10 Things Flying Taught Me About Missions

I love flying. It just doesn’t get old for me.

I’ve jumped the Pacific a bunch; I’ve skipped over the Atlantic a few times. I have my own license to fly small aircraft, but still, every time I fly I feel like a little kid who’s milk got spiked with espresso. Sometimes I’m afraid the other passengers are thinking, “Oh for crying out loud, this guy doesn’t get out much. He’s probably homeschooled.” They’d be partially correct, I guess.

I fight my kids for the window seat. I revel in the sensation of takeoff, the joy of punching through oppressive clouds to the open sky above. When we hit turbulence, I close my eyes (like I’m praying, ’cause that’s holy) and say a silent “Yeehaaaw!”

This article is my excuse to talk about aviation. Here’s what flying has taught me about missions. I’d love to hear from you too: what has flying taught you about missions?

 

1. Pre-flight inspections are a good idea. You don’t have to do a pre-flight inspection. You don’t have to make sure the navigational instruments work. You don’t have to make sure the tail’s still there. If you’re the pilot, you could just get in, start it up and go. And you might be fine. But, you might not.

In missions, it’s best to get some pre-field training. But you don’t have to. You might be fine without it and you might have a wonderful time. Or, you might miss the bird’s nest in the engine that’ll catch fire in a wee bit, or the water that’s in the gas tank, or the rudder that doesn’t work. Pre-flight inspections save lives. So does pre-field training.

Of course, even perfectly performed pre-flight inspections can’t erase all risk. Things might still go south, and an unforeseen mishap might still occur. But even so, there’s a reason most pilots do a pre-flight inspection and most organizations encourage pre-field training.

I should note here that if you’re in Southeast Asia, the bird’s nest might not be in the engine. It might be in the free canned beverage from the gas station. I was totally not expecting that.

 

f1ALO

2. Communication matters. In most small airports in America, radio communication is not required. That is, you don’t have to talk with anyone on the radio. You don’t even have to have a radio in the plane. But radio communication is strongly recommended.

Most pilots “self-report” their location and their intention, especially when operating close to an airport. They might say something like, “Cessna 63279, six miles east of the airport at 2,500 feet, inbound for landing on runway 18, planning to enter a left downwind.” It’s really cool how this works, ‘cause if everyone self-reports, all the pilots in the vicinity have a general idea of who’s where and what they’re planning to do.

Not talking is scary. One day I was in the pattern with several other aircraft, and we all knew where the other planes were, when a new plane cut right in front of me, preparing to land. He hadn’t communicated anything, and although he wasn’t breaking any rules, he wasn’t making anything safer. Nor was he making any friends.

In missions, it’s great when folks talk to each other. If no one else is there, fine, do your own thing, but still, flying solo without at least a few people aware of what you’re up to is dangerous.

Not to mix analogies or anything, but you might think you’re a lone wolf, taking care of yourself and your ministry, when in reality you might just be a lone wildebeest, separated from the herd, ready to provide a lion his lunch. (Yes, I realize that I’ve used the word wildebeest in a prior post. I like the animal. I want one.)

If there are other workers on the field already, talk with them. Where are they? What are they doing? What’s working? What’s not? You’re probably not the only person in the sky, so don’t act like it. Communicate. Failing to communicate endangers everyone.

 

3. One-uppers happen. If you fly a lot, you’ve got travel stories. Great and funny and crazy stories, like that one time when all your flights were on time, no one threw up, and everyone arrived fully rested and smiling. With perfect hair. Be careful though, ‘cause it’s hard to tell a travel story without someone needing to one-up it with a story of their own.

Do I really have to explain how this is like missions? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

Do yourself a favor and watch this four-minute clip by comedian Brian Regan. His phrases “me monster,” “lunar rover,” and “two wisdom tooth tale” have found their way into our family vernacular. This sketch is part of our family culture now; perhaps it could become part of yours too.

 

4. Landing is one of the most dangerous parts of flying. Taking off requires little skill. Basically, you just point the plane in the right direction and push “GO!” Landing, on the other hand, is a bit trickier. There’s a lot more stuff that can go sideways. Landing safely requires planning, careful implementation, and a soft touch.

It’s sort of like landing on “the field” and then landing back “home.” Both landings carry certain risks and should be approached and planned for with care.

