Missionaries Are Messed Up

summer-sunshine-alcohol-drinkI recently sent a small, short-term mission team to visit another ministry. This other ministry does some incredible work and is lead by a profoundly inspiring man. The group spent a full day experiencing the ministry, listening to the stories of what goes on and saw how God is moving. They were impressed and impacted. They were also surprised that the leader of the ministry was wearing a Call of Duty T-shirt. “Missionaries don’t play Call of Duty.” Mmmm, maybe a little…

I love the line “Missionaries are normal people who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances.” This is so accurate. Some people think missionaries are somehow more spiritual or together than most. We really aren’t. I hang-out with a LOT of missionaries and let me tell you, we have some issues. Below are a couple of examples that might surprise a few people.

We like to have a beer now and then. (three baptists just passed out reading this). I’m not saying missionaries sit around and get drunk, but a nice IPA between friends, when not out in public, is good now and then.

We use dark humor to cope. “Why is it always better to date and marry adult orphans? No in-laws.” We deal with some of the worst issues in society: abandoned children, sex trafficking, things most people do not want to think about. It’s common for people working in emergency rooms, people in law enforcement, or anyone who works in life and death every day to use dark humor. It’s weird and disturbing, but it does help people to survive and cope. (I can’t write some of the jokes here, fairly offensive, use your imagination)

We worry about money more than we should. About twenty-five years ago, when my wife and I started in missions, we had a company that was fully supporting us. It worked for about three years and then the company went bankrupt. Scared the cr-p out of me. I know, I’m supposed to trust 100% in God and talk about how He will provide, but when you have your one source of support suddenly end, it tends to “stretch your faith.” I do know God will provide (He has) but when you’re not sure where your next meal is coming from it can be complicated. Recently a group of missionaries were hanging out in my office, and someone asked “How much can I get for a kidney on the black market? (they were kidding, but somebody helpfully Googled it for them) Fundraising is a much bigger part of missions work than most people will tell you.

We watch/read/listen to the same stuff you do. A leader on our team uses his spare time to attend Comic-con every year and he loves superhero movies. I recently binge-watched Breaking Bad again. At any given time I would say the music my staff listens to is 50/50 Christian or secular. We have an informal staff meeting over coffee every morning, and you’d be amazed (or shocked) to be a fly on the wall. Sometimes after an exceptional odd meeting, I joke with my team “Other missions teams talk about favorite Bible verses or devotional themes, if people only knew about our conversations…”

I know of one ministry in our area that has a PERFECT social media presence; all photos of prayer and service and well-lit images of their leaders speaking in front of churches. They give a very polished, clean, holy presentation to everyone who visits their ministry. I kind of struggle with it. While doing some great work, I know them, and I know they have their share of flaws and fears. You would never know it by the way they present themselves. I think more people would join them in their work if they were a little more approachable, a little more transparent, a little more real.

George Müller was a Christian evangelist and the director of the Ashley Down orphanage in Bristol, England during the 1800s. He’s a missionary and orphan care hero and legend. Maybe I’m cynical, but along with the truly incredible work he did I have a feeling George had his bad days. He probably did worry about money now and then, got mad at his dog, felt like punching someone occasionally. That doesn’t diminish the great work that was done; it just makes him human.

The point of this is not to bash missionaries or shock anyone. The point I want to make very clear is that God uses regular people. I hear from people all the time that they’re not ready to serve; they’ll serve when they’re good enough, when they have enough support, when they’ve paid off their student loans. Here is some news: you’ll never be good enough, you’ll never have enough support, go anyway. If we’re waiting for the “perfect” time or circumstances to step out and serve God it will never happen. God does not use perfect people. God uses the broken. God uses the available. If we wait until we get our act together, we will be dead and in a box before we do anything.

Go serve someone; you’re more ready than you think you are.

