The Failure of the Individual and Short-Term Missions

pexels-photo-670720At some point, over the last few decades, there has been a subtle yet consistent shift away from the idea of community, to the rise of individual above all else. It’s not working. Addiction and suicide are at an all-time high; in many age groups suicide is the leading cause of death. The church is shrinking at an alarming rate. Depression and loneliness are rampant.

As society shifts from focusing on the community as a whole to focusing on each individual’s desires and achievements, we are losing the very thing that gives us meaning. At almost every turn, technology and shifting attitudes are slowly driving society apart and leading people into their own little cocoons. We need to be connected; we are created to interact with a wide range of people; we are called to sacrifice for others. It’s time to look at how to foster a sense of community again.

Years ago, there was “appointment TV viewing,” the whole family would sit together and watch the same show along with millions of others across the country at the same time. This sounds quaint or primitive now that we can each have our own on-demand screen in front of us and watch exactly what we want when we want it. The downside of on-demand is that, with a few exceptions, that bonding through community viewing doesn’t happen. Outside of the Superbowl or a major news event, there is no common discussion the next day about the latest show that we all watched.

The idea of each of us having our own screens is a small example of how the priority of community is shifting. Few people would argue the fact that America has never been so divided. People have always had opinions, but now that we can watch the news on TV or online catered and designed to reinforce our already deeply held beliefs, we don’t need to listen to any opinion that might call into question where we stand. If we never listen to the other side, they become a bigger and more dangerous enemy in our minds — not a great way to build community.

Subtle changes are taking place all around us. If we want to “eat out” we don’t have to sit with people we don’t know; we can just open the app and have the food brought to our home. We don’t need to go to the mall anymore and interact with real people to buy things; Amazon is just a click away. When was the last time any of us hung out in a book store and browsed around with others with the same interest? When we go to buy groceries, we can self-check to avoid the two minutes of contact with the cashier.

More people are living alone than at any time in the history of America. Fewer people are getting married than at any time in history. Half of all children in America are now born into un-wed situations. Examples of the collapse of community are all around us. Too many people are living in their own little world, and missing out on the interactions and messiness that makes us human.

Even within the ever-shrinking church, many people who are “members” choose to sit at home on Sunday and watch the service online. Interacting with real people is just too much trouble. For the people who are present, as the collection plate is passed in church, many people miss out on the ritual of offering tithes as one body because they’ve already given online automatically.

Although we need a personal relationship with Christ, and God desires that, it’s crucial to recognize the importance of the Church body as a whole and what that means. As we read the Gospels, Jesus spoke to many individuals, but He often spoke about the collective body of believers. The bride of Christ is one, not millions of individual brides. When the apostles asked Jesus how to pray, He gave the Lord’s Prayer as an example. There is not one personal pronoun in the Lord’s prayer. Not one petition for an individual. OUR Father…OUR daily bread…forgive US OUR sins…lead US.  You get the idea. The body of Christ needs each other; we need each other.

So what does this little rant have to do with short-term missions? One of the many benefits of short-term missions is the building of community. You can sit in the same church with the same people for years and never really get to know them. Spend a week traveling in Uganda, or Mexico, or Kenya, and you will get to know them, whether you want to or not. You will see them without makeup and before coffee. You will be forced to sleep in the same room and hear who snores. You will see how each person reacts to difficulties and joys. You will be forced to become a little more transparent. You will learn more about the people in your church, and they will learn more about you, than in ten years of Sundays.

Short-term missions also bring into focus what the Bible teaches about the body of Christ. By traveling out with a team to visit other churches and communities, we have the privilege of living and working with people from wildly different cultures, but with the same Heavenly Father. We get to spend time with our brothers and sisters. We get to experience worship in ways that are beyond what we could ever imagine. We get to bump up against people who are living and walking in faith that sets the bar higher than we might be used to. We have the profound and life-altering experience of living in community with the Church.

