to their coming that you did not receive this time?
  2. Was the visiting group a good number for you? Did they seem prepared for the work they came to do? Did they adjust culturally? Did they seem to get along with each other well? Were their leaders/sponsors cooperative?
  3. Did the mission project meet your goals for it? Were you happy with the local churches involvement? What would you do differently with a similar group?
  4. How will you follow-up this mission project?  Is there anything the group should have done that would make your follow-up more effective?

I once read an article about a plumbing company that always followed up its house calls with the request for a simple evaluation by the customer: how would you rate our service on a scale of 1-10? What made this plumbing company outstanding was that although they almost always got an excellent evaluation, they were not satisfied with a 9.5 average. They always asked, “What could we have done that would have earned us a 10?” The difference between good and great work for God is often just that extra .5 that can only be achieved with the determination to be a 10 for God! That is the attitude that all involved in the leadership of short-term missions should have.

Tomorrow, I will finish this post with suggestions on ways to follow-up with the workers themselves.

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A missions minister and I were having lunch one day because his church wanted to begin requiring training for all people they supported on short-term missions. He knew that the Let’s Start Talking teams had a reputation for being well-trained, so he was looking for ideas.

When I told him that the college students that go with LST receive approximately 45 hours of training in preparation for 3-6 week mission trips and that church members going for two weeks receive 20 hours, he literally went pale! His church now requires one Sunday afternoon of training for their short-term workers—which is more than most churches provide or require!

The problem is not that short-term mission leaders do not believe in training, it is that nobody wants to spend the time and energy that it takes to do it. Appropriate training is essential, however, for an excellent short-term mission trip.  Here are some of the characteristics of appropriate training:

Appropriate training prepares the workers for their spiritual work as well as their physical work. While getting materials together or practicing songs or going over assignments or role-playing conversations is appropriate and essential, many of our volunteers are spiritually ill-prepared for the challenges of mission work.  Many have never verbalized their own faith, so they have difficulty responding to questions like “Why do you believe Jesus is the Son of God?” Many Christians don’t know where to start with someone who does not believe the Bible is the Word of God.  When challenged, unprepared Christians may begin to doubt their own faith or to move toward a “all-roads-lead-to-heaven” faith.  Mission trips are spiritual pressure-cookers and tend to bring our spiritual weaknesses to the surface. Spiritual as well as physical preparation is essential.

Appropriate training includes how to work together with others! Just as “personality issues” (a euphemism for any number of our own selfish desires) are a major source of trouble between Christians at home, put 5-6 people together 24/7 for even 2-3 weeks in close quarters under less than ideal circumstances and see how long it takes for the facades of Christian charity to fall.

Appropriate training includes cross-cultural awareness and sensitivity. Who is telling the volunteers about appropriate dress? Who is preparing the team for the toilet facilities? Who is preparing the group for worship in a foreign language without translation? Who is training the workers how to “look and learn”—that is, watching and imitating the local Christians in situations that are unexpected or unfamiliar.

Appropriate training happens before, during, and after the short-term mission trip. Most training needs to be done before the team leaves, but while on the field, situations and questions arise that catch short-term workers off guard. Who helps them sort through their questions and feelings?  And who helps them know how to return home?  LST conducts EndMeetings with all of our workers in which we help them frame their experience, to know how to report about it, and to know how to deal with reverse culture shock.

Appropriate training is done by qualified trainers. This one is so obvious that I just want to warn against one danger, i.e., the person who is the cultural expert because they have been in the country for a week a couple of years ago—you know what I mean! If you haven’t got qualified trainers, find some and bring them in—it’s worth it.

I’m convinced that appropriate and high quality training is why the request for LST teams is still high after thirty years!  The lack of such training is why churches quit sending and people quit going.  Invest the time and energy into appropriate training and you will bring God more glory and honor!  The added value to good training is that what you learn for the mission field always is still valid when you return home!!

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LST once had a team in Madagascar. The evangelist’s daughter was kidnapped in front of the church building where the college team was working by a local gang, looking for a reward. After just a couple of hour,  the girl managed to escape unharmed. The family reported the name of the gang leader to the police who arrested and jailed him immediately. The gang leader, however, bribed his way out of jail and vowed to kill the minister and his family. The LST team was staying in the home of this family.