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Tips On Short-term Missions: Don’t Screw it Up

pexels-photo-672358A while back, a friend from another ministry asked me to give a reference for someone who had been serving long-term at our orphanage. He asked me two questions: Is this person flexible? Is this person teachable? That was all they wanted to know. I thought those questions were brilliant, as long as the person was flexible and teachable, they could work with them. This is good to think about in short-term missions, and in life.

Here are a few fairly random tips for short-term mission teams. It could be longer, but this is a place to start.:

Be Flexible:    Most Americans like to have a plan, they want to know what’s going to happen and when. This is fine when you can control all the variables, but very few situations of life allow us to be in control. When traveling internationally, and in the missions field, flexibility is critical. Flights get delayed, passports get lost, people get sick, standard travel issues occur. Most developing countries have their own unique challenges. Electricity might only work for a few hours a day or go out randomly. Water that we take for granted in the US might be shut off for hours or days at a time due to maintenance or other issues. Stuff happens. Even if the travel, housing, and utilities all line-up, your host might run into unforeseen circumstances. Medical emergencies, staffing problems, broken vehicles, or other surprise issues are the norm with most ministries. Maybe you’re all set to build a house, but a bigger need arises, and you’ll be asked to shift your project. Maybe you were planning on your team sharing at a church service, but the pastor had other plans. As individuals, and as a group, you need to be flexible, or you’re going to experience an incredible amount of frustration. It’s better just to flow with it, be positive, and make the best of whatever circumstances you find yourself in. Unforeseen events are going to happen, roll with it.

Be Low Maintenance:   We have an in-house joke at our orphanage: “All mission groups bring joy, some when they arrive, some when they leave.” Most of the groups we host are fantastic. They come in self-contained, they know what they’re doing, and they have a great, flexible attitude. To be honest, some mission groups we dread. They need to be hosted, cared for, coddled, and they treat our team like their personal servants. We’ve had groups ask if we could have ice delivered to their cabins. I had one group get bothered that we didn’t have Keurig pods for the coffee maker they brought with them. One group that was working offsite at other ministries (which we encourage) wanted one of my staff with them at all times. Some people just don’t get it. Once again, most groups we love. Some take a little more grace.

Be Teachable:   Being teachable comes down to just being humble. Everybody thinks they’re humble, even when they’re showing an astounding amount of pride. American mission teams have a long history of coming in with the attitude that they are here to save the world. Yes, teams bring in resources and manpower, but it’s important to remember that you’re partnering with people who live in the culture, and have probably been in ministry for many years. Take time to listen to whoever is hosting your missions team. No, seriously, slow down and actually listen to the people you encounter. There are so many fascinating, inspiring people serving in the missions field who want to see lives changed. Here is something most people don’t realize: For most missionaries, they see YOU as a missions field. They want you to experience God in new and incredible ways, and for you to grow in your faith. Listen to them; they know what they’re talking about.

Be Culturally Sensitive and Respectful:   Not everyone in the world sees America, and American cultural norms, as the best. Please be aware of this. I know this sounds obvious but how we dress, the language we use, the attitudes we present are the biggest part of our witness. With every action, you’re representing not only the church; you’re representing the ministry you’re serving. It might be a dress that’s a little (or a lot) too short or an inappropriate shirt. It might be acting like the “loud American” in a local restaurant. It might be acting overly picky or turning up your nose at the local cuisine. Unless you have actual allergies, eat whatever is placed in front of you. It comes down to respecting the local people and culture. Sometimes it’s just common sense: The local police chief in our town has my number and will call if the visiting American teams are out of control or doing donuts in rental vans in a field somewhere (yes, it happens). Respect the culture, respect the people, respect the community. You are representing Christ. Walk accordingly. Side note on being culturally sensitive: leave the cameras at home, or at least ask permission before you take someone’s picture. “Do unto others…”

If I come across as snarky or negative, please don’t read it that way. Most groups we host are wonderful to work with and have great attitudes. I’m a deep advocate of short-term missions and their ability to change the lives of all involved. My hope is that people go into the mission’s field well prepared, with their eyes and hearts wide open to experience what God has laid out for them. Go on a trip; it can change your life.

