“Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” – Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Many people wonder what good they, as individuals, or a team can do in a week or two given the magnitude of need in the world. Sometimes, in light of the huge organizations that are doing so much with so many people and so much money and resources, a small team may feel like a drop in the bucket. What can 10 – 25 people actually accomplish? A LOT! A series of small teams built LAMB’s Children’s Home. A small medical brigade can see hundreds of people in a week, providing care and medications inaccessible to the patients. A small prayer team can profoundly touch lives so desperate for God’s love. Not even the biggest organization or the richest person can solve all the problems in a country or the world. Instead, we each can be Christ for someone else. We can make a life changing difference in the life of another precious child of God. Everything that a team or individual does, matters. It matters to the person doing the service, the person receiving the service, and to our Lord.
As you prepare for your short term mission, consider why you are going and what you expect.
- Vacation or Mission: This is an important difference in attitude. Missioners come with a servant’s heart. Vacationers are looking for experience – fun with a little work of their choice sprinkled in. A mismatch of expectations between the team and the receiving community can lead to great discord. This is where the “Ugly American” shows up…
- Project or Pilgrimage: Do the team and the receiving community expect to work on a project (this can be anything from construction, to medical brigade, to evangelism, to …) or is this a spiritual pilgrimage to “look and see” how God is working in another part of the world? A Pilgrimage is more about the spiritual formation of the team members, which presumably will lead to a greater understanding and application of the Gospel, especially Matthew 25:40 (‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’). A project team can accomplish great things or have great intentions with disappointing results. It is absolutely critical that the project is selected collaboratively with the receiving community. The community communicates their highest priority needs and the team selects one based on their abilities. At times, a team that has already established a close relationship with the receiving community, can suggest a project. The ultimate decision, however, MUST be the receiving community’s.
- For or With: Does the team expect to do something FOR (or worse, TO) the receiving community or are they working WITH, in partnership, with each other? Working together brings a deeper sense of commitment in all parties (team and locals) and leads to sustainability once the team has returned to their home country. Countries are littered with unused buildings, broken equipment, empty churches, etc. resulting from the FOR/TO perspective.
- Experience or Relationship: Does the sending community hope to establish a relationship with the receiving community or is the team looking to experience different cultures, projects, countries? Relational trips have a different mindset both from the team member and the local perspectives. All parties are invested in getting to know and love each other. Bonds are formed quickly with the expectation they will continue over the years. These trips are about putting down roots, becoming an extended family – unconditionally loving each other, with a little “culture” thrown in. The experiential trip is focused on experiencing different cultures, countries, and project types. They provide a broad perspective for the team members, who experience both the “sameness” of our world and the wide diversity within it. Personal bonding is less likely since there is little expectation the relationship will continue. It is important that both the team and receiving community share the same understanding. Hearts can be broken if there is a mismatch.
Why does each individual sign up to go on the trip? A person (young, old, or in between) can have an enormous impact on the team and the experience overall.
- God’s Call: Some people feel called to go on that particular trip or to do mission work in general. They may not know why God called them to go at that time or on that trip. You can be sure that God’s purpose will be fulfilled and that He will reveal the purpose in His time. The “Called” can model a servant’s heart.
- Resume Builder: This is particularly common among youth trying to build up their “resume” for college applications or other reasons. There is nothing inherently wrong with this as long as the person and his/her attitude meld in with the team and its goals.
- Vacation – Be careful with this attitude. The vacationers can bring a lot of fun and energy to the team as long as they also respect and adapt to the team’s goals.
- ??? – Sometimes people aren’t sure why they are there. Or…they were “just curious.” It is likely they have not yet recognized that God called them. Frequently, during the course of the mission, they have a powerful “ah-ha!” moment when the purpose is revealed to them.
No matter where you go or what you do, your mission work begins weeks or months before you leave home. Pray for guidance, study God’s word, develop a servant’s heart, pray some more.
And remember what St. Teresa of Avila said:
Christ has no body on earth but yours, no feet but yours, no hands but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ is to look out on a hurting world.
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good.
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless all now.