Experience community again, make it a point to spend time with people who stretch you. If you can, go on a short-term mission trip. It will change you for the better, your faith will be deeper, your connection to the church will strengthen, and you can help other believers around the world.

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“Isn’t that Dangerous?”

pexels-photo-1895146I recently met with someone who is running a unique and inspiring ministry in the heart of the red-light district of Tijuana. Four years ago, this petite single woman moved into an area of ministry that most people would never consider. She opened up a little store-front location to host times of worship and prayer in the midst of a spiritually dark area. Several days a week they hold prayer and worship services that are open to anybody (I’m not using her name for her protection). She now leads teams out into the streets to give the sex workers flowers and tell them they are beautiful. She has been threatened, yelled at, and attacked for her work. I’m sure she’s been told that she is crazy. Does this sound like someone else you might know or read about? Many people claim to be followers of Jesus; few people put His example into action like this amazing woman.

Is the woman you just read about doing some astounding work? Yes. Is she hanging out and befriending people most people would never spend time with? Absolutely. She is many things, but the one adjective that is never used to describe her is “afraid.” She is oddly and sadly unique in much of the church today.

This month, my wife and I will have completed twenty-five years living in “dangerous” Mexico. We get asked a lot of questions about our work in orphan care and short-term missions. The one question we get asked far more than anything else is, “Isn’t Mexico dangerous?” The vast majority of people’s first question is about safety, not about the work, not about what God is doing, not about abandoned children. The first question is almost always about the risk involved. We’ve never gotten sick from the food or water. We’ve never been robbed or shot at while in Mexico (Ironically, I was robbed while in San Diego last year). Are some parts of Mexico dangerous? Absolutely. Does it matter? No. Life is dangerous; get over it.

As you read through the Bible, note that being concerned, first and foremost, about our safety was not what Jesus instructed us to do. When the apostles woke Him in the boat to calm the storm, He rebuked them for lack of faith, calmed the storm, and went back to sleep. How many of us lose way too much sleep worrying about things that never (or rarely) happen. “Fear not” comes up a lot in the Bible. “Cover your butt,” “Watch out for scary people,” “Don’t do anything risky,” doesn’t come up so much.

Fear can have an incredible influence on people. A great deal of marketing is in some way based on fear. “Buy this insurance to protect yourself from any disaster.” “Buy this clothing, or you might not be cool.” “Try this diet, or you might stay fat.” Politics is almost all based on fear. “Vote for me; the other guy wants to raise taxes.” “The other party wants to take your guns, your rights, your money, etc.” “We can’t let THOSE people into our country; they are different than us and scary.” Watch any cable news, and you will hear versions of these statements every few minutes. Fear can have a corrosive and powerful influence. Fear can rob us of joy and prevent us from experiencing everything this life has to offer.

Unfortunately, when it comes to fear, way too many churches are indistinguishable from the world. A few years ago I was staying with a worship leader of a mid-sized church in a friendly, middle-class suburb in the US. As we were leaving for the church, he loaded his gun and holstered up. When I asked about it, he said that at any service there are two or three people armed for security reasons. I have no problem with basic security, but I found it deeply ironic that the person who is leading worship, the one singing about trusting God with all, that He is our rock and fortress, would be packing heat. (Write to me and yell if you like, I’m actually pro second amendment, I’m just using this to make a point). “Yes God, we trust you with all, but I feel better when I can shoot at someone.”

The point of this rant on fear in the church is to bring up what it does to short-term missions or any area of service. Fear can rob us of incredible opportunities, and prevent us from experiencing all that God has planned for us. When we’re held in place, and prevented from taking a risk for God due to fear, what is that saying? “I trust you God, but I’d rather just show up on Sundays and watch from my pew, wouldn’t want to take a risk now would I.” The Christian faith is an active faith. Go. Serve, Give, Sacrifice. Not because we’re called to, it’s because we can’t help but act when we realize what God has done for us, and how grateful we are to Him.