Please share with your missions pastor or on Facebook.

Being Present Changes Lives

restaurant-hands-people-coffeeThe best way to help anyone is to be present in their life. In missions, often our American mentality is that we have to build something, we have to paint something, we need to bring something tangible. Tangible projects and supplies are greatly needed, and they do help, but people are crying out for connection.

People in missions (and in life) need others who will listen, people who will encourage, people who bring dignity to lives. Too often, the people on the receiving end of missions are seen as the “target” of the mission, as opposed to real people who have lives, opinions, and their own walk with God. Maybe, all they need is a loving, compassionate ear. Someone to see them as an equal. Maybe they have something powerful they can share with us if we listen.

Not that long ago, I had a young US pastor in my office while his group was working with the kids in our orphanage. I asked him how he was doing, and he gave me a standard, polite, canned answer. I then asked him again. “NO, HOW-ARE-YOU-REALLY-DOING?” I explained: “I know being the leader can be a lonely, hard experience. I want to know how you’re doing.” His eyes got incredibly wide, and then a little watery. He began to pour out his heart about the pain and loneliness he was feeling, that he felt had no one he could talk to. He shared how hard the last two years of ministry had been on his marriage. The floodgates opened, and I believe it was deeply healing for him. I am not that bright, I don’t give wise counsel, but I was just available and willing to listen. It had been a very long time since this pastor had anyone really listen to him.

To be present in someone’s life takes some effort, but being present is what ultimately changes people’s lives. People remember an emotional connection long after any store-bought gift is long forgotten.

Several years ago, I had just started meeting with a small ministry in Southern California about a ministry partnership. We had met a few times and it was just the start of a relationship, we really didn’t know each other that well. About that time, my father-in-law passed away, and I needed to cancel a meeting with them to attend the graveside service. Halfway through the service, I noticed a gentleman standing a little to the side. One of the leaders of this ministry took the time to drive about an hour to the cemetery, just to be present and see if we needed anything. I was blown away. Who does that? From that point on I was drawn to that ministry and wanted to be part of it.

Often, in short-term missions, and in ministry in general, too many people focus on what they have to give. “I need to give them this message, I need to counsel them, I need to fix this for them.” Sure, people can use help, and it’s good to share the gospel with anyone, but people will be way more receptive if they know you care about them as more than a target for ministry. When you go on a mission trip, it’s good to really spend time with people, to get to know them as individuals with their own rich lives. We all need to see others as people, not projects.

A good friend of mine recently shared this story: “I was discussing the cost of a trip to Cuba with a man of means who considers himself an accomplished missionary. He said it was a waste of money to spend what it costs for transportation, food, and lodging for someplace as close as Cuba, and we’d be better stewards just sending cash. We went anyway. I was given the opportunity to travel to places that haven’t seen an American since the 1950’s, preaching every night for over two weeks in small house churches. The last night, we were in a place that had abandoned American factories rusting all over the village. The pastor came to me in tears and thanked me for coming. He said we were the first Americans to EVER care enough for him to come and share with him and his church. Had we just sent money, he would still not believe that we cared for him. I would have missed out on meeting an incredible man of God.”

If you look at the three stories shared, the pastor in my office, the visit to the cemetery, and my friend’s trip to Cuba, they all have one thing in common. Each story was just people taking the focus off their own goals and agendas and listening. Listening is a lost art. With all the noise and distraction in our world today, taking the time to really listen to others is very rare.

Jesus gives us the perfect example. Before He shared His critical message, He almost always asked about the person in front of Him. “What do you seek?” When He noticed Zacchaeus in the tree, Jesus asked to stay in his house. He wanted to spend time with him. Jesus was (and is) all about making personal connections. He’s never seen anyone as only a project; He sees each of us as individuals through eyes of pure grace. He is available to us. We need to do the same with those we encounter. It’s a good model for missions, and life.

