Posts Tagged ‘youth missions’

Oklahoma Christian team 1982

The first three summers of Let’s Start Talking (1981-83) were the years when God continued to teach us how to do what we have done now for thirty years.  For instance, the second summer we wanted to give the OC students who went with us T-shirts to help advertise and attract Readers while they were in Germany. The LST sweatshirts/T-shirts now have an iconic place in our history with a few people who have whole closets full.

Well, the first shirts were a mustard yellow (YUK!) and said on the front, “Ask me, if I speak English!” Sherrylee and I blame each other, but it was probably my idea.  After a week or two in Germany, dutifully wearing their T-shirts whenever possible, some of the girls came to us and said that they didn’t want to wear the shirts any longer. I couldn’t understand why until they explained that the “ask me, if I speak English” sentence was written right across the front chest area, so it made all the men and boys stare at their chests!!  That was the end of our first marketing fiasco.

As I mentioned in the last post, we carried actual Bibles the first year, the New Easy-To-Read version published by World Bible Translation Center. It was a version originally prepared for deaf people, but perfect for what we were wanting to do because the syntax and vocabulary were approximately fourth grade level.  These were the Bibles that during the second summer, we literally cut passages out of Luke, pasted them onto sheets of paper, then photocopied the newly created pages in order to make the first “workbooks.” I don’t really think we had any questions or vocabulary with the texts those first summers, but I’m not sure.

We chose to use Luke as our text from the very beginning for some fairly obvious reasons, We were committed to starting with the story of Jesus , so first of all, Luke was more narrative—more of a complete story, from Jesus’ birth to his death.  Also,

  • Matthew alludes to the Old Testament too often, and we didn’t want to have to continually drop back into Jewish history with our Readers.
  • Mark was just too brief and left out some of the chronological story—like Jesus’ birth.
  • And John was too abstract, too theological for people who had no faith.
  • Luke had an obvious sequel (Acts), so we could already see the path for continuity.

For three summers (1981-83), we took 11-13 students from Oklahoma Christian. Divided into two, later three teams, they spent the summer in the northern German (then West German) cities of Braunschweig, Bremen, Hannover, and Cologne, working with the mission churches there that Sherrylee and I had been most familiar with.  Our family would usually stay in Hannover as our base, but visit each of the teams once each week to check on them and encourage them.

We were pretty content with this pattern and had no further grand design or vision, but God had more in mind.  In the fall of 1983, one of the OC students Amy Keesee (Gordon) who had gone with us each year, began graduate work at Oklahoma State University, fifty miles away from us.  She called one evening in the fall and asked if she could continue to go with us, and we agreed, of course. Then she asked if she could recruit a team from the great campus ministry program that the Stillwater church had had at OSU for many years. After a little conversation, we agreed—and the first embryonic division had occurred! In the summer of 1984, instead of 12 workers, we had 28. Instead of two sites, we had five! Instead of approximately 100 readers, we had 280.

Oklahoma State University team

With this one additional school sending workers, the potential for sharing the Story had more than doubled!  We began to get a sense of what could be . . . . In reality, God was just beginning to stretch our rubber bands.

Factoid: The first printed workbooks (white covers with the LST logo on the front) were designed and illustrated by OC professor Michael O’Keefe. He is personally responsible for the two little characters with spiky hair that are still LST icons—and still unnamed. (It has always been a fear of mine that someone would call them Mark and Sherrylee and it would stick forever!!)

In 1986, two former workers Kurt and Marilyn Siebold were living in California and wanted to go with us again, so we built our first church team around them with members of the Culver Palms Church of Christ.

Another first in 1986 was the first LST team outside of Germany. Kyle and Susan Bratcher had some history in Austria and wanted to go there, so we contacted our friends in Graz, Austria, and worked out the arrangements for the Bratcher’s team to work with the Graz church for the summer.

In the fall of 1986, Sherry and I were teaching a class on our new way of working in Germany at the World Mission Workshop at Columbia Christian in Portland, Oregon.  Two Pepperdine students walked through our classroom, looking for a session on Italy, but heard something about Germany, so they stopped, listened, and were hooked.  Ian Morgan and his future wife Lisa went back to Pepperdine and recruited the first team from Pepperdine—which has continued to be a great partnership.

With Pepperdine now fully on board, the fledgling LST program jumped from approximately 20 workers each summer to over 40 by the summer of 1988. Amy Keesee had moved from OSU to San Luis Obispo, CA, so now we had teams from there as well. Pete and Janine Brazle began to share responsibilities with Sherrylee and me for overseeing the summer teams. They took the southern four teams and we took the northern four—the birth of LST regional representatives.

