2 SHORT PROVERBS & PRAYERS
TO KEEP YOUR MISSION TRIP ABOUT JESUS
I don't know about you, but sometimes proverbs like “pride goeth before a fall” hit far too close to home.
I’ve been biting my nails about this post here. It is a joy to flesh out mission matters, and it is even fun to laugh and learn at mission mishaps. I support short-term mission trips, or I wouldn’t be writing this blog post (OR the book!). I have done much mission trip research (on and off the mission field), explored and experienced why mission trips are bad, why mission trips can be good or useful, and why mission trips are needed at all.
There are times when these trips can become a bane to other missionaries and not a joy. Really, really. Sometimes there exist short-termers would have made just as much a difference if they’d, ahem, stayed in their own homes. Not you, of course. No way!
Yet ... if you are about to embark upon a mission trip, these are the issues I find troublesome, yet necessary, to approach with you ... only just in case. Just for a moment, let's look at why mission trips can be problematic. You'll see why ... and you'll probably think of a few examples as you read!!
But first, how many proverbs or adages can YOU think of off the top of your head? There are many mutterings of these phrases, uttered by the wise, the ancient, and sometimes your mother. Here are just a few.
- “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”
- “Love is blind.”
- “All roads lead to Rome.”
- “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”
- “Look before you leap.”
- “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”
I'll bet you can think of many more! Some make you laugh while others slap you in the face, right? Okay, so here is a story about a mission group who started OFF the right way, and then ... and then ... oh boy, right? I am so glad YOU feel God placed this trip and this mission on your heart to the point that you would pack your suitcase weeks in advance. So, please read ahead. Continue these silly proverbs, any examples and challenges, with an open mind, a ready heart, the desire not to be another mission trip statistic, and a willingness to say,“Wow, this sure ain’t gonna be me!”
"First pride, then the crash—
the bigger the ego, the harder the fall."
Proverbs 16:18, The Message
Of course, there are significant benefits to short-term missions, and there are even some mission projects that cannot thrive without them. But, as with any positive effort, there are also challenging realities. Get ready for the big one:
All (yes, all) long-term missionaries I interviewed about the missions book related this to me. There are so many reasons why mission trips are good and often why mission trips are NEEDED. But these long-termers ALL said that majority of mission teams do NOT spend an adequate amount of time in training about the culture, learning the spiritual climate of a nation, or preparing themselves spiritually for the challenges ahead.
Ouch. Uh-oh! Okay then, I believe this is an excellent time to introduce two missionary proverbs. (More coming!)
SHORT-TERM MISSIONARY PROVERB #1:
“Know thyself ... else thou wilt snow thyself.”
Avoid the Mighty Mouse Mentality
“Here I come to save the da-a-a-a-a-a-ay!” It was the character Mighty Mouse’s outburst as he pierced through the sky. And, sometimes, we proclaim it by our attitude. Yes, it is easy to assume that because we may come from the “land of plenty” that the indigenous people of our target mission are hanging on for dear life until we arrive. But we must also remember that Messiah is not our last name.
As mentioned previously, it does not do anyone any long-term good when you pile on them your riches. Sometimes it can have a negative effect and generate an expectation that you do not want to foster. Even so, if you are not going on a humanitarian trip, don’t forget that you are there to support a long-term effort, not ride in on your white horse and baptize a whole city or get them all to recite a prayer. If that is true, then heroism is driving your trip, not Jesus.
Numbers are only relatively significant. Truly converted souls are the prime directive. Build relationships. They will teach others. Don’t assume you are their only hope. You are a temporary vessel, and He may be using you for “such a time as this," but if God wants His work done, He will do it, with or without you. Trust Him in that.
MISSIONARY PROVERB #1 PRAYER:
Lord, help me to focus on what is truly the mission, letting other people know YOU. If I'm holding a child's hand, helping the sick, feeding a family, or weilding a shovel to cement a floor remind me that this is not the good that I do, it is you within me and I pray that I make this evident in my walk, words, and attitude.
SHORT-TERM MISSIONARY PROVERB #2:
“All roads lead to Rome….which makes it
kinda hard to go anywhere else!”
Steer Clear of a North American Superiority Complex
Another guy (I laugh sadly every time I think of this) waltzed into an ice cream shop in Cozumel, went behind their counter, went straight to their phone, and picked up the receiver to make a call without asking! That is not even just a cultural issue – it’s just rude, right? We can’t assume that just because we are North Americans people are going to let us do anything we want.
One short-termer, a member from a supporting congregation, spontaneously called a meeting of the church leaders to tell them he had figured out what they were doing wrong in the three days he was there! Imagine his reception. More than likely they were thinking, “And you are….?”
MISSIONARY PROVERB #2 PRAYER:
Lord, help me to remember that I do not have all the answers, YOU do. Let me be a friend to my fellow man by not assuming I am superior because of my culture. I am NOT superior. I am a SERVANT here. Help me to listen, help me to listen, help me to LISTEN.
The simple lesson we all can learn here is that we need to "get over ourselves." We can listen to people, learn about them, and humbly walk with them instead of objectifying them or treating them as our pets. If we chose to walk into the mission field with the latter attitude, we want to live a lifestyle outside of the spirit and character of Jesus. He was a great listener, learner, and companion. And, um – He was God! If anyone had a right to a superiority complex, it's Him. ;-)
When you ask God to guide your trip, you will not just recognize the miracles He is doing on your seven-day journey to pass out Bibles in China (or wherever He has lead you!), but you will recognize the miracle next door, a kid who has said no to drugs and yes to education. Maybe you will join in by offering to tutor him on Saturdays. Regardless of how you choose to serve Him, by having that attitude, you WILL "be a miracle."
And perhaps, in your short-term mission trip of 2020, pride will not be an issue, and a "fall" will never ensue.
A SHORT-TERM MISSION TRIP MOMENT FOR YOU TO CONSIDER
"How can we help you? What do you need?" A group of North American missionaries associated with a big mission organization came to visit an indigenous tribe in Nigeria; they asked them these same questions. However, the answer was, "We need nothing. We're fine." Assuming the tribal leaders probably didn't know what they needed, the mission group pressed the question, asking them to think hard about something, anything they could do for the people. Finally, one of the leaders came to the group with an answer. "We don't need that building over there. It is not useful. Could you tear it down for us?"
Feeling like they had hit the jackpot, the North Americans worked diligently to help the tribe get this building out of the way, thinking maybe they needed the land for crops or something. Nearing the end of the project, one of the group members finally asked, "What were you using this building for in the first place?" "I don't know," shrugged the patriarch of the tribe, "Some North American group came in and thought we needed a building. So, they built a building."*
* Nagai, Ayumi. Interview, 2001. Country changed to deter severe embarrassment from the guilty ... just in case. ;-)