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Orphan Care is a Short-Term Gig

pexels-photo-167300When caring for children at risk, children who are abandoned or orphaned, it’s important to realize it’s just for a season. You need to know that, for many reasons, children you’re caring for are going to leave. We need to be ready for it, and we need to help them be ready for it.

Frequently children leave your care to go into questionable situations, and it will rip your heart out. Sometimes we initiate the change; usually it’s outside influences. Sometime they will head into great situations, some not so great. As people who are called to serve children, we need to realize the time we have with the children in our care is frequently shorter than it should be, and that time is precious. “Normal” parents have at least eighteen years to speak into a child’s life; we don’t have that luxury. The short time we have with these children will impact them the rest of their lives.

I have been in orphan care for almost 25 years. I still remember my first year, when the team here decided that we needed to kick a teen boy, Raul, out of the orphanage. Think about that for a minute: a child who’s already been abandoned, we were going to remove from what I thought we were building as the last refuge. This teen boy had become so rebellious, and such a danger to the other children and staff, that we needed to remove him from our home. We tried every form of discipline and professional counseling we could, but nothing broke through. His tearful pleading for “one last chance” as he was being taken away to a smaller, stricter orphanage will be burned into my memory forever. His departure tore me up for weeks.

About five years ago a 15-year-old girl, Maria, who had been in our care for several years was returned to her mother. We didn’t feel great about it, nor did Maria, but we didn’t have a say in the matter. All we could do was watch her leave and hope and pray that the social worker made the right decision.

Recently, two wonderful young girls were returned by our government social worker to their parents. We did not believe for a moment this was a good thing. For a number of reasons we did not feel this was the right decision, but the social workers had completed home visits and felt it was right to return these girls to their family. The girls had shared with us the horrible treatment they had received in their home and when the parents visited we could see it was just an unhealthy situation. It was VERY frustrating, and several of our staff were very upset, but you can only do what you can do.

It can be a long hard battle as we fight for what’s best for a child. Ask anyone who works in foster care about the frustrations experienced as children are moved around and often placed back with unstable or questionable family. Don’t get me wrong, when it’s a healthy situation I am 100% in favor of the family reunification. But frequently these are Solomon like decisions made by well-meaning but fallible people. When the decision is right it’s great; when the decision is wrong, it places children in harm’s way.

All we can do is plant the seeds, pray over our children, and hope for the best. Whether it’s our biological children that get married and move on when they become adults, or a temporary care situation and the child leaves us when they are much younger, their future is not in our control. All we can do is give them tools they will need to make healthy decisions. We need to show them how to handle the incredible challenges that life will place in their paths. They, like us, are in God’s hands.

About ten years after we “kicked Raul out,” he dropped by for a visit. We had lost track of him and assumed we would never see him again. But, the time he spent with us had a deep and positive impact on his life. He came back with his wife and two children to show them where he had spent several years and to introduce us. We had a long talk, and he shared that he now understands why he needed to be moved. He also now felt it was the best decision we could have made for his life. It was hard, but it was a wake-up call for him. It turned his life around, and he was now doing well with a family of his own.

A few weeks ago Maria got in contact with us, and we went out to lunch. We were right about her mom. Maria’s mother ignored her, never put her in school, and spent most of her time drinking and partying. After several months with mom Maria went with dad, who was no better. But, Maria remembered what she had been taught. She is now on her own, doing well, active in a church, and is planning her wedding. The seeds we planted took root.

There is a point to this rambling blog. What we do in child care, while we can, matters more than we know. Not all stories have happy endings. Most of the time we will never know about the lives of the children once they leave us. But when it works, the moments when we emotionally connect with a child, the time we spend listening to them, the examples we set changes lives. Use what little time you have as the precious gift it is.

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…” James 1:27

(Names were changed to protect the privacy of people mentioned here.)

