When Short-Term Missions Go Wrong

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There is a CEO of a major banking firm who has a unique way to interview people. He asks all the typical questions about goals, most significant strengths, etc., but then he does something little more creative. He takes the potential employee out to breakfast. This by itself is not a big deal; the difference is the restaurant has been instructed to get the order wrong. The CEO learns a great deal about the candidate by just watching their reaction to this small issue. Do they get angry? Do they lash out and blame the waiter? Do they ignore it? Or do they calmly ask for the correct order, realizing mistakes happen? When everything is going well it’s easy to come across as mature or grounded. Our reaction to adversity tells the world who we are.

For any number of reasons, things can go sideways on a missions trip. Flights get missed, passports are forgotten, materials aren’t ready when you arrive, the examples are endless of what can go wrong. A lot has been written about the need for extreme flexibility when in the missions field and most of it is valid. The best-organized plans can go wrong at any moment, not just in missions, but in life. The logistics going wrong are common, but sometimes it’s more significant issues. Very often, we go on a trip with concrete expectations, and the trip turns out very different than we had imagined. How we respond to adversity, our reaction to the unexpected, is a tremendous testimony to our spiritual maturity and shows all those around us who we are. We need to see the bigger picture; we need to understand who is really in charge and who’s agenda we need to be following.

As a ministry, on our end, a lot of preparation goes into any missions project, especially when a home is built for a family in our area. We spend months working with the local family to make sure they are genuinely in need of a house, are willing to work alongside the visiting group, and that they are connected in the community. We want to be good stewards of the houses the groups are building, and we want the groups to know the homes will have a long-term positive impact on the families they’re serving. Sometimes, even with the best of intentions, a home build can go sidewise.

Years ago, we had a group come down to build a house for a family in our town. At first, everything seemed fine. The family worked alongside the group for the week; the keys were handed over as the group prayed a blessing over the house and the family, everyone left feeling pretty good. Within a few months, everything went a little weird. The couple wound up separating and going through a fairly ugly divorce. The couple came to me asking, “Who gets the house?” I responded honestly that, “We gave it to you both, we have no say in the matter, it’s not our house.” Ultimately they couldn’t agree, and the house was kind of parted out and eventually abandoned. Not the way anyone thinks a missions project should end.

When the group came back a year later to build another house, they asked about visiting the couple. This lead to an awkward conversation as the situation was explained to the group. You could see how crestfallen and disappointed the group was. But, it also opened up a great discussion about expectations in ministry.

The home build that went “wrong” had blessings that rippled out that we can only begin to guess at. The home builds are some of the best outreach our ministry does. It brings up so many great questions in our town, mainly: “What kind of faith is it that draws people to give away houses to strangers knowing they will never be paid back?” Home builds are a phenomenal tool to reach many people in our community, way beyond just the families receiving the home.

Showing selfless acts of service and representing the Gospel well, never comes back empty. We might not see or know the results of our actions in this life, but the act of service itself is all that matters. That we are faithful to the call of visiting widows and orphans is what is important. We are called to give, to serve, to do what we can. The outcome is never guaranteed. The perceived result doesn’t matter, what matters is our obedience. Did we hear the call and follow through? Were we faithful to the one we serve?

Not everyone Jesus fed or healed became a follower; the important thing was Jesus was doing the will of His Father. If the person being healed by Jesus did not respond in a way that is expected or makes sense, that does not change the fact that everyone around Jesus seeing the miracle was being changed and affected. God knows what He is doing, even if we don’t.

If a mission trip, or any ministry project, goes differently than we expected, react in a way that shows everyone who is really in charge. God sees a bigger picture, take comfort, and even joy, when things turn out differently than expected. Show everyone that you trust in the One who called you.

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5 thoughts on “When Short-Term Missions Go Wrong

  1. Vivian Jones February 18, 2019 / 6:49 am

    I keep thinking each one of these posts is your best one yet…this one is so insightful and just what I needed to hear as I prepare for my next season of trips. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Roy V Ketring III February 18, 2019 / 8:05 am

    Muchísimas Gracias – DJ – Right On
    You have described my world, over 40 years, in the mission field. It is so easy to become discouraged or even upset when things go sideways which is going to happen. I’m still learning patience and how to turn it over to the Lord and listen for His direction waiting for mañana.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Stacey Kindt February 18, 2019 / 8:38 pm

    One of our house builds, the woman ended up leaving the home with the baby on account of drug abuse and violence. The father sold the house off bit by bit to buy drugs. When the team returned, there was nothing but the cement foundation left. The team circled the foundation and prayed for the family and then wrote messages of love, forgiveness, and inspiration to the father in the event that he should return to the property. What a lesson these young people taught me that day.

    Liked by 1 person

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