What would your church/organization do now?

Here are the two most important questions for you to consider?

  1. Are you as a church/organization prepared to deal with this situation for your church members—which means, do you have the personnel, funds, and a plan to take care of your people?
  2. Secondly, how quickly can you implement your plan?

Just to ease your mind, I’ll tell you that within the hour, LST immediately moved the team into a high security hotel, and then flew the team out of the country within twenty-four hours. In addition, LST staff met them in France, let them talk through their experience and their fears, then arranged for them to finish the last three weeks of their mission trip with a church in southern France. When they returned home, not only was the team emotionally and physically healthy, but they also couldn’t stop talking about how God worked it all out for good—whew!

Make sure that either your church or organization has both an Emergency Management Plan and the personnel and funds to implement it twenty-four hours a day while your team is on the field.  Here is a short list of the type of emergencies that you should be prepared to handle:

  1. Travel emergencies – lost documents, canceled flights, unexpected fees, passenger error (goes to wrong airport, checks in too late, etc.)
  2. Medical emergencies – accidents, illness on site, flare up of pre-existing conditions, sudden death
  3. Political emergencies — political violence, curfews, closed airports, police harassment (one LST team suddenly was required to get special visas), political extortion (demanding bribes).
  4. Natural emergencies – typhoon, flooding, earthquake,
  5. Team emergencies – unexpected death or emergency at home, emotional/spiritual breakdown, unexplainable hostility (often culture shock), immoral behavior, disregard of authority, misuse of people or funds.

Emergencies don’t happen often. In thirty years of sending short-term mission teams, LST has dealt, however, with everything mentioned above at least once. You can’t remove all threats, you can’t prevent all emergencies—even with the best preparation and training—but you can be intelligently prepared for the inevitable.

P.S. If you would like a copy of the Let’s Start Talking Emergency Management Policy, I would be happy to send you one. It’s too long to post here. Just email me at LST@LST.org with Emergency Management Policy in the subject line.

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Just today, Guatemala is preparing for a volcanic eruption and a tropical storm; Belize is flooding, as is El Salvador. Tajikistan has an outbreak of polio, and there are still travel warnings out for Thailand and Sri Lanka. In addition, a major earthquake has struck the Philippines.  Only this last item is listed in the CNN headlines however.  Whoever is organizing your short-term mission should be aware of the natural, political, and cultural risks and have a plan for dealing with them.

Natural risks  – Christians should not be fearful! Being informed, however, and measuring the risks are not acts of fear. It is unfortunate to be stranded in Cambodia because of a typhoon, but it is foolish not to know that July and August are peak months for typhoons in Cambodia and to have a plan in the event one occurs. It is foolish not to know that malaria is also dangerous in Asia and the Americas and not just Africa. Many travel sites, but especially the government-sponsored Center For Disease Control (www.cdc.gov) and the U.S. State Department (www.state.gov) have important information for evaluating natural risks.

Political risks – Christians should not be fearful! Being informed, however, and measuring the risks are not acts of fear.  LST has had workers in Moscow during a political coup, in Yugoslavia when civil war broke out, and most recently, in Thailand during the political unrest and violent demonstrations. In reality, there are very few truly stable governments in the world. How do you make good decisions about going/sending into foreign areas where there is almost always some level of political unrest?

  1. Rely on more than just the U.S. media to stay informed. LST is a member of OSAC –the Overseas Security Advisory Council (www.osac.gov). This agency is run by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security in the U.S. State Department and publishes daily information on all trouble spots around the world. The information is primarily gleaned from foreign newspapers.
  2. In this last trouble in Thailand, LST actually evacuated two teams early because the violence had spread unpredictably. We were aware of surprising developments at least 12 hours before hearing it on U.S. news because we were following local news sources on Twitter (www.twitter.com)
  3. Believe the local Christians with whom you are working. I have found local Christians to be more cautious and more concerned for the potential safety of their guests than the guests themselves. This also means that if they say to come ahead because it is safe, that may be compelling.