First Church team from Culver Palms Church of Christ

By the summers of 1988 and 1989, LST was working in Italy and the Netherlands as well.  A Dutch family (Hans and Ans van Erp) had invited us to help them start a new church in Eindhoven, a church which is still growing and flourishing! And approximately 60 workers were going each summer.

People were beginning to ask us if we were trying to do too much. Sherrylee and I always responded that we were just trying to manage what God put in front of us. In fact, in 1986, we almost left OC to return to the European mission field with European Christian College. I had finished my doctorate and was invited to become the dean of that school—which we agreed to do if they could afford to bring on a family of five!  That door shut very firmly about the time all of these new doors were opening with LST, so we began to see God’s plan a little better—or so we thought!

We never dreamed what God would do in the next 24 months in the Soviet Union. No one suspected that the Iron Curtain was about to be torn down and what opportunities that would present for Let’s Start Talking.

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Are you waiting until your children are teenagers before you think about going on a short-term mission trip with them?  DON’T!

I know what the popular wisdom is here:

  • Young children won’t understand or appreciate the experience, so wait until they will get more out of it.
  • Young children are a pain to travel with.
  • Young children are not really useful, so it is hard to justify the expense.
  • Young children are impossible to fund raise for, so you can’t afford to take them.


  • The best time for children to experience missions first is when their young minds and hearts are still soft and impressionable–not after their hormones create havoc in them for a few years.  We have 8 grandkids under the age of 8. Only the two born this year and the 3 yr old have not been on a foreign LST project, and most of them have been multiple times. They have friends in Japan. They are not afraid of foreign languages. They know what the grown-ups are talking about when they tell of teaching others about Jesus. They are very disappointed in the years they can’t go.
  • There are challenges to traveling with young kids–but they make little kids suitcases and backpacks.  They will sleep in the airplane seats. Travel is quite a fun game if the parents will invest just a little time to make it so!
  • Children are magnets on the mission field. No matter whether it is Germany or Africa or China or Turkey, adults accompanied by small children find it much more common to get into conversations with people.  I know of 6-8 year olds who have “helped” other children with their English, while their parents read the Bible in English with LST workers.  Children may be the best missionaries ever!!
  • Unfortunately, the previously mentioned misconceptions do make it difficult sometimes to raise money for children to go. We faced this even more strongly back in the 80s, when the Woodwards were starting LST, towing 3 small children behind them. I just dug in my heels and said, we don’t go without them–and tried to educate people on the good a whole family does who goes together. God provided.

Many, many mission churches do not have whole families. Often only the mother and children come, or only the father, or only the children.  To see a whole family–parents and kids–being Christians together is inspiring to onlookers, no matter what country you are in.

Your decision to take your children on a short-term mission trip will be one of the best decisions you have ever made!  And when you do it the second time, you will thank God for removing the doubts that you had.

And your children, when they are young adults,  will put their arms around you and thank you for doing something wonderful that dramatically changed their lives and helped them know God!

And is there anything in this world you want more than that?

Don’t wait!

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Several years ago, Sherrylee and I were at the Tulsa Soul-Winning Workshop and heard Harold Shank quote a statistic in his keynote address that said that the number one correlating factor with continued faith in God and a relationship to His church after high school is a summer mission experience.

Sherrylee and I turned to each other literally and said that is what Let’s Start Talking has been offering college students!  But if what he said is true, we can’t ignore high school kids any more. So we put together a mission package for high schoolers called YoungFriends that LST now offers to churches as part of our comprehensive church transformation ministry (Centurion Project).

Several challenges surfaced in presenting this opportunity to youth ministers. One of them concerns me more than the others.  Here is the general list. Can you guess which one concerns me most?

  • Youth ministers are sometimes organized and sometimes not—not any different from anyone else, except it takes a lot of organization and planning to pull off a good summer mission project.
  • Youth ministers are often trumped in money decisions by senior ministers or elders who may or may not share their vision.
  • Youth ministers are also at the mercy of parents, so only to the degree that parents trust their youth minister are they willing to let him step very far out in faith.
  • Youth ministers generally tend towards service projects over evangelistic missions.

Of course, this last point is the one that concerns me most.  In our presentation to Youth Ministers, we have tried to present an evangelistic mission option—one where kids learn to tell the story of Jesus and share their own faith in a natural and non-confrontational way– as one that makes sense in a stair step approach to mission experiences.

