Sunday, April 21, 2013

Listening to Local Leadership... a step too often ignored in US short-term mission...

“Listen, and trust us!”

That’s it.  Four little words.  Four little words that, when taken in context, explain all that is wrong with Christian missions work around the globe and especially in Mexico.

I was recently in Ensenada to help a group in their continuing relationship with a local pastor and congregation.  As part of our ministry, we have been helping this pastor expand his small house for his growing family.

Wiring rebar castles in Ensenada
The next step was to make what we call rebar castles, wire them in place, set forms and pour concrete around them.  It is hard work, it tears up your hands and there is a way to do it in an area that has few resources available.

Now if we were doing this kind of work in the US, we would always use new lumber perfectly cut for the project.  In Mexico however, we use old wood and try to make it work without cutting it.  Frequently it is borrowed from someone else.

The pastor with whom we were working, Martin, had asked another pastor friend to come and help us out.  He and I hit it off instantly as we have both worked with a lot of groups and churches from both sides of the border.

I loved when he was watching me on the scaffold wiring the forms and he asked Martin how I knew how to do this work like a Mexican.  We talked and worked at a level most people never reach cross culturally because he knew, from watching me and from what Martin told him, that I was not your typical short-term kind of guy.

As the day moved on, I decided to ask him the $64,000 question; “Pastor Jose, what is the one thing you want to say to American groups serving short-term here in Mexico?”  Was he nervous.  So nervous that he came back at me with a question of his own... “Do you really want to know?”

“Of course I do" I answered and Martin assured him he could be honest with me.

And that’s when he answered me... “Listen and trust us!”

He talked about the incredibly big hearts of the American people.  He spoke of people having homes, food on their table and a saving knowledge of Jesus as a result of those big hearts expressed through short-term mission teams from the US.

But he also talked about Americans being taken advantage of unwittingly.  He spoke of gifts given in good conscience being sold once the giver was out of site.  He spoke of piles of clothing given to people that were wasting the blessing they received.

And in all of this, Pastor Jose spoke about how, if the American groups would have listened to local leadership, it all could have been prevented.

Listen, and trust us!

So often, for Americans serving in other places, that is hard for us.  I had to work really hard on this when we started Adventures in Life.  I still have to work hard at it.  This idea of trusting others does not come easy, but the benefits of doing so, far outweigh the difficulties.

Pastors Martin and Jose of Ensenada
Listening and trust are both at the heart of what the framers of the US Standards of Excellence in Short-term Mission [SOE] expect when we serve overseas on mission. As  missionaries, we are to establish healthy, interdependent, on-going relationships between sending and receiving partners, focusing primarily on those we serve.

The role that trust plays in effective mission cannot be overstated.  It is that trust that gives people the freedom to be open and honest.  Trust is what gives people the confidence to share things, even if it may be perceived as difficult, or hurtful.

Years ago I received a letter from a partner who was brutally with me.  A lot of his words hurt and were very difficult to digest.  I though this guy was my friend, and yet here he was criticizing things at the heart of my ministry.

I still have that letter handy in my office.  For two reasons.  First, because he was right.  Second, because he cared enough about me and Adventures in Life Ministry to say something.  We had worked together a number of years, had built a relationship and trusted each other.  If he was telling me I had an issue, I had better listen.  That type of honesty only comes when there is real trust between ministry partners who are looking out for each other.

Every year US churches send thousands of people around the globe to serve, trusting those to whom we send our people and teams to care for and lead them in mission.  Let’s remember that in doing so, we also must listen.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Short-Term Mission, Relationships and the Gospel...

Dave and Becca trying to stay warm one night in 2006

It was early in 1998, fifteen years ago this spring when I received the news.

One of the “kids” from a church that had served with Adventures in Life Ministry in Ensenada was going to come and serve with us for the summer.

Her name was Becca Freitag and she had just turned 18 years old.

Who would have known back then that this girl who had grown up in rural Burns, Oregon would one day be in charge of facilitating our short-term ministry teams in Mexico?

There are a lot of things to remember about that first year serving with Becca, but two specific events stand out in my mind.

