This blog is part of a series. We’ve been comparing two short term missions teams: the team from Anywhere and the team from Somewhere. First, we looked at what they did while they were on their trips. Then we looked at what it was like after they left. Both definitely made a lasting impression. . .but as we saw, that’s not necessarily a great thing.
These are the things that teams need to be mindful of as they are preparing to go support a ministry.
#1. Cultural Expectations
You are not familiar with the culture in which you’re going. Sometimes it’s obvious you’re in a different culture because you’re overseas. Our experience here is that people don’t realize they really have encountered another culture. Many teams come off offensively because of their behavior, not realizing that they are dealing with many different ethnicities as well as an urban sub-culture. While you can’t avoid every offense, you can avoid frustrating your host by being mindful, quiet and alert. Paul said he became all things so as not to make people stumble while he was on missions trips. It would be wise to keep this in mind.
#2. Serve, serve, serve!
Go on your missions trip to serve. . .but not necessarily to serve the unsaved but rather your fellow co-laborers in Christ. Why? Because when you leave they’ll still be there. I cannot tell you how many teams inadvertently made things more difficult for us because they were not interested in what we did but rather what they came to do. The attitude you should have is that no service is too small for your team.
#3. Watchful Alertness
Anytime you go somewhere it will help you if you are watchful and alert rather than talking. If you’re in the street doing mime for example, watch how people are receiving your message.
I remember one team who came several years ago. They decided to speak in the street and give mini Bible lessons. Dressed in jeans, and t-shirts and baseball caps they went about their work. They were poorly received and decided it’s because people’s hearts were hard. While that may have been true, I suspect that the very conservative Spanish women disregarded anything the group was saying. After all, in their minds, good Christian ladies wear dresses!
#4 Take the Time to Get to Know the ‘Natives’
It has been our experience that the most valuable part of a team’s experience here is to learn about their host church or ministry. We love to communicate our vision for the city and why we’re here. People talking to us realize that although it can be difficult our family thrives in the city.
#5 A Proper Perspective
You are a guest. It is worth your while to learn the customs of the land. It is not beneficial to critique a ministry. There may be some very good reasons behind what they do.
There was a girl who came on a team who had been out walking the neighborhood with us. She noticed that we had passed several beggars and not bothered to give one cent. After passing our third homeless person she declares: “This is uncompassionate. How can we pass these people and not help them?” She then went on to give a dollar to every person she saw who was begging. Soon we had a small following and she was out of money.
We do not give homeless people money but rather offer them food, a cup of coffee, etc. (In this particular case we did not stop as we were a group of women and we only saw men. Had we seen homeless women, we certainly would’ve stopped.) I actually don’t know of any reputable ministry that gives money to homeless people and to be honest I would feel guilty doing so as it would hamper the efforts of those who seek to minister to the homeless full time. It is not helpful but rather enabling and in this case, could have turned dangerous. What seems to you to be inappropriate may be quite appropriate for the circumstances.
I haven’t mentioned spiritual preparation in any of my blogs and it is certainly not to minimize it’s importance in your short term ministry. We love having teams here and I hope we continue to see many more throughout the years.