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pexels-photo-348689Many short-term mission teams come with their own pre-planned ideas and agendas; this is fine as long as they mesh with the goals of the ministry they’re serving. Sometimes these goals and agendas are questionable at best. Sometimes they can be harmful to the goals that have been laid out by the receiving ministries and communities.

We once had a well-meaning group ask us about building some very large chicken coops bordering on a professional size operation. On the surface, it sounded great. “Sweet, free eggs for the orphanage”, but something in my gut said this was a mistake. It was outside our vision, and nobody on our staff had the skills or time to manage it. As a team, we decided to move ahead with the project, but it felt like a weight was added to our already complicated days. This highly motivated group spent tens of thousands of dollars and several months setting up “the chicken project.” When they were done and gone, we had around 400 chickens producing eggs. Once again, on the surface, this sounds great. With several months of egg production under our belt, we did the numbers. After paying for extra staffing, feed, utilities, sick birds, etc. it was MUCH cheaper and simpler to just go buy eggs. We wound up eating a lot of chicken over the next six months and eventually converted the chicken barns into something we could actually use.

If you, or your missions team, have an idea for a project, one of your first steps should always be communication. Talk with your receiving organization to see if the idea is something that would actually serve the ministry. Your idea might be great, but if it doesn’t match the vision and skill sets of the people you’re serving, it’s just a great idea that will eventually die off. They need to REALLY get on board, not just say “yes” to make you happy. The receiving organization has to have somebody on their team who is excited about your idea and willing to manage it.

Mission projects tend to come in trends. Many years ago everyone wanted to install computer labs. Right now the project everyone is pushing is hydroponic or organic gardens. Using computer labs and gardens as an example, unless someone is staying behind, or the ministry has someone on staff with a vision to maintain it, it’s wasted effort and funding. Orphanages and schools around the world had computer labs set up ten or fifteen years ago that quickly gathered dust because no one on site had the IT knowledge or desire to keep them up. I’ve seen dozens of hydroponic gardens either rotting away or torn down to have the materials used for other projects. Computer labs and gardens CAN work and be a huge blessing, but only if the receiving ministry has someone on staff to see it through. 

Is your project something they want? Or is this great project YOUR idea that would work “if only they did their part.”  Many receiving organizations will say yes to a project because they feel obligated. They don’t want to offend. It took me a long time realize it’s better to risk offending someone with a great idea than to say “yes” to be polite and suffer through it.

Every couple of weeks, a different person contacts me about setting up a pen-pal project between the children in our orphanage and a school in the US. On the surface, this sounds nice, and I know the people mean well, but this makes NO sense on several levels. My first thought is: “You have heard of this thing called the internet and Facebook right?” To spend time and money to mail letters back and forth doesn’t make a lot of sense anymore. Also, just as I know this is a homework project for a US Spanish class, my kids see it as the same thing, another homework project they do NOT want to do. A pen-pal program would also require one of my staff to manage it: sorting letters, badgering our kids to write back, mailing everything, etc. One more great idea that we would have to manage together with our already overworked staff.

I know I sometimes offend people when I say “no” to a project. Sometimes they seem crushed that I’m not thrilled with their idea. I hate to discourage anyone from serving, but sometimes I need to say “no” for the good of our staff, and the children in our care. It’s so much better to have people spend their time, energy, and resources to come alongside a ministry with a project that is needed. To build a relationship, bless them, and partner with them in work they’re called to do.

Communication is critical in so many areas of our lives. Honest conversations are all too rare. When you layer the mission team goals, cultural differences, the pressure to keep “donors” happy, communication can be extremely difficult. Your mission project idea might be incredible, but unless the people receiving this project are honestly on board, nobody comes out ahead. You will be wasting efforts and resources.

As for the idea of chickens… Years after the “chicken incident” an older gentleman on our maintenance staff asked if he could get a few birds. He patched some coops together using scrap wood and started the project with almost no funding, but he “owned” the project. Within a few months, he had about 15 birds and a nice little egg production going for our home. Later a group came alongside his vision and helped him grow to about 50 birds. It was the right time, with someone on-site with the skills and vision to run with it. We finally got a chicken project that worked.