Cultural risks – Christians should not be fearful! Being informed, however, and measuring the risks are not acts of fear. Remember the boy who was caned in Singapore for keying a car! Did you know it is illegal to chew gum in Singapore? Do you know what the three T’s are in China that workers should avoid conversations about with locals (Taiwan, Tibet, and Tiananmen)? Do you know that pickpockets work every subway in the world?  Do you know that your passport is the only way to positively identify yourself in a foreign country?

Someone in your church/organization should be responsible for researching cultural risks at your hosting site and then all participants should not only be informed, but trained to avoid risky situations and risky behaviors. Risk prevention begins long before your mission trip.

Standards of Excellence in Short-Term Missions require an appropriate risk management plan. Preventing emergencies is 90% of any plan. Next I will write about your plan for handling emergencies once they occur.

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It’s Memorial Day—and I’m working—as is most of the LST staff. We would all rather be taking the holiday off like our friends, BUT Mondays are big travel days for Let’s Start Talking teams. Four teams are leaving today for Brazil, Germany (2x), and Uganda respectively, and five teams are returning to the States from Europe, Argentina, and Panama.

Travel days are high risk days. Just this month, we have had lost passports, floods, canceled flights, and airline strikes to deal with on flight days—so part of our risk management plan at LST is to always have enough staff available on travel days—regardless of holidays—to make sure that we can take care of our workers if an emergency should arise.

Does your church and/or your short-term mission organization have a plan to reduce the risks associated with groups of people—traveling—to foreign countries? This starts with a good screening process for those who want to go in your group.

  1. Are the people who want to go healthy enough? You probably think first about physical risks, but those are the easiest to prepare for—a few special vaccinations or pills will eliminate those problems. Do you also screen for people with emotional or spiritual concerns? The associated risks are much greater with these!
  2. Does the potential worker have a submissive spirit? Lots of people who want to do missions are not willing to submit. They are not team players. There is a place for these people in the kingdom, but you probably don’t want them on your team because they ignore instructions or boundaries and create huge risks for the entire group.
  3. Are they willing to be trained? Self-made missionaries are the worst!! No matter what kind of mission experiences someone may have had, they should be eager for preparatory training for your mission project. Somebody throw the flag, if they are not.
  4. Do other people want them to go? Fundraising for a mission project is one of the best screening devices.  In 99 out of 100 instances, people who have difficulty raising funds for their mission trip also have other issues that make them difficult.  Why don’t their family, friends, and church family step up to support this person—this is a legitimate question to ask. Of course, there is always the exceptional case—but, in my experience, exceptional cases are the exception!
  5. Do they have the gifts that match the planned goals of this particular mission? For LST trips, people need to be comfortable making conversation with people one-on-one.  They need to be native English speakers—yes, and even Texans can qualify!  What are the specific gifts needed for the mission you are planning?

Screening potential workers is a very important step in reducing risk potential.  Tomorrow, I will write about reducing political/cultural risks for your short-term mission.

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Whether you are a church organizing your own short-term mission or you are an individual Christian wanting to join a short-term mission project, you need to be concerned about the comprehensive administration of the short-term mission. The SOE uses this broad term to include the following:


  1. Integrity of the organizers
  2. Competency of the organizers, especially in the area of risk management, and
  3. Capability to support and deliver of the organizers.

Let’s look at these standards in three rapid-fire blogs.

4A – INTEGRITY

Yesterday, we had a fairly lengthy discussion about which countries to advertise as LST sites for 2011. It is tempting to use “attractive” countries in our promotion, even if we seldom send teams there.  A few weeks ago, we debated at length a video clip that showed an LST worker reading with small children. Little children are huge emotional magnets for recruiting workers—but only seldom do our workers read with young children, so it is not typical of the LST experience.  These were discussions to insure LST’s integrity.

Is there honesty in promotion of your short-term mission? Check the motivations you appeal to in your promotion? Check the description of activities as compared to what the work will primarily be.  Is the host culture as needy, as irreligious, as unhealthy, as secure as it is described?

The world of advertising that we live in has skewed our sense of honesty—not to the point of lying, but to spinning the truth.  Speak the truth…in love, and you will honor God!