Young people start by learning to have a heart for people, but perhaps don’t have the social skills or cross cultural experience yet to really share their faith, but by the time they get to be juniors or seniors in high school, why isn’t it time to help them verbalize their own faith story and show them natural ways for them to share their faith in Jesus with others?

Although this idea seemed to resonant with lots of people in theory, when it got to decision time, most youth ministers opted for the service project over anything evangelistic.  I think they go this way for any or all of the following reasons:

  • Service projects are tangible. Your goal is to paint a house. You buy paint and brushes, you go to the house, you paint, you clean up, and then you go home, knowing that you have accomplished your goal. You have painted a house and done good for the sake of Christ.
  • Service projects are more predictable. Things can go wrong, of course. You can run out of paint, but then you can usually buy more pretty easily. You might not finish, but it looks better than it did. Things that do go wrong are fairly easily remedied.
  • Service projects are generally low risk.  They often can be done relatively close to home. A large group can all do the same thing in the same place for mutual protection. Not much interaction with strangers. Easily supervised.  No risk of rejection.
  • Service projects are familiar to both the youth minister and other adult sponsors, as well as parents and church leaders.

Faith-sharing mission projects are a harder sell for the following reasons:

  • Faith-sharing missions are harder to describe to parents, elders, and kids.  What “strategy” or “method” are you going to use to talk to people? How are you going to meet the people you want to talk to? What if they don’t want to talk to you?
  • Faith-sharing takes most people way out of their comfort zone, so it is a harder sell. (Of course, I’m pretty sure if we did it more, we would be a lot more comfortable doing it.)
  • Faith-sharing has greater risks. Again, what if someone rejects you? What if you mess up and don’t say the right things?  What if they ask you a question and you don’t know the answer?  Isn’t this why most adults don’t share their faith?
  • Faith-sharing mission trips are much less predictable. What if the local church doesn’t prepare well? What if no one responds to advertising? Why if local Christian teens don’t warm up to the visiting group quickly? What if it rains all week, so no visitors come? Because a faith-sharing mission is totally dependent on people, LOTS of things are unpredictable!!
  • Faith-sharing mission trips are not familiar experiences for most Christians.

And they never will be familiar unless we find a way–starting with our young people—to learn to share faith as one of the most natural activities of the Christian lifestyle.

A professor of youth ministry at one of our Christian colleges, when asked why youth ministers do not tend to choose evangelistic mission opportunities, told us that he had queried all of his youth majors about this and that NONE OF THEM had ever had a personal faith-sharing experience. They themselves had only experienced service project missions, so, of course, they tend to do with their youth what their own youth ministers had done with them.  If our ministry leaders have never shared their faith personally . . . .?

If we don’t teach our kids to tell the story of Jesus, who will do it?

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The problem for most short-term workers is not a lack of desire to tell the story of their mission project; rather, it is finding appropriate opportunities to talk to people who really want to hear.  Let’s Start Talking prepares its workers with a twenty-second answer for most people—which is the average attention span for informal mission reports to friends and acquaintances.

The next place everyone thinks about reporting is from the pulpit of your home congregation, where the most people can be addressed—but, unfortunately, pulpit time is as rare as sunshine in Seattle, so let’s spend a few moments listing very appropriate venues where you will find people who want to hear about your work.

  • Church elders/leaders meetings. You will have to ask for this time, but it is worth it. And you may only get five minutes, but it is worth it! Use it to inspire them—to expand their view of the kingdom and to encourage missions. You might change the whole agenda of your home church with such a meeting.
  • Mission committee/leaders. Ask for five minutes and see what you get! Express your gratitude and show them that their investment in you (hopefully) produced glory for God! When you leave, your goal is for them to say, “That was great! Who can we send next?”
  • Adult classes. Build your report into an inspirational lesson. Use Bible texts that have motivated you. Don’t preach; rather, leave the class inspired with a heart for God’s mission!
  • Teen classes.  They never look like they are paying attention, but if you can tell stories about the people you encountered, you are planting seeds for service in virgin soil.
  • Children’s classes. Use a map, show a picture of other children, excite their sense of adventure—which will morph into wanting to do something BIG for God someday.
  • Small groups—I know these are often social, sometimes activity oriented, but what better place to dialogue with people. Leave plenty of time for their questions and interaction.  Tell them that they can do it too.
  • Special groups: Ladies classes, campus ministry devotionals, 39ers nights, etc.
  • Display boards/tables at church.  These will often tell your story for months to people you will never get to talk with personally. Leave some way for people to contact you for more information.
  • Written reports: blogs, newsletters, just plain letters—but use lots of pictures and choose your words carefully. People do not read long stuff anymore.
  • Facebook. Let all your friends know. Label your pictures in a purposeful way rather than just trying to be funny. Include links to fan sites like LST (http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/pages/Lets-Start-Talking/293788299554?ref=ts) where people can learn how to be involved themselves.
  • Others: small town newspapers, Kiwanis clubs, other churches