One was when she said goodbye to her dad Gary as he was dropping her off in Ensenada.  As he was getting ready to go, he started to cry at the idea of leaving his daughter behind in a foreign country.

The love that Gary had for his little girl was so obvious that day.  For me, it is a strong reminder of the love God has for us, as his children.  It also said to me that as her leader for the summer, I not only had a responsibility to her, but to her dad to keep her safe.

While I am aware that ultimately God has all in his hands, I feel that responsibility every year as moms and dads send their kids to serve with Adventures in Life.  

The second event that stands out was the day we were served some totally yucky dehydrated fish ball soup in Guadalajara

Becca hates fish.  Always has, and always will... and this soup was pretty fishy.  But I have to give Becca her props.  She gritted her teeth and ate that soup along with the rest of us.

Did she like it? Of course not.  Did she eat it?  Of course she did.  Why? Because before Becca ever arrived in Mexico, before she ever thought about going on a short-term mission trip, the disciples ate what was put in front of them.  Just as Jesus told them to do when they were sent out.  Check it out, it’s in Luke 10.

I remember this because the fact that Becca hated fish was not important.  What was important was that she was honoring her hosts by making the decision to eat something she detested.  

What an example of a missionary heart.

That day Becca was living out a practical servanthood by not insisting on having something to eat that she might like more.  I was impressed.  It impresses me more every time I think about it because today, we really struggle to get short-term people to remember that ministry is not about them.  It’s about others and a relationship with Jesus.

While she did not always like it, Becca understood that.

That 18 year old girl continued to serve with me and Adventures in Life Ministry for the next 13 years, helping people from both countries grow in the relationships with each other, but more importantly Jesus.

Literally hundreds of people served under Becca’s direction and thousands of kids across Mexico have heard the Gospel message as a result of her longtime ministry with us.

Becca is now married and living in Hawai’i.  She is not able to participate these days as she is busy as a wife and mother.  But the impact of her ministry will always be there.  

There are still people coming to know Jesus because Becca, with her servant’s heart, came to Mexico years ago, built relationships and stayed.

That’s what effective short-term mission can do.

Bex, Dios le bendiga mucho!

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

A New Resource from Jesus is the Answer Short-Term Missions!

Dear Fellow Kingdom-Builder,

We invite you to check out our new resource for missionaries and missions sending organizations...!  This is the first and only mission trip review website of its kind!

This new site is designed to be the go-to ratings hub for anyone seeking honest and reliable reviews about mission trips from the short-term missionaries point of view.  

That right, why bother to worry about what the in-country missionary hosts need, or even think!  After all aren’t most short-term mission trips about you and what God can do for you and your church?

It’s a known fact that the short-term mission industry is growing by leaps and bounds as the economy improves and people desire extreme faith experiences.  So why leave this important step in your faith journey to chance? 

At you can read reviews from people just like you and then make your decision as to whether or not you want to partner with a particular host missionary or group.

Think of it as Rate My Professor, but from a missions perspective.

Hear what some of the reviewers have had to say about recent trips.

I was able to share with poor people and my agency didn’t make me stay overnight with them.  One day I even got to eat a meal with them.  But the food was awful.  Other than that, I was blessed!
Gina J., First Church of Cabezon, CA

My mission ministry was in the toilet until I found The reviews really helped me decide where the cheapest mission trips could be found without ever picking up a telephone.
Pastor Rich T., Kohler Baptist Church, Homeville TN

I am glad I got this chance to serve in Uganda.  I was told that poor people need us rich people so they know what to aspire to.  I was glad to be an example of what God wants poor people to look up to.
Susan R., Church of the Willows, Bullhead City, AZ 

I felt everything went well, I would go back.
Rick J., Stone City Church, WV

I did not get sick from the water nor did any of our kids.  Also, with this ministry, I saved tons of time preparing.  Praise Jesus!
Pastor Dave T., Church of Our God, Beulah, GA

See what we mean?  

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[Yes it is snarky and satirical, but sadly, based in reality.  E-mail me for more info]