Planning to go on an international missions trip? Listen first!

Despite the 15 inches of snow we got last week, I was still able to travel to Lynchburg, VA to film a training session (part of a DVD training series by the AACC) with Dr. Josh Straub. [HT to my neighbor who lent me his snowblower so I could finish the driveway before leaving and also to Amtrak that got me there when the airlines couldn’t].

Josh and I met in Rwanda on our exploratory efforts in Rwanda and has been leading the way in our grant preparations for the 3-5 year pilot study we wish to do (anyone have 2 mill lying around?]

The essence of our training followed this outline. I’ll give a couple of examples but since the AACC wants to sell it I won’t give the whole of it away…

  1. Common mistakes made by well-meaning helpers
    1. Naive mistakes
      1. thinking any help is better than none; or that because you desire to go…you should
      2. Failing to listen to locals as to felt needs and solutions
    2. Planning mistakes
      1. Failing to plan for sustainability
      2. Failing to explore the impact of your help (does it make the helpees more helpless? Unintended consequences?
    3. Prejudicial mistakes
      1. Assuming the locals are the only needy ones; failing to have a humble learning stance
  2. Characteristics of a culturally competent helper
    1. Ability to listen well, test hypotheses, etc.
    2. humble
    3. able to walk in the shoes of another
    4. able to develop culture specific info before and during the trip
    5. Not one to be running from problem past (abuse, faith issues, etc.
  3. Considering a plan of actions
    1. Developing a learning plan. Read from multiple perspectives about the people and area you plan to serve; Use google alerts for current developments
      1. Consider history of being helped (prior attempts). For example, if you are serving people who suffered under colonial rule, how will you be perceived?
      2. Listen for existing strengths, local leadership, signs of health
    2. Go, listen some more….long enough to hear honest reflections; debrief (we had some really good questions here!)
    3. Develop obtainable goals and objectives with consideration of sustainability and hand-off to local leadership
    4. Consider privacy and confidentiality issues of those whose stories you plan to use for further fundraising
  4. Concluding thoughts
    1. One of the things I said at the end was the repetition of some thoughts by Rev. Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil on John 4. Notice that Jesus’ cross cultural trip to Samaria included his becoming vulnerable to a Samaritan woman (asking her for a drink), asking good questions, avoiding getting caught up in a political debate, and ultimately ending up with the woman being empowered to bring her fellow villagers to Jesus. You know you have done well when you seen the people you help becoming empowered to lead their own people.


Filed under christian counseling, Christianity, Missional Church

4 responses to “Planning to go on an international missions trip? Listen first!

  1. Scott Knapp

    Coming from a Campus Crusade for Christ background, the missionary zeal of Jim Elliot was canonized in our thinking as the epitome of evangelistic fervor and spirit. It was a great shock to my sensibilities years later to be listening to Bible teacher J. Vernon McGee in one of his radio broadcasts, stating that he personally had tried to dissuade Jim Elliot and company from going to Ecuador before doing more “ground work”. Assuming McGee is being truthful in his declaration, perhaps Elliot’s work may have had a different kind of impact with better preparation…one can only wonder at this point.

  2. Erin

    My Husband Got saved when Catholic Missionaries Came to his Home town in W. Africa (having fled from S. Africa due to Apartheid) He has some opposing views on how missionaries come and end up doing worse in most cases bringing their immorality etc yes I would advise misisonaries to respect the culture and leave the corruption behind …:) as for Jim Elliot The Blood of the Martyrs God will not forget and the seed that was planted that cries out….

  3. Karen

    It’s strangely easier to require more of youth before they go on a trip than adults. They will put up with being told they WILL attend meetings, write reports, memorize verses, learn about the culture, or they will NOT go. Every other year we take a mission trip with high school students, and this year we are going through the book: Deep Justice Journeys by Kara Powell. It really drives home the ideas of sustainability and motives in going etc. It’s written to use with youth, but in our experience a lot of adults have never matured much in their faith since they were in youth group themselves. I think the adult leaders going on our trip are finding the book extremely helpful, too. Plus, we are going back to Ethiopia because we have a relationship with the people there, and we understand the culture because of my husband’s family background (missionaries there for several years). It’s mind-boggling how many organizations are out there now who will take your youth group on a random mission trip for a fee with very little prep work. But like you said, God uses our feeble and naive efforts and zeal despite ourselves. We certainly do a far from perfect job ourselves.

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