There are some things you should definitely be afraid of. Be afraid of being out of God’s will. Be afraid of reaching the end of your life and having regrets. Be afraid of wasting the precious few years you have left.

You will die. The US will collapse eventually. Some of the things you fear will come to pass, just know that ultimately it just doesn’t matter. Our God is bigger than anything we will encounter in this life; it’s a good thing this life is only a temporary situation. Ultimately, we’ve already won. The world says we should be afraid. We are not of this world. Live accordingly.

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The Prosperity Gospel and Short-term Missions

cash2The Prosperity Gospel is the belief among some Christians that teaches financial blessing, and physical well-being are always the will of God for them. That enough faith, positive attitude, and donations to the right organizations will increase one’s material wealth. The prosperity Gospel reduces God to a cosmic Santa Claus: “If I’m a good boy or girl God will give me what I ask for.” The Gospel isn’t that simple; it is profoundly deeper, richer, and more important than to be just about material wealth. Our faith is not a transaction, “If I give this, I should get this.” Our salvation is a free gift from God, our giving to others and representing Him well is our act of worship. If our personal financial prosperity is our goal, we’ve missed the whole point.

When Jesus was in the desert, Satan offered Jesus material wealth and power if He would only bow down, Jesus was bright enough to pass on the offer. How many of us take the bait and swallow it whole.

Money is always a thorny issue for people. If you want to create an uncomfortable church service, talk about tithing. Jesus spent a great deal of time talking about worldly goods and our reaction to them. It’s a BIG deal, and people understand at a gut level that money is important. Money is the great scorecard the world uses to see who is winning. If we are a follower of Christ, we are not of this world. Our scorecard needs to be very different; we need to work towards different goals. We also need to expect different blessings from God. God does want to bless us, material blessings or physical health are not always in that mix of blessings.

Several years ago, after we had been in Mexico for quite a while, my wife was dealing with some long-term, severe, medical issues. We had been to a LOT of doctors and done countless tests with no solution in sight. Every couple of weeks, a small group from a ministry in our town would come by and pray for her. Prayer is always a good thing; we’ll take all we can get. After a few weeks, as they were finishing praying, one of the leaders indicated that is was my wife’s “lack of faith” that was keeping her from being healed. I was polite and held my tongue, in hindsight I wish I had thrown them out of our house (they were not invited back).

The church has a long history of godly, wonderful people living in poverty or suffering through great physical illness and challenges. No one would question the apostle Paul’s faith or the incredible works of his ministry. God used Paul to build the foundation of the church. Paul suffered greatly both physically and financially through his entire ministry. Maybe he didn’t have enough faith? Probably not. Paul still found immense joy and peace, not only in the midst of trials; Paul found joy because of the trials he was going through. Strong faith does not mean financial blessings; strong faith means joy in whatever situation we find ourselves. Our physical or financial state has no determination in eternal things. Everything here passes away, get used to it.

So how does this apply to short-term missions? Spending time with people of great faith in other countries, giving their all, who are still living in poverty, will kill your belief that doing the right things will automatically mean a big bank account.

If we go into missions with the idea that we know more, or we are more blessed because we have more money than the people we’re visiting, we are wrong, and we will fail. Most people, even if they believe that having more money indicates better people, have never thought it through or even realize they believe that. A person who is racist, never thinks they are racist; it’s just an underlying attitude that others see. Coming from the US culture that passes judgment by financial wherewithal, it’s easy to fall into the trap of judging others by their resources, even more so if we’re not aware that we are judging in this way.

By going on short-term mission trips and spending time with rock-solid pastors, missionaries, and other believers living on poverty, our false outlook when it comes to money is stripped away. It’s a cliche response from many people on a missions trip to say, “They’re so poor but so happy.” when talking about the people they are visiting. This is really saying, “I thought to have more money was always better, why are they happy?” At the same time, they will say, “I now realize how blessed I am” indicating they think the other people are not as “blessed” because they don’t have hot water, a solid house, the latest I-phone, or any of the things we equate with “blessed.”

