Selfies and the Short Term Mission Trip

by Simon

Is it possible that our Christian service can become, albeit inadvertently, about us, rather than for others? In an era where selfies–often polished to perfection–rule the roost, is our identity rooted in our selves or still immersed in Christ?

How do we avoid the pitfall of making it about us rather than others?

On a recent visit to a rural outpost, I was welcomed to a set of new rules before I even finished exchanging greetings with the host:

“You are no longer permitted to take pictures in this village,” said our host. “You can take pictures of yourselves but not of the locals.”

As someone involved in a ministry that mobilises church leaders for mission, we often take people on exposure trips to various locations. While we do our best to orient and caution people against certain actions, some end up doing it anyway.

On this visit, an allegation was made that previous visitors had profited off pictures depicting the plight of the poor villagers. So “no more pictures” became a solution.

As an outreach team, we agonised over this challenge, but in the end, decided to obey the authorities and go through our business with great meekness. This we did as a sign of respect for the community leaders; and besides, we didn’t want to create a doorway to those who may want to oppose our work. We could have done it anyway, but the work of ministry regularly requires us to put the message before the messenger. In this regard, the words of John the Baptist are rather informative: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

However, we didn’t foresee that some among us would naturally turn to selfies. In fact, the taking of selfies and the request among outreach team members to have one take a picture of another began trending two new words: “Selfiest” and “Selfieds” were invented and introduced into the dictionaries right there in the middle of the village.

“Selfiests” were a category of outreach participants who constantly took pictures of themselves, usually to upload to their social media profiles.

“Selfieds” were people who constantly let others take their pictures for the same or other purposes.

But how do we share the Gospel with people who have, by now, condemned us by questioning our motivation and actions?

Jesus demonstrated that His calling consisted of others, and He ultimately died because He dared to defy religious and political powers as He stood up for others. His preaching centred on the Kingdom of God, rather than Him projecting himself.

We are all called to follow and emulate His example, and it is in keeping with His character and commands that we dedicate our lives to serving in missions. Yet, sometimes our actions can become an offence and an obstacle unto those we want to outreach and serve.

I’m not against taking selfies or normal pictures. If anything, my role as a communications officer is precisely to do the same. But in this case, in the eyes of the ministered, it was perceived to be the main reason why we brought teams in this village.

Perhaps the lesson to learn is, no matter what form our ministry roles take, we need to put Christ in the centre. Our identities are in Jesus, and as Christians, we must desire above all that God’s name–and not our own–is heralded.

After all, He must increase, and we must decrease.

Originally printed at OM; reprinted with permission.


Simon is a Zimbabwean journalist who is passionate about using research, media, and testimonies to mobilise, excite, and challenge others to pray and get involved in world missions. He serves as OM Zimbabwe’s Media and Communications Officer.

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