Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Don't Be the Team That Refuses to Shower (Rethinking Short-Term Missions, Part 1)

We met the Most Disastrous Short-Term Missions Team Ever about a year after we had lived in Tanzania.

We didn't know these people; we hadn't helped them get to us, but they were there to serve a church that we were a part of, and that's how we ended up stuck with them for two weeks.

They were nice enough people and all, but they had some pretty firm ideas of how they wanted things to go.  Our local pastor had wanted them to sleep in church member's homes, but they insisted they would just sleep on the floor of the church.  (He was too nice to tell them that co-ed sleeping was entirely culturally inappropriate.)  They didn't like the lunches he had arranged for them, and after a few days, they asked if they could eat something else, greatly offending the pastor.

But the worst part was their lack of showering.  For some absurd reason, these [fully-grown] adults decided that it would be fun to have a "No Showering Contest" during their trip.  They bet each other how many days each could go without showering.  Of course, there was a perfectly good shower available to them, and there was an abundance of water available at the time.  But apparently their malaria medication affected their good judgment [or something like that] because these otherwise normal people decided this would be funny.

Not only did they refuse to take showers, but they constantly discussed it.  Even around the local people,  who at best were confused why Americans would come to their country and not shower, and at worst, were terribly offended.

We were horrified.  But we were very young and inexperienced, so we kept our mouths shut.  I can tell you for certain that if a team attempted that kind of shenanigan around me now, I would drag them to the shower by their ears.

Unfortunately, that wasn't the only bad experience we saw.  We saw a good friend who had an American church insist on sending him 20 people.  He had a desperately hard time finding them all housing, food, and "ministry" for them to do.  Many of them ended up painting walls....despite the fact that there are many qualified painters available in a city where there is 40% unemployment.  Considering that it cost $50,000 to paint those walls, I hope they did a good job.

We had other friends who had a short-term team member vocally and repeatedly criticize their ministry....in front of other team members. [Which was, of course, devastating....missionaries have feelings too.]  Apparently living in Tanzania for a month made him more of an expert than our friends who had lived there for a decade.

Now, in case this all seems a little judgmental of me, please know that I went on some short-term trips before coming to Tanzania, and as I look back, I can see how I blew it too--how I was culturally insensitive or inflexible.  And to be perfectly honest, there have been multiple times I have blown it as a long-term missionary as well.  I realize that I don't always get it right, and that God can use us regardless of our foolishness.

But over the years, we've learned a lot.  There definitely is a "right" and a "wrong" way to do short-term missions.  Sometimes the line is not perfectly clear, but we can at least work towards getting it right.  So in the next three posts, I am going to share what we have learned.

Part 2:  The Limo From Beverly Hills in Your Neighborhood
Part 3:  How to Make Sure They Love You on the Other Side
Part 4:  Don't Be So Predictable

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