Is there transparency in all areas of the finances? How have the costs for this short-term mission been established? By whom?  How carefully are funds collected and dispersed? Is there an accounting process that includes accountability to someone external to this particular project? Do all participants have access to financial information?

LST has three people who do nothing but work with the finances and accounting for the monies we receive and dispense. There are strict protocols in our office about who can open an envelope with money in it, for instance, and that same person cannot record and deposit that money. Each LST team does simple accounting with the money that they are using in their LST project.

Then we have a yearly audit by an outside accounting firm, who spends days in our office, going through receipts, deposits, even the accounting books of the individual LST teams that went overseas.  Their audit is something that LST will provide to anyone who requests it. In addition, LST files a Form 990 with the Internal Revenue Service, that discloses again all important financial information—and much more. The Form 990 is public information and accessible to everyone! It’s like publishing your personal income tax filing on the internet.

Are the results of the short-term mission reported honestly and accurately? Sometimes results are vague because the organizers had no measurable goals; that is double trouble in my opinion! Other times results are skewed to justify the expense and effort. That is dishonest. Most often, results are simply not tracked or measured.  Not measuring, not assessing is not honest either. How do you know you encouraged the host church? How do you know people grew spiritually?

Nothing alienates people from Christian missions faster than the hint, the whiff of dishonesty! If you are the organizer, you must ensure integrity at every level. If you are joining a team, make sure the organizers are transparent to a fault.

Next #4b:: Appropriate Risk Management

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My son was part of a short-term mission trip several years ago that was building a church building in a third world country.  After working for about a week, digging the footing for the concrete stone building, pouring the concrete for the foundation, and then building up the wall about 2-3 feet, someone realized that they had not put any doors on the building!

I know, you are thinking that this was a freudian slip, but, in fact, the story becomes worse. So the Americans spent the rest of the mission time, tearing down a major portion of the wall that they had just built and rebuilding the wall, this time with gaps for doors.

The rest of the story I cannot verify firsthand, but my understanding is that another group went to the same area a year or two later, and the church had torn the whole building down because it never met either their needs or their standards.  There is a message in this story for those who would plan short-term missions projects.

Just having manpower and money will not get you to the goal. Mutual design is also imperative. Without reflecting on any real person’s motivations, my best guess is that the Americans showed up with a plan. The locals were asked to validate it, which they did because what else can you do in the face of money and power!  The results speak for themselves.

Mutually planning the mission activity is the only way to hope for an effective outcome. Sure, mutual design does not guarantee a positive outcome, but it certainly increases the prospects.  By mutual design, we are talking again about a partnership between American Christians and hosting nationals with (to borrow from the French!) liberty, equality, and fraternity on both sides.

Here are some reasonable questions for both parties to ask in preparation for any short-term mission trip:

  1. What are the common goals of both guests and hosts? Is the primary goal to please the host or to please the American guests? Is there a way to plan the mission so that both sides feel like their expectations will have been met?  Before an LST project ever occurs, an LST representative sits down with the hosting leader/leaders and tries to describe in their context what might occur when an LST team arrives. We talk about how we spend money, how teams are typically housed, what each day looks like, what the teams typically do on Sundays–no part of the project is intentionally left out.  Then we listen to how they believe an LST team could work best in their context. Where there are differences, we make great effort to work them out–or we both agree that perhaps some other form of mission would be better for this particular site.
  2. What preparation and follow-up are expected from the hosts/guests? What are the hosts/guests expected to do both before and after the mission project? LST projects expect the host church to advertise prior to the team’s arrival, for instance. How they advertise is left to the expertise of the local Christians? If both of us find this acceptable, we go forward with our planning!  Local Christians are expected to make plans for follow-up to LST projects. LST teams are expected to leave all contact information necessary for follow-up with the local churches. When one of our teams does not do this, we think the mission church has a right to be upset with us!
  3. Who pays for what? Unfortunately, fairly simple questions like this create much of the havoc on short-term mission trips. LST promises to pay for all food, local transportation, laundry, and the social events that are part of a typical LST project. Hosts are asked to arrange for housing and advertising.  Some hosts have no housing options that they can afford, in which case we ask them to work out mutually acceptable housing arrangements with us BEFORE our team arrives. Often their solution is a nice American-style hotel–which we most often decline because we can’t afford that either. So we continue to dialogue until either there is a mutually acceptable solution or there is no solution; in the end, we both know that we have made a mutual effort to find a mutually acceptable solution, but have failed–usually with a promise to try again next year.