We need to go into missions realizing we are all poor, we are all wounded, we are all deficient in many areas, but that is irrelevant to the Gospel. By working alongside pillars of faith in other countries, it strips bare our misguided beliefs about what money is, what it means, and what our attitude about it should be.

Prosperity is not a bad thing, but if our faith is based on prosperity, we are building our lives on a false Gospel.

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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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But What Did You DO on Your Missions Trip?

housebuild1.jpgI recently had an interesting conversation with a visitor to our orphanage. She was on a mission trip to spend some time with our kids, learn about our ministry, and just see what missions was all about. She shared that several people from her church were disappointed that she wasn’t working on a “project.” She wasn’t building a house for a family; she wasn’t drilling a well, she was just being “present”, seeking God, and seeking how she could bless those she encountered. I told her she had the right idea. Jesus never built a house, never painted a wall, never passed out clothing. Jesus did encourage people, occasionally broke bread with people, He asked people a lot of questions. He was (and is) present in their lives. It’s a good model.

Most people, when planning a missions trip focus on a “project.” “We’re going to build a school.” “We’re going to organize an outreach/concert.” “We’re painting a local church.” There is nothing wrong with projects. Missions projects change communities, impact families, and help on the ground ministries, and missionaries do the long term work. But, when it’s all said and done, it’s just bricks, wood, and paint. What matters is the people, the growth, and the understanding that should flow from ministry.

One ministry that operates from our orphanage is a home building program. We coordinate homes built and funded by visiting mission teams for underprivileged families in our area. The groups receive a picture and information on the families well in advance of their trip so they can see who they’re serving and be praying for the family. We’ve already screened the families to make sure the need is real, and it will be a positive impact. Once the team arrives, they meet the family, and they work alongside them to build the home. The critical point of this is, the family is what matters, the house is irrelevant.

You just read that last line and might have thought, “The house is irrelevant? The house is the whole point!” The problem is the house isn’t the whole point. The house is good, it’s a huge blessing for the receiving family, but the project needs to be about the people and the relationships built between them.

We had one home building group who came for years, and they were VERY focused. They planned and coordinated the construction like a military invasion: organized, timed perfectly, well funded, and high quality. The problem was, it was ALL about the house. The family receiving the house was irrelevant. The team was kind of stressed the whole time under their own self-imposed pressure. The house was completed, there were some great photos for social media, but in the end, it felt empty. The house was built FOR the family, and not WITH the family.

Our best home builds are rarely the “nicest” house. The best home builds are the ones where long-term reciprocal relationships are formed; where the family and team spend real time together eating, working, and sharing together. We have teams that stay in touch with the families and come back months and years later for quinceañeras, weddings, and other family events. Most families receiving homes will prepare meals, help out, and bring what they can to the relationship. It’s people growing together; it’s not one group just giving shelter to another.

Missions and ministry need to be about the relationships. This seems like an obvious statement, but it’s so easy to go off track and focus on something important, and not what is MOST important. How many worship leaders make sure the performance is perfect but worshiping God is kind of an add-on? How many weddings focus on the party and details, but the actual commitment becomes just another detail after the cake, dress, and decorations are organized? It’s so easy, and way too common, to be distracted by details and miss the bigger, most important picture.

Do we actively listen and seek to understand others? Do we attempt to have a positive influence on other’s lives? Do we respect those around us and seek to not only share our perceived wisdom but actively look for what we can learn from those around us? Are we seeking to understand other people, cultures, and beliefs? It’s not about what we can do for others; it’s about what we can do together.

When on a mission trip, or in any ministry really, it’s so important to remain focused on what’s important. Jesus was, and is, about relationships, spending time with people, and seeking to grow closer to the people He met. The next time someone asks you what you did on your mission trip, tell them, “Not much, I just followed Jesus’ example.”