And don’t forget, your window of opportunity is probably only open about 6-8 weeks. After that, it will become increasingly difficult to get onto any platform because the experiences themselves are so distant.

What would you add to this list?

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I hate to start with negatives like I did in the last post about the “don’ts” of reporting on short-term missions, but the bad things we do are so easily recognizable in others, and the bad examples provide great contrast for the positive ones.

Here is a short list of positive things to do with reporting that will win friends for missions and glorify God.

  • Do ask to report! You might think that church leaders and/or others might be excited about hearing your report, but, more often, they have their own agenda and have checked you off when they wrote you the check. You need to be proactive and ask for the opportunity to report at as many venues as you can.
  • Do make your trip real for people. Seems obvious, but many short-termers are surprised that after only two weeks, people at home have forgotten where they were going and what they were doing.  You were not on their radar much while you were gone—accept it and fill the information gap when you report.
  • Do talk about the people you served. One good, concrete story about a person you care about is worth a thousand slides of groups or church buildings! Just a sentence or two that touches hearts in your audience may change somebody’s life!  I have often told the story of the woman who wondered if she would ever read the most important book ever written. After reading Luke’s story of Jesus, she told her LST worker: “Now I know I have read the most important book ever written!”
  • Do expand people’s vision of the Kingdom of God. Before the first service of a new church in Moscow in 1991, the very new Christians asked if they could video the communion service itself so they would know how to do it after we left. . . . I still am moved by the purity of their young faith and this very simple need. Such stories remind us that the Kingdom of God is much greater than what we may experience every Sunday in our buildings. Share Kingdom stories and you will bless your audience.
  • Do encourage those listening to find their own mission. Be careful about making it sound like theirs should look just like yours, but you have a message that they will listen to because you have done it!  If you can do, they can do it! One of LST’s college workers always shared her story with the fourth grade girls that she taught in Sunday school. It should not have surprised us when nine or ten years later, some of those same girls started going with LST because of the seeds planted in Sunday school by their enthusiastic teacher-missionary many years earlier.
  • Do show public gratitude for prayers and support. One simply can never show enough gratitude to the people who send you.
  • Give glory to God. Do this explicitly with your words, do this with your pictures, do this with your illustrations, and do this with your blog. Do this with your body language, do this with the smile on your face and the gleam in your eye. Talk about God’s work, not about yours!

I personally regret that reporting about missions has such a bad reputation, so much so that it is fairly difficult to access the biggest platforms at our churches any more. In the next posting, I’m going to share with you some of the best venues and how to get permission to report there. 

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Do you remember when the missionaries always reported to the church with their slide shows in place of the sermon on Sunday night?   (I know, some of you don’t even remember Sunday night services) Especially during the summer months when many missionaries were on furlough, it seems like we might have at least one report each month and sometimes more often! Perhaps that is why we don’t do it anymore—(I mean the missionary slide show report, not Sunday night—other reasons for that!).

As I look back on the reports as I remember them, they were always VERY long, LOTS of buildings and large group shots, and TOO MANY stories to remember. For that reason, part of the training for re-entry that Let’s Start Talking does with all of its workers is on how to report on their short-term mission project effectively.  First, I’m going to write about the DON’TS and get the negative stuff out of the way.