Standards of Excellence in Short-Term Missions puts great emphasis on the ability of both the American guests and the national hosts to implement what they have accepted as their responsibility.  When there has been full liberty to both negotiate and to decline, when there has been equality assumed by both partners, and when brotherly love (fraternity) is the framework of every conversation and interaction, then nothing short of a REVOLUTION will be the result–a revolution that both we and God will delight in!

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In the “Seven U.S. Standards of Excellence In Short-Term Missions” published by the SOE, the first one after God-centeredness is empowering partnerships—and for a very good reason.  Out of unpardonable ignorance, we American Christians have viewed ourselves as the only source of mission strategy, the only spring of mission compassion, and, regrettably, the only well of resources that God can use for taking the gospel to the world.  Lord, forgive us of our arrogance!

The way this flavor of hubris shows itself concretely in short-term missions is in the following ways:

  • A church is looking for a good STM for its youth group, so they call their missionary and announce that they will bring 40 kids for 10 days in July. . . . and we know you will be grateful!
  • A church sees a small, but vibrant mission church in a developing country and decides to send down a band of construction workers to build them a building.
  • A church sends a note to their missionary contact that they are prepared to come with puppets and all to do a two-week Vacation Bible School, if the locals will put them up in their homes.
  • The local evangelist agrees to provide food and housing for the STM workers if they will provide the funds. The workers will provide the funds but need receipts. The national minister is highly offended, but the American workers find his/her actions very suspicious.

Some of you may not even recognize a problem in the above scenarios, but the idea of an “empowering partnership” is absent from each one. In its place, a one-sided power-based, culturally insensitive, and borderline paternalistic attitude exudes from the American Christian side of the equation—mostly because we don’t really believe that we are in a partnership. We may be betraying the fact that we prefer a charitable relationship over an empowering partnership.

We made some of these mistakes early in our ministry, but we have tried to learn from them, so let me share with you some very concrete actions that Let’s Start Talking does to avoid these mistakes:

  • LST only sends teams when we have received a formal invitation. I know you think this is what everyone does, but, in fact, it isn’t. I know that many mission sites feel compelled, virtually coerced to receive mission teams for any number of reasons. If your site can’t say No to you because you support them or because you are white or because of any reason whatsoever, then it is not a real invitation to come.
  • Each missionary and/or national evangelist is respected as a true host. We are thankful for his/her invitation; we are grateful that they want to work with us; we are eager to serve them. They are the initiators, just as if they were inviting us into their home.
  • The important details of every stm mission project are mutually agreed upon before any final commitments are made—on both sides. From the dates of arrival to the times of every event to the cost of using the telephone, we try to clarify details prior to arrival so that we do not even accidentally trample the desires or feelings of the local church.  This is tricky cross-culturally and takes great effort, but it is essential.
  • The real needs of the hosting congregation are foremost. If it is not good to host American groups during U.S. school holidays—which is rainy season and/or winter in other countries—then don’t expect a mission site to want you to come then. If the burden of hosting 20 people is too great, then either cut the group to five or don’t send anyone. If the hosting church needs funds rather than two weeks of preaching, which would be the better gift????  And if you don’t know what the needs are, you just haven’t asked.
  • We meet with potential hosts, get to know them, and don’t accept invitations until there is mutual trust. Of course, we trust us . . . . but what about the indigenous leaders of the local church? Do you trust them to tell you the truth? Do you trust them enough to give them your food money? Do you trust them enough to let them buy the supplies for the project? Do you trust them to tell you when the best time to receive a group is? And are you only flexible about your plans, but hate it when they are irresponsible and change things? Do they even have the power to change anything?  All very tell-tale questions for any stm mission trip!

I think the word “partnership” is just a modern bit of jargon for what the New Testament called “one another.” Re-read those many passages and apply them to the relationship you have with potential stm sites and then you will know if you are a loving neighbor . . . oops, I meant empowering partner.

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