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The Call to Inaction

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In the classic book by CS Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, a senior demon (Screwtape) is writing letters to his nephew explaining how to break down Christians and the church. It’s obviously fiction, but the letters Screwtape writes point to so many of the subtle attacks the enemy uses to chip away at our faith. The battles discussed are eternal, the book is old (written during World War 2), but the idea of a slow wearing down of the faithful is very real today. We are in the midst of this battle.

Society today, and sadly, the church, seems to be embracing practices and attitudes in some areas that go directly against the teachings of Jesus. A slow and subtle shift from Biblical principles to a world view might be taking place. The enemy is doing a good job; he has a lot of experience with this. The following examples are going to piss some people off as these are hot-button issues. I could be wrong on some of this, but hey, it’s not the first time I’ve been wrong. Comment or e-mail if you want to fight with and/or correct me. I enjoy a good discussion on this stuff.

“Don’t help the poor as it creates dependency.” This can be read and heard in many circles today, and although at some levels it makes sense, this goes counter to some key teachings of Jesus. The wisdom of this world almost always goes counter to the things of God, but the things of God work. When the rich young ruler asked what he needed to do, he was told, “Sell what you have and give it to the poor.” It was not taught with a footnote, “Only give to them if they are deserving, be careful or they might ask for more help, and ask the poor why they got in that position.” When the Good Samaritan helped the man by the side of the road, there was no warning about unintended consequences; it was just a pure servant’s heart in action. Help the poor to move out of their situation in a healthy way, give them what they need in their situation. Biblically, we are commanded to help. When someone asks for our jacket, we’re told to offer our shirt also. It’s better to be taken advantage of one hundred times than turn away someone honestly in need.

“Don’t go on mission trips, it’s a waste of money, and it’s toxic.” There are a couple of popular books out that really seem to push this, and they tend to get a lot of attention. The problem is, although mission trips CAN cause harm, they don’t HAVE to. Most of what we do can cause damage when done in the wrong way. Weight gain, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, etc., are all caused by poor eating habits, but I don’t think anyone would advocate the idea of giving up eating. When done in the right way, not only is eating healthy for us, it’s essential for us to survive. People get injured every day working out or participating in sports; this does not mean we should never leave the couch. Almost anything we do, when done in the wrong way or to an extreme, is harmful. Obedience, even if it’s risky, is always the best way to go.

Is missions a waste of money? It can be, but there are worse ways that we waste money every day. The funds spent on service projects and backing local ministries, when done correctly, are world changing. Also, the money spent locally by visiting groups on short-term trips, aside from service projects, changes lives. In our small town the mission teams that come through keep the restaurants, minimarts, hardware stores, and other small businesses open. Short-term missions are the economic engine that keeps our town alive. No one in this area considers this a waste of money. Has a dependence on groups been established in our town? Absolutely, just like a restaurant is dependent on customers, a church is dependent on its members, or any situation where people depend on each other. Dependency depends on the situation. We are all dependant on someone or something. We all need to depend on God more.

“Be afraid.” At some point in the last few years, the church shifted from trusting in God to being afraid of doing anything that might be risky or offend someone. The phrase “fear not” is a common theme throughout the Bible, yet the church today frequently uses fear to influence people, not unlike most politicians. Paul gives us a great example of living fearlessly for the Gospel. At no point are we taught only to preach the Gospel if it’s prudent, to only serve if our safety can be guaranteed. We are not told to be afraid of foreigners, unbelievers, or the future. If we actually believe we serve an all-powerful God, and we are only visiting here anyway, what are we so afraid of?

The common thread in all of this is the call to inaction. “Don’t help.” “Don’t go.” “Don’t take a risk.” “Don’t do anything.” The problem is, ours is a faith of action, “Go into all the world.” “Give what you have to the poor.” “Visit widows and orphans.” The inaction of the bulk of the church is not working. In the US, churches are shrinking at a rapid pace. Young adults are leaving the church in record numbers. The church is doing something wrong. Maybe the problem is, as a whole, the church doesn’t do as much as it used to. The call to in-action has been heeded. Screwtape would be pleased.

