Things no one tells you about going on short-term mission trips

My husband and I live in Guatemala and host short-term mission teams throughout the year. I am originally from California and he was born and raised in Guatemala. For me, short-term mission trips were kind of like camp. Every summer I had the chance to go somewhere new and ‘help people’. For my husband, hosting short-term mission teams in Guatemala was part of what he and his family did. There were blessings that came from it, but it was mostly a lot of work.

We have both seen the good, the bad and the ugly of short-term missions. And we continue to feel this tension with the short-term mission teams that we host. Do they do more harm than good? Do they perpetuate the cycle of poverty? Do they contribute to feelings of superiority? Or inferiority? Our work with families and communities in Guatemala, as well as churches and schools from the USA has forced us to ask these questions daily. 

We have learned that perhaps how we go might matter more than what we do. Here are a few things you may not have heard about being more effective on short-term mission trips:

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Integrating international students into local church ministries

These were some of the perspectives (misattributions?) I encountered when I asked students why they joined mono-ethnic Christian groups:

“Why did you form a Hong Kong small group? Why not join your church’s student group?”

“We found the bible studies superficial.”

“What do you mean?”, I asked, thinking of the church’s in-depth inductive bible studies.

“It’s all text book answers – what does the passage say. But people don’t share how they feel, or how they struggle to live it out.”

and…

“Why did you join the Afro-Caribbean Choir instead of the Christian Union?”

“The Christian Union isn’t passionate about Jesus.”

“How so?” Thinking, “yes they are!”

“They don’t worship at their meetings. How can God’s people come together and not want to sing his praises?”

Apart from the fact that students feel more comfortable in such groups, they are often effective at reaching non-Christians from a similar cultural background, and in a way, more efficient at discipleship because methods and messages are tailored to the audience.

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The Future of Mission?

This week I spent 24 hours at a Global Connections’ conference on the future of mission. The keynote speaker was Michael Stroope, author of Transcending Mission – one of the most important books on mission to emerge in the past decade (read my review here). It was a stimulating couple of days and it’s always good to catch up with old friends and to talk about important things. That being said, I’m not sure that I heard anything new or surprising, apart from a couple of very challenging personal stories. There is an ongoing problem with these sorts of meetings in that the people who are essential to push for change; church leaders and agency board members, rarely attend them. Meanwhile, the “mission nerds”, as someone described those attending the meeting, talk about the importance of change and new models of mission, but little actually changes in the Western mission movement.

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“We were prevented…”

Much frustration, confusion, anger and loss is incurred by mission workers who find their plans thwarted.

Perhaps a family need draws us back home from the field. Some of us inexplicably lose visas and are given 48 hours to leave a country we’ve lived in for 20 years. The risk of terrorism forces our evacuation. A sending agency decides to pull out of a given location. Our funding falls to an unsustainable level. The list goes on.

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Game of Crowns

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” – Matthew 6:24 (ESV)

I have found that a lot of people misunderstand this verse, or perhaps more accurately simply ignore half of it. So often we immediately take from it that we shouldn’t make idols in the place of God because if we do, we will end up loving that idol and hating God. True. But notice that it doesn’t just say “You will hate the one [God] and love the other [money/sex/food/image/insert-own-idol-here]”, it gives us the alternative option too: that you could just as well end up – if you still love and serve Jesus – hating the idol instead. Money, sex, food and image are all good and important things, gifts given by God. We should respect and desire many of these gifts, but we need to put them in their proper place. If we serve any one of them wholeheartedly, they will inevitably disappoint us and we will end up hating them.

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Why Bother?

There are many variations on the same question, but essentially they boil down to one central idea; why should we bother with global mission, when the needs here in the UK are so great? Everyone who is involved in promoting world mission in Britain will have run up against this question in one form or another. There is no single killer answer that will satisfy everyone who asks this question, but there are many ways in which the question itself is flawed.

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Three Reasons to Hate Me

“If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first.” John 15:18

Recently, I’ve been contemplating John 15 and allowing myself to think long and hard about what ‘being hated for following Jesus’ might look like for me. I may not face the daily persecution that other believers around the world face. But would I be willing to lose a close friendship or a relationship with a family member? And under what circumstances might this even happen?

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Millennials

MILLENNIALS, LEADERSHIP AND FRIENDS INTERNATIONAL

Ancestor worship, honour and shame, varying views on timekeeping: these are just a few of the many areas of cultural difference to which Friends International staff and volunteers, and others involved in international student ministry (ISM), are sensitive. We deal with them well, with the view that cultural difference is just that – different, but not necessarily always wrong or right. We have learnt to recognise our cultural bias and do our best to view other cultures neutrally, working to build healthy cross-cultural friendships.

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Brexit and your responsibilities

Global Connection’s raison d’être is global mission with our partners and members. Our primary responsibility under God is to keep global mission before God in prayer (Acts 6:4) and before the UK church. We are called to be focused on Jesus, and then the needs of the world, and not be side-tracked by important but secondary issues (Hebrews 12:1-3). A temptation in challenging times can be to lose our external, outward-looking perspective and become focused upon ourselves and our needs (1 Cor. 10:14). Church history offers plenty of examples to illustrate this point. I encourage you to keep our eyes on our primary calling to global mission – our horizons are and must remain global. Let’s encourage each other to look beyond our own shores and continue to call the UK church to global mission (Acts 1:8).

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A Call to Courage

The main problem I have with evangelism is fear of man. I heartily recommend and have benefited from training and equipping in evangelism but none of it can make up for being afraid of what people think of me. I’m convinced that it’s not mainly because we feel ill-equipped that we don’t share the gospel; it’s because we’re afraid. We need courage.

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