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.


Unknown said...

That's one of the things I really love about serving with AIL. Knowing that this is the primary focus of your Ministry, I get it that what we do will really have an impact for those we serve because you have done the groundwork on what's really needed. May God continue blessing AIL and your efforts Dave.

Dave Miller said...

Gracias Denny!