Please share on Facebook or with your missions pastor.

In Orphan Care, One Size Doesn’t Fit All

child-children-girl-happyWe’ve all received gifts that say “One-size-fits-all”; this really means “One size will fit some people and will be a poor fit for others, but that’s all we’re offering.” In orphan care, rarely does one-size-fits-all. Each child and situation is unique, and we need to be in a position to give the type of care that is the perfect fit for that individual child in need.

It seems as though society as a whole is more and more polarized. “It must be my way or nothing; you are wrong.” Try to get a Fox news fan to agree with a CNN fan, and you can see how people can NOT come to a compromise. The reality is, with many of life’s dilemmas, there are no black and white answers, sometimes the answers are found in the fuzzy middle. Many times life requires a much more nuanced approach.

Few things elicit a stronger opinion than what to do with the kids who are orphaned, abandoned, or need placement for other reasons. Everyone has an opinion on child rearing and how best to help a child. The prevailing theories shift back and forth from orphanage to group homes to foster care every few years, not unlike the “expert” opinions on whether eggs, butter, coffee, etc. are bad, then good, then bad, then good again. (I’m very happy eggs, butter, and red wine are currently “good” for us.)

Most reasonable people agree that no system of caring for children at risk is perfect. A child should be raised by two loving parents whenever possible. Unfortunately, we live in a VERY broken world, and way too many children wind up in horrific circumstances, needing care either short-term or long-term. To rule out ANY healthy option to care for a hurting child is a mistake. This is where “one size fits all” doesn’t work.

I once had a leader from a large, respected mega church inform me that their official church policy is to never work with or support orphanages. Their reasoning being that orphanages are terrible, that the ONLY good option for a child is adoption. They are not alone in their beliefs, the current prevailing opinion is that it’s better to move away from the orphanage system. I and many others do not agree. For some children, an orphanage is the best option.

For the right child, adoption should always be the first option if no healthy, loving family is in the picture. But many times, there are situations that make adoption difficult or impossible. If there are multiple siblings, very few couples are willing to take on three, or four, or more children. If the child has extreme special needs, the pool of adoptive parents is pretty small. If a parent or parents are still somewhere, but due to prison, substance abuse, or other reasons are out of the picture “temporarily,” the children are left in limbo. The reality of adoptions is that once a child hits about five years old the odds of adoption drop dramatically. The fact that international adoptions have reached a record low doesn’t help the situation. When you factor all these problems in, very few children in need of care can ever be adopted. The most recent statistics say that worldwide, a child in a care situation has a 2% chance of being adopted. Too many people work for years and spend thousands of dollars trying to adopt only to be denied or to have serious problems handling the child placed in their care. When adoption works, it’s fantastic, but it’s a long road and doesn’t always end well.

So, if there is no healthy family, and adoption is not an option, you are left with foster care or orphanages. There are a lot of great people working in the foster care system that truly have a heart for the children they are serving. Unfortunately, there are also many people involved for the wrong reasons, and everyone is working in a system that has many profound challenges. Too often, children are moved around more than they should be, creating a very difficult, unstable life. How would you react if you had to change homes, friends, schools, churches, etc. every six months or so? With the system the way it is in the US, although it was set up with the best of intentions, the statistics do not play out well. I’ve had many people involved in foster care vent to me about the lack of stability and the crushing bureaucracy involved. Foster care does not work well for most children. Every system is complicated.

Most people agree the orphanage system is broken, but, when done correctly, orphanages and group homes can be the best option. Just like foster care, there are some great people working in the orphanage systems worldwide, and some not so great. There are definitely orphanages that are horrible and should be shut down. There are also orphanages that are healthy, stable, and give the children a loving home with a great future. A well-run orphanage can provide a child or sibling group the stability, professional counseling, and love they need to heal and grow into healthy adults. We need a last resort when adoption or family care is not an option.

