Friday, September 23, 2011

God Hates Short-Term Mission Trips... and these things too!

You read that right.

Put simply, the term short-term mission trip has led to an environment where people, by packing their bags and getting on an airplane, can check off one of their Christian bucket list items.

This short-term mission trip thinking has led to a belief that excuses us from living a missional life the other 51 weeks of the year.

A few years ago Adventures in Life Ministry saw our mission as “Giving participants from around the world the opportunity to grow in their relationship with Jesus by serving on mission in Mexico.”  As that statement was being proofread for a brochure, one of my good friends mentioned that we were missing the letter “a” before mission.

Notice how much differently that statement would read if we included the “a”.  With just one small change, mission becomes “a mission”, or something with a beginning, middle, and end.  An event, not a lifestyle.

The Pilgrimage Concept... Courtesy of DELTA Ministries and The Next Mile

Wouldn’t God be more pleased if we adopted the view that we are always on mission for Him, all year, no matter where we are, as opposed to our one-week mission trip?  I believe He would.

But let me share three other STM sacred cows that I believe also anger God when we serve on mission.

When our mission is all about us.

You’ve arrived on site and are ready for the specific task for which you and your team spent weeks preparing.  Within minutes of arriving, your host receiver informs you that circumstances and your mission have changed.

A challenge now exists.  Will you set aside your agenda and joyfully serve in the way your host receiver now needs, or will your group stubbornly hold on to their goals and what they hoped to achieve?

A couple of years ago I had a team serving with us in Oaxaca, Mexico.  We had planned to stay in one village and work on a specific project.  Unfortunately, days before the groups’ arrival, the leaders of the local village passed a law banning outsiders from staying overnight.  The new law was clearly aimed at our planned evangelical work.

As I explained this to the team leader, he looked me and said, “Dave, we are here to serve.  Use us as you need, it’s not about us.”

What a blessing it was for me to know that this leader, and his group were willing to set aside their agenda for the needs of the field.

I believe if we saw more of that attitude from short-term participants, we would see a real desire by more long-term missionaries to work together for His Kingdom.

Zeal without knowledge.

Easy, relatively cheap air travel has made it possible for those with means to get on a plane in the morning and land later that afternoon half way around the world.  This reality has led to countless problems in overseas mission work.

What we are seeing on the field are groups combining their passion to serve with their abilities and resources, and getting on a plane without a plan and very little training.

It is as if many teams have adopted a strategy that since God can use cracked pots, there is no need to try to make those pots water tight.

I do not believe God is blessed when we arrive on field devoid of any real preparation and training, even though our intentions are good.

When teams and individuals receive training that goes beyond just receiving the details of their upcoming mission, they are better able to serve and thrive in the rigors of cross-cultural mission work.

A focus on what, as opposed to who.

Americans can be very project oriented. While this is a great asset to have on mission, it can quickly become a liability if it gets in the way of building Kingdom based relationships.

Remember that all mission needs to be about sharing a relationship with Jesus.  It does not really matter if the building gets finished or the cement floor poured on our schedule.

We must never lose sight of the fact that while the projects we complete might look great, only relationships built on a foundation of Jesus Christ are eternal.

So there you have it.  Four things I believe God hates about short-term mission.

The good news is that while each of these can deal a destructive blow to successful mission, with just a little work, we can turn each of these liabilities into some real victories for God!

This article was originally published by Delta Ministries in The Hub, a gathering for STM articles, resources and opportunities.  Check them out, your mission will be better for it!

©dave miller... adventures in life ministry

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Cultural Preparedness... One of the Keys to Successful Mission

Few things make mission more work than a lack of cultural preparation.

That is even truer in short-term mission where you do not have the benefit of time to repair the damage that you may do by being culturally unaware.

Oftentimes what we as visitors see as a harmless activity can be seen by locals as offensive. Let me give you an example.

Years ago I was serving in the small village of Santa Rosa, just north of Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico.

Our project during the visit was to get the first coat of stucco on a church that we had finished a few weeks earlier.

Our group worked hard to get the paper and then the wire all nailed, stapled, and ready for the mezcla. Soon students were busy putting the cement on the walls to make sure this church was going to be safe from the elements.

Now one of the things you have to know is that you always need at least two coats of stucco. And after each coat, you need to make sure that you “scratch” it so that the next coat can adhere better.

Normally, you will use a special tool like the one pictured here and afterwards your building will look something like this one is starting to look like between coats.

When we got done, the entire building was ready for the next coat but it was also completely covered with verses from the bible in both Spanish and English. Sometimes that happens when you are working with a group of 20 high school students.

It took the locals almost two years to tell me that we had made a big mistake during that trip. Our drawings and verses, which we had thought were just innocent fun, had been seen as mocking not only to the people of Santa Rosa, but also to God and His house!

If I had been a little more culturally prepared beforehand, we probably would not have made that error.

So with that in mind, I’d like to share a few resources that I believe will help you, your team, and your church be better prepared when you serve cross culturally, whether that is overseas, or even right in your own neighborhood in our increasingly multicultural and diverse country.

“From Foreign to Familiar” by Sarah Lanier – This little book will be a God send. Ever wondered why some cultures do things differently than you? Read this book and learn why. Often times, just knowing why things are the way they are, is half the battle!

“Culture Shock” – I have the Mexico edition, [pictured above] but this book exists for almost every country. If you want to understand the cultural clues and know why people where you are headed refuse to shake your hand, or do not cross their legs in meetings, this book is indispensable.

“Short-Term Mission Workbook” by Tim Dearborn – I have used this book for years and if you have served with me, you have been the recipient of some of the lessons it contains. The “Eight Great Questions” for effective debriefing come from this book.

“Serving With Eyes Wide Open” by Dr. David Livermore – Livermore is tough on the STM crowd with this book, but fair and his examples ring true. This is one of the most important books I have ever read on STM.

Finally, let me recommend one other resource to make sure is in your bag when you go… a Culture Gram. These little five page missives give an incredibly concise picture of where ever you are headed. At a cost of only $4.00, anyone serving without having read one of these is almost guilty of malpractice.

So there you have it. Five great resources that will help you avoid some of the cultural gaffes that are possible when you serve overseas, or in other cultures!