 

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The Missing Alleys of New York

pexels-photo-917372Whenever we see New York in movies or TV shows, the plot winds up in an alley. Drug deals, dead bodies, etc., always wind up in an alley. Law and Order spent a LOT of time in New York alleys. There is just one problem with this: New York doesn’t really have alleys, it was designed in such a way as to not need them. But every director wants an alley to create that dark, dramatic scene. So the ONE alley in New York that works for filming is in everything. From this single alley, most people assume New York is just a weird maze of back alleys of red brick, fire-escapes, and overflowing trashcans. Our assumptions are frequently wrong.

Many beliefs are just assumed to be true. “Smoothies are always healthy.” (not true) “A college degree will guarantee your future.” (not true) “The more money you pay for an item, the higher the quality.” (not always true) There are countless “beliefs” that we pick up every day that are not necessarily true. It’s good to question our assumptions, to confirm or change our beliefs, to learn what reality is. This applies to missions, but also at every level of our lives.

I once hosted an orphanage director from Kenya on a visit to our orphanage in Mexico. Driving through Baja Mexico, he was amazed at the new high-rises, beautiful homes, and modern highways. He was surprised to see Costco, Walmart, McDonald’s and many other major retail chains. From everything he knew to be true, he thought Mexico was all adobe huts and dusty roads like he had seen in The Three Amigos and every other movie cliche about Mexico. He was also pleasantly surprised to find out how safe Mexico is, compared to what he assumed. To be honest, when I visited Africa I was kind of amazed at how modern the capital of Ghana was. “Hey, look, KFC!” “Is that a mall?” We all have assumptions or preconceived ideas about the world. Frequently we’re wrong.

If we’re going to be effective in short-term missions, or any area of life, we need to be working from accurate information. When we travel to foreign countries, we need to do our research, so we know what to expect, what the needs are, and how to make a positive impact. We also need accurate details, so we don’t create unintentional harm.

So how do we learn what reality is when we’re planning a mission trip? We can’t know everything about where we are going, but here are a few tips to be as prepared as possible.

1) Talk to people who’ve been where you’re going. Ask them about surprises they had, changes they had to make mid-trip or things they would do differently. Anyone who goes on a trip learns something, we can learn so much from the mistakes and profound experiences of the countless people who have gone before us. You don’t have to re-invent the wheel.

2) Talk to your host or host organization from your destination, and really listen to them. Odds are, your host has helped facilitate many groups and teams before yours, and has seen the best and worst of what well-meaning people try to do. “Yes, dress appropriately.” “No, you don’t need to worry about translation.” “Yes, you are welcome to attend this church service or outreach, but this is what would be culturally helpful.” If your host is serious about directing you in the right direction, they can be a huge help. It’s also SO important to know what the actual needs are, and how to address them. Whether you’re going to spread the Gospel, help with construction, or something else, you need to know what the real needs are and how you can fit in with goals of the local church.

3) Read about your destination from a wide range of knowledgable sources, but read through everything with a filter of what you’ve heard from actual people with experience. Years ago, I was all set to visit Ghana in West Africa just as an Ebola outbreak spiked. EVERYONE here in the US said I should cancel; all the news media made it sound like the world was ending. I called people in Ghana, and their response was, “What Ebola outbreak? That’s two countries away.” If we had just listened to the accepted wisdom and stayed home, we would have missed out on a life-changing, impactful trip.

So much of what we think we know might be a little “off.” We all view the world through our filters or the filters of those around us. Take a mission trip, but go with as few preconceived ideas as you can. By going with your eyes open to whatever God has to show you, you might be surprised by the people, experiences, and opportunities God might open up for you. Avoid walking down those alleys that don’t exist anyway.

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