You meet a wide range of people when you run an orphanage. Visitors, donors, mission groups, etc. are all dropping by. Most people are a joy to work with; some are a little more challenging. Around the office, we use the saying: “Everyone brings joy, some when they arrive, some when they leave.” A while back one well-meaning visitor urgently asked to talk with me following a tour. This is not unusual. What he wanted to talk about was a little different.
The guest (we’ll call him Bob) saw that we had pigs, not a lot of pigs, just a half a dozen or so to raise off kitchen scraps and barter or butcher once they grew big enough. The kids enjoyed raising the pigs, we put the kitchen slop to good use, and everyone was happy. But not Bob, Bob was sure we needed to make some changes. At great length, Bob explained to me the many advantages of walking our pigs. Bob lectured that the pigs would be much happier, that they would be more healthy, that the pigs would be more muscular so the meat would be better. “So, you want me to walk our pigs…how would this work?” I inquired. Bob went on to explain that it would only take an hour or so each day for me to lead the pigs on a walk around the property, that they would enjoy it and it would be good for them. Hmmm, OK, “Thank you for your input. I will give this some consideration.” Bob left happy, and I was left with an odd story about a well-meaning but oblivious visitor.
The point of the story is, Bob, although well-intentioned, was lecturing, he was not listening. This was Bob telling us what we should be doing. Bob didn’t ask questions. Bob didn’t understand the challenges we faced every day; he had an agenda and was ready to share it. Bob was not interested in a mutual, reciprocal relationship or communication. Bob didn’t want to hear about the battles and joys of our lives. He was sure our time would be better spent walking the pigs.
Don’t get me wrong, I want our pigs to be happy, it’s just not a huge priority in my life. I appreciate that Bob wants our pigs to be happy, who doesn’t like happy bacon? But Bob didn’t look at it from our vantage point, he didn’t understand what we do all day.
I enjoy it when people come to us with new ideas to try. I’m much more receptive to new ideas if I feel like the person sharing is also listening, trying to see things from our perspective. When the conversation is mutual and reciprocal, it can be a joy, when it feels like a lecture, it becomes a chore.
The pig story is an extreme example, but stories like this are not uncommon. When people go into short-term missions, or any relationship, with their own agenda, they don’t listen. Short-term missions need to be a relationship where communication is strong, and people listen, really listen to each other. Jesus spent a great deal of time listening. “What do you seek?” “Why are you here?” Jesus asked a lot of questions, and more importantly, He paid attention. He was (and is) concerned at a profound level about the other person. He showed through his responses that He cared for others. Jesus knew everything, but He respected those around Him enough to slow down and connect at a deeper level.
Many people, when having a conversation, don’t actually listen. They are just spending the time you’re talking formulating what they’re going to say next. You’ve probably been in conversations like this. You know pretty quickly the other person doesn’t care. They might be going through the motions, but you know they have zero interest in your opinions, feelings, or what you have to say. Your experiences, expectations, and priorities have no bearing on them. They plainly show that what you think doesn’t matter. You are not relevant to them, and your thoughts are not as important as theirs. This is not a healthy relationship.
Short-term missions is a relationship. If it’s not entered into with the right attitudes and expectations, it will fail. If there is mutual respect and a desire to serve each other, it will succeed. Many short-term missions teams have a false vision of what a mission is. Very few places in the world have not heard the Gospel, many areas need physical help, but we all need connection. We need to not only share what we know, but we also need to listen, we need to glean from each other. The point of short-term missions is to bless each other mutually, to encourage one another, to listen and learn from each other. We need to come together from different cultures and experience a rich life together.
The next time you go into the missions field, or into any relationship, try to listen to the person you’re working with at a deeper level. Stop, breathe, and ask them, “What do you seek?” What is important to you?” “Why are you here?” Once you ask those questions, listen at a more personal, intentional level than you’re used to. I guarantee it will change your relationships, and ministry is ALL about relationships.
I have to go now; the pigs are waiting for their walk.
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