Everyone has a strong opinion. Everyone seems to have an agenda. About the only thing everyone agrees on is no system of caring for children at risk is perfect. We, as a society, have the right tools to help these children, but we need to use every tool in the box. We need to find the right size for each child. One size does not fit all.

Please share on Facebook or with your missions pastor.  Thanks

Social Media and Short-term Missions

twitter-facebook-together-exchange-of-information-147413In today’s culture, it’s obvious that social media is huge. Almost every one of us is on two, three, or more, social media platforms. Social media is an enormous part of society and our lives. It’s important to look at how we use our accounts, what our motivations are, and what’s the impact of sharing so many moments of our lives.

A good friend of mine is a social media animal: daily funny/sarcastic posts, posts about his extensive missions work, his life is VERY public. At one point we were driving together, and he mentioned something about the prison ministry that he was running. We’ve known each other for years, and we’re pretty transparent with each other, but I had no idea he had a prison ministry. It was NEVER on social media, and he never talked about it. When I asked him why he’d never shared about this, his response opened up a lengthy discussion. “The prison ministry is between me, God, and the people I minister to. No one else needs to know.” What a concept, doing something that doesn’t get broadcast to the world. I proposed to him that even the apostle Paul wrote about the work he was doing and that by sharing, it was an encouragement to others to serve also. But my friend held to his response: “This one area is between God and myself, that’s enough.”

What are our motivations when we share online? Pride and humility are fundamental issues in everyone’s on-going battle with sin. Why are we sharing so much with others? To build them up, or build ourselves up? How many of us have seen (or taken) that cliche photo of the open Bible on the table alongside a cup of coffee, with the caption sharing about our “quiet-time.” When I see this photo, I always get the feeling the person taking it spent more time setting up the photo than actually reading the bible. What are we saying with these edited, high-light versions of our lives? Is it really about God and others? Or are we trying to show everyone how spiritual we are?

Not everything about social media is bad. With long-term missionaries, social media has changed the whole dynamic of fundraising. The long (usually boring) quarterly “missionary support letter” has been replaced by Facebook and other social media tools. A missionary can now give real-time updates to supporters and let them know about the great work that is going on. Working in a developing country with no mail service, Facebook has made it so much easier to stay in touch with children we’ve raised over the years in our orphanage. When used correctly, social media can be a powerful tool. But any tool can be used for good, or for questionable purposes.

There is a lot of discussion in short-term mission circles about the use of social media by people on short-term trips. Does it help promote the ministries and causes, or just promote the people going on the trips? As a host, I’ve seen way too many people work hard to get the dramatic photo with a poor child, but show little heart or compassion for the child they were supposed to be serving. Sometimes a person will stage the perfect photo holding a brick, wheelbarrow, or paintbrush, only to wander off and let others work on the project. No one’s Facebook feed is completely honest, but if our primary goal is looking good online, we have a real problem. We are seeking to please man, and not God.

One other pitfall of posting so many short-term missions photos is that, if we’re not very careful, we can reduce the people we claim to be serving to nothing more than props for our photos. It can be profoundly demeaning. I doubt you would feel comfortable with someone coming to your home and taking random pictures to show others how impoverished you are, or how cool they were for visiting you.

The next time you’re heading out on a mission trip, please spend some time thinking through and discussing a “photo policy” for both yourself and your team. Maybe miss the perfect selfie but really talk to the people you’re there to serve. Think about leaving your camera behind and try getting to know the people on your team. Live in the moment. Take in the sights, smells, and feelings of what you’re doing, instead of documenting everything for later publication.

Humble service is a big deal to God. If our first reaction to serving others is to post it on social media, this says a great deal about the maturity of our servant’s heart. I confess, I like to post things online; there is nothing inherently wrong with social media unless we make it that way. Anything we’ve been given can be used to glorify God, or glorify something else. Choose wisely.

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