Wednesday, March 5, 2014

How To Make Sure They Love You on the Other Side (Rethinking Short-Term Missions, Part 3)

Gil and I are greatly enjoying access to Netflix while we are in the States.  Earlier this year, we watched a season of "The Amazing Race," thinking we would enjoy it because we love international travel.  And we did--that part was interesting.  But I told Gil that I can't watch any more seasons of it.

I simply couldn't handle the fact that the contestants run ramshod over the cultures of the countries they are visiting.  I winced every time I saw a female in shorts in Africa or Asia, or see them yell at a taxi driver who doesn't speak English, or careen like a maniac through a sacred space.  It wasn't fun to watch, it was embarrassing.

Unfortunately, short-term teams can act the same way--offending and perplexing the very same people they came to minister to.  Here are some tips on how to prevent that:

If You are a Team Leader:
  • If the missionary asks for a maximum of 8 people, don't bring 9.
  • If they tell you the age minimum is 18, don't bring a 17-year-old (unless you discuss it with them first). 
  • If the missionary asks for your girls to always be in skirts, then don't let them bring shorts.  
  • Train your team to be learners....don't overemphasize what they will accomplish on the team, emphasize what they will learn.  
  • But by all means--train them!  Ask the missionary to tell you how to get them ready and spend a few months doing this.  

If You are on a Team:
  • Go as a learner.  You may indeed have something valuable to offer, but go in with the attitude that you don't.  Ask a bazillion questions, of everyone you meet.  Try not to jump to conclusions.  Try not to allow yourself to think something is "wrong."  Keep your eyes and ears and heart open to what these new people and new places can teach you.
  • Realize that you will be watched, everywhere you go.  I remember when I was on short-term trips, that because things are so different, there's a sense that no one is paying attention to you.  Quite the opposite!  If you want to make a good impression for the sake of the gospel, you need to recognize this.  
    • Adhere to their modesty standards--carefully!  
    • Designate one person as the photographer so that you won't be so conspicuous with all your expensive cameras or phones.  
    • Be polite and respectful, and in many situations, that will mean quiet as well.  Many times, especially with young people, they treat a missions trip as if it were camp.  And unless your ministry is camp, then yelling and rowdiness and loud laughter are often not appreciated.  
  • Mentally prepare yourself for being away from American food for your trip.  I am a picky person and new food is hard for me, but you will get so much more out of the trip if you embrace it all, including the food.  Don't fill your suitcase with granola bars, eat them in front of the missionary, and then talk about how you are going to visit In N Out as soon as you hit U.S. soil.  Please.  It's only two weeks.

  • Speaking of filling your suitcase, pack light for yourself and heavy for the missionary.  This was always a huge, huge blessing to us.  Yeah, it's fun to get things like granola bars and chocolate chips, but the ministry supplies that our teams brought us saved us hundreds of dollars on postage.  (By the way, missionaries think of luggage in terms of weight.  Be specific:  Tell them, "You can fill 200 pounds" [or whatever you will have available.] Then they know exactly how much to order and send to you.)
  • If you want to really go all out, ask the missionary for a wish list and have your church members fill it before you leave.
Last but not least, if there are showers available, please, for heaven's sake, take showers.

(don't worry, this really was camp!)


Tim Steen said...

Amy, these are all great thoughts. I especially appreciate the list of ideas of what does make a good short term mission trip, because sometimes it is hard to figure out what to replace the typical trip with!

I do have to take a small issue with harping on the showering. I get the point you are trying to make, but my experiences with short term trips have been the opposite (and I don't mean to stereotype, but with teen-age girls). Showering and cleanliness and maybe even make-up remain TOO high a priority on the trips I've been on. Valuable time that could be spent building relationships with kids after they are out of school, or other locals after their work, is spent cleaning up for a disproportionate amount of time. Not only that, but the comments of "I can't wait to get home to get a manicure" seem to come in second after the "I can't wait to go to "

So yes, shower and keep appropriately clean. Worrying too much about looks and perfect cleanliness will lead to the same cultural problems, though.

Amy said...

I totally agree with you, Tim! Read Part 1 of this series and I think you'll see why I made that comment. :-)