This is part two of this article. Click here to read part one.
7. Be flexible and put your control-freak, alter ego aside for a week.
It’s going to be tough traveling to a developing country. Let the missionary set the schedule. Make sure the schedule is planned out well in advance of your arrival so everyone is on the same page. This will help the missionary plan and prepare, and hopefully, there will be fewer surprises. If the missionary can’t get things organized ahead of time, you may want to reconsider the trip. But do realize that many things will not go according to schedule or plan, and whining and complaining won’t change anything.
Most other cultures move a lot slower than America. The missionary you came to serve has probably been running around for the previous weeks just trying to get your accommodations, transportation, and appointments pre-arranged in a land where time is not so rigid, so give them a break.
Your plans and desires may not be accomplished. Get over it, and see what God’s plan is. You might not hold lots of babies or save a child soldier. You might not have running water or electricity or regular meals. You might have to stand in church for four hours praying for people and sweating and wishing you’d brought a bottle of water. These things happen. Anything can be endured for a short time, so buck up, and try not to complain. Or worse, try not to take over. You’re not in charge this time, whether you’re a pastor or the pope himself, you should follow the lead of the missionary on the ground.
Some missionaries have been completely railroaded by their visitors and have spent the entire time trying to please them and make them happy instead of focusing on their very important work. Don’t be one of those people!
8. Be generous with your time, your talents, and your patience (not your cash).
In a short time, you can unintentionally create unhealthy patterns of dependency or even resentment. You can do more harm to the missionary’s ministry than good. This issue can include: having the “white saviour” complex that places everyone else as a victim to be rescued; the belittling of leaders in developing nations; the handing out of candy, cash, or soccer balls out of pity; and the giving out of resources (computers, phones, etc.) without accountability. Some national pastors cringe when they see Americans coming because the people in the village “know” that the pastor is getting material things and support from these visitors. The villagers come to the pastor and demand their portion. Many times it takes him months to win back the confidence of the people.
You should not give money to anyone other than the missionary you have built a trusted relationship with who has an accountability system in place. That means, you do not direct where those funds go, but trust them to attribute the funds to the areas of most need. If you do not have a trusted relationship with accountability, then do not give money, period.
Well-meaning people have destroyed locals with handouts. Good-hearted Westerners have been taken for a ride, only to lose a lot of money on an “orphanage” that was never built. The nationals may email and ask for a Bible, which seems good and spiritual. However, you don’t see the stack they have made from the hundreds of other emails sent out and the business they have set up in the market selling Bibles. The local who needs support to help orphans also seems good, but this man may be living like a king while the extent of his service to orphans is going to their schools and giving them a pencil. Trust your missionary for guidance with requests like these.
Dependency is defined as “anything you regularly do for someone that they can do for themselves.” That is unhealthy and detrimental to permanent relationships and ministry. Our purpose as missionaries is to make them independent of the missionary and indigenous.
9. Be compassionate, and kind, but don’t be led by needs. Be led by the Holy Spirit.
It is not your responsibility or the missionary’s responsibility to meet all the needs of every single person. Jesus didn’t do it, and we shouldn’t try to either. You also shouldn’t expect the missionary you are visiting to be able to fulfill every need of their national people. Focusing on one’s vision and ultimate purpose is the most difficult, but most essential thing to maintain on the mission field where there are so many needs surrounding you. Effective ministries have clear focus, and they stick to it.
Your emotions will be stirred up, but during your visit, try to decipher between your heart strings and God’s actual voice, and be obedient. Always check with your pastor or the missionary to see what is appropriate.
Don’t try to “adopt” a kid or hand out your address to “sponsor” someone. Do not give your email address to anyone without the missionary’s permission. Let the nationals know that if they need to contact you, they can do it through the missionary. The first few letters will be nice, but then you will start getting a shopping list, and they definitely know how to pull the heart strings. If it is legitimate, let the missionary pass it on. Don’t make promises you can’t keep, and don’t put the missionary in the place where he has to pick up your mess or try to fulfill your broken promises. The reality is that in a few days or weeks you will go back to your normal life and most likely forget about the promises you made, or the people you met, while that missionary will still be there day-in and day-out with them. Make sure you check everything with your pastor and the missionary.
Remember that success is not defined by numbers, or even outcomes, but by whether or not you’ve been obedient to what the Father asked you to do.
10. Follow through.
Ideally, you should have a plan in place before you go of how your impact will help the missionary long-term. Most people don’t. So think about how you can make this trip actually change your life, not for five minutes, but for a lifetime.
Also, spend time discussing with the missionary, while you are there, things that would be helpful for you to do if you decide to return long-term.
The biggest impact you might have may very well be after you leave when you can be an advocate for their cause.
- Fundraise for them. (Run a 5k and give them the proceeds.)
- Film and edit an artistic video or photo collage they can use in support-raising.
- Speak with your church/friends about them—begin an intentional dialogue about missionary care.
- Sponsor the missionary monthly through your church—stay in touch with them and offer support from a distance.
- Volunteer from home (website design, grant writing, etc.).
- Send gifts for the missionaries and their kids or needed items (especially around the holidays or birthdays).
- Stay updated on when they will go on furlough and offer your home, your car, your babysitting skills. Talk to your church about them speaking (most missionaries are usually broke—find fun ways to bless them).
Will you be an Epaphroditus—a brother, a companion in labour, and a fellow soldier for the missionaries?
This article was adapted by permission from a blog by Sarita Hartz: www.saritahartz.com/10-steps-for-doing-short-term-missions-trips-well/