  • Don’t forget to report! It is an opportunity to share the blessing you have received. It is an act of gratitude to those who sent you and prayed for you.
  • Don’t talk about the weather, the food, or the housing. The audience did not experience it and they really don’t care as much about it as you did while you were there.
  • Don’t talk about the problems that you encountered. Every mission project has problems, but if you survived to talk about it, it wasn’t that big! You run the risk of making parents afraid to send their kids or elders afraid to send their members on future short-term missions because “they might have bad experiences like that last team did!”
  • Don’t tell all the horror stories about the foreign culture, i.e., the gross things you ate or the immorality of the people you worked with.  That’s why you went. Will those stories make others want to do missions? Do they give glory to God?
  • Don’t criticize the mission church, its leaders, or the missionary. That’s the last thing any church needs is some American Christian—young or old—to come in and become an expert on both their work and their context in a week or two. “A little learning is a dangerous thing,” especially when judging someone else’s work. If your church and your preacher are perfect, then you can cast the first stone—unless you yourself are less than perfect!
  • Don’t leave the impression that you went on a church-sponsored vacation! Of course you took lots of pictures during your free time, probably more than during the work itself, so if you show all your pictures, you will unquestionably leave the impression that most of what you did was play and a smaller portion was actually what the church sent you to do.  LST tells its workers to NEVER show free time pictures in reports and NEVER talk about free time. They are not really pertinent to why you were sent, so why include them in your report?
  • Don’t post people’s names or pictures on the internet in your blog or website or anywhere without having asked their permission. In some countries, people could go to prison, while in other countries, it might only be an embarrassment to them. Even in a wide-open country like Germany, LST had one of our workers who read with an Iranian refugee, who was sneaking away from the hard-core, militant Muslims that he lived with in order to read the story of Jesus with her.  What might have happened to him, if his group found his name on an LST report website??
  • Don’t talk too long. LST tells workers to prepare a twenty-second answer for the question: how was your trip? Anything more and people’s eyes start to glaze over. Stick to five-minute reports for the elders and mission committee, 15-20 minutes for classes, but for your own family, you can expand to 25minutes—but just once.
  • Don’t make yourself the hero! Don’t talk about the negative that happened—all of the problems and challenges are included– because it makes you look like a suffering martyr—which very few of us are!
  • Don’t talk about how much good it did you! Now this is tricky because almost everyone comes home feeling the change in themselves because of a rich, mission experience, BUT what you have to remember is that you went to help OTHER people. Your church sent you to teach OTHER people.  What they want to hear is that OTHER PEOPLE were helped.  I don’t mean to say this to negate your own experience, but it is not one that you need to talk about a lot—that’s all.

I wish I could tell you that I have never done any of these reporting sins, but, in fact, I have done all of them at some time.  Anyone else have stories to tell?

NEXT:  So what should you do to report well?

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In the first post on Luke 10, we talked about the motivational instructions from Jesus to the seventy-two disciples, He was sending out ahead of him.  Following that in verse 4, he gives them very unusual logistical instructions—but why?

“Do not take a purse or bag or sandals,” but why not? Do not provide for yourself, but let God provide. The lesson in faith that you will experience is much greater than the discomfort you feel in the first insecure steps. Many adults who go with Let’s Start Talking are in a financial position where they can  write a check to cover all of their fund-raising obligations; however, it has long been our practice to discourage this, but rather to encourage them to send out letters to churches, family, and friends, just like our students who don’t own anything but their T-shirts.

Just recently, a couple in their forties, not wealthy but comfortable, intended to pay for their own trip, but finally agreed to follow our advice.  They raised all of their funds and more from friends who wanted to support them in their short-term mission effort. The couple came to us and thanked us for “forcing” them to do this, saying that what they experienced and learned about faith and generosity was already a big enough blessing if they got nothing else from their mission experience. Christians going out in their own strength are Christians who are departing powerless.

“And do not greet anyone on the road.” Perhaps Jesus was worried about distraction. It is really easy for workers going out to stop and chat with friends or those who are nearer or those who are easily addressed. After all, isn’t this person’s soul of equal value with those who are never confronted because we never arrive?

I’m quite sure Jesus would have conceded the equal value of the souls, but He would have asked us, “but didn’t I send you to . . . ? What about those people?  What distracted you? What kept you from arriving? The distraction may have seemed like something good—and maybe it was, but it was not what I sent YOU to do! That person was the task of another disciple . . . . ”

Jesus had just lost three potential disciples who refused to pay the price to follow Jesus without distraction (Luke 9:57-62). The one needed predictability to be secure; the next could not leave his parents in the hands of God; and the third had too many family responsibilities to think about Jesus. But they all were willing later . . . after they took care of these major distractions. “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”  (Luke 9:62) Not even greeting someone on the road is enough reason to suspend your focus on accomplishing His task.

Next: In the next verses, Jesus tells them how to work and what they will experience.  Sometimes a flashforward can be very discouraging. Was this a strategy for preparing disciples that we should imitate?

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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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