Soft landings are the best, so find kind and good-hearted people. Hang out with them. Cry with them. And when you see the next plane coming in for a landing (whether abroad or in your passport country), do whatever you can to provide a soft landing.

 

5. Landing at a place is VERY different than flying over it. I’ve flown over a lot of countries that I’ve never been to. I was in their airspace, but I wasn’t really there. It’s different, you know. From way up high, the Rocky Mountains aren’t all that majestic, the Grand Canyon’s not that big, Siberia’s not too cold, and the Pacific Ocean is pretty manageable. But stop and stay a while, and things will shift.

Short-term workers need to remember this. Passing through a nation, tasting their foods, and hugging their kids is not the same as staying. I’m not saying it doesn’t have value, but short-termers must remember that being in a place for a week or even a month is sort of like performing a low-altitude flyover. You can take some cool pictures, but you can’t really understand what it’s like to live there.

That being said, long-termers can benefit from the unique vantage point of our short-term brothers and sisters. Long-termers can get bogged down in minutia and forget to come up for air from time to time. Hanging out with short-termers can reinvigorate and re-inspire. And remind.

I guess the main thing I’m saying is this: be aware of your altitude. If you’re just flying over, know what it is that you don’t know. And ask questions.

If you’ve been somewhere a long time, ask the short-termers to describe what things look like from their vantage point. Ask them about where they came from and where they’re going. The relationship can (and should) be very symbiotic.

 

Kansas City, Missouri, USA
Kansas City, Missouri, USA

6. Most (but not all) obstacles are on the map. So look at it. Radio towers, mountains, restricted airspace, etc., they’re all on the map. Pay attention. Learn from others. Learn the lay of the land.

Missionaries, learn from the old people (nationals and expats alike). They have experience that you need, and they’ve already paid for it! Remember, nothing is new under the sun. Most experienced people are happy to share their thoughts and opinions with interested parties and point out obstacles and hazards. No one likes to see a plane (or a missionary) crash and burn.

 

7. Don’t judge another passenger’s anxiety. On the same flight, excited travelers who’ve planned for and dreamed of the trip for years may be sitting right next to people who are absolutely dreading what awaits them on the tarmac. One traveler may be starting a grand adventure, while another deals with tremendous loss and many endings. A traveler’s anxiety isn’t necessarily correlated to the smoothness of the flight. Don’t judge. You don’t know the stories.

In missions, one person might really struggle with something that another person finds perfectly sublime. What stresses one might excite another. Be careful in the judging, because you just don’t know their story.

Stories are funky things, bleeding through pages of a life. When you see a person stressed or anxious, give them the benefit of the doubt; you don’t know what they left behind, and you don’t know what’s in store for them upon arrival. And often, neither do they.

 

8. The toilets are different. And they sometimes require, um, how shall we say, skill. And planning. Especially with small children.

 

9. You don’t always get to choose your travel buddies. Sometimes you get to choose whom you sit next to (and what they smell like), other times, not so much. If you can’t change it, just be glad you packed earplugs and smelling salts. And sedatives.

Sometimes you can choose where you sit, and whom you sit next to. If that’s the case, be bold. Choose. Sometimes things change en route, and you may need to ask to move seats. If you need to, and you can, do it. There’s nothing noble or especially holy about staying in a difficult situation that isn’t necessary.

 

10. Sometimes you lose stuff. While it’s true that you gain things by flying, you also lose stuff. Like luggage, or your temper, or your ability to answer simple questions such as “What day is it?” “What country am I in?” or “Whose kid is that?” Flying messes with your circadian rhythm, and if you’re blessed to have other forms of rhythm, flying will mess with those too. You lose all sorts of stuff when you fly; some of the stuff you get back, but some of it stays lost forever. Just.Like.Missions.

Maybe it’s innocence.

Or optimism.

Or the belief that this will be easy.

You might show up thinking that all foreign workers are pretty much perfect Christians, as if William Carey and Elisabeth Elliot had a bunch of children and named them all “Missionary.” Yeah, that assumption might get destroyed.

Most likely, you’ll lose a bit of ignorance, forever changing how you watch world news.

But loss isn’t the end of the story; God is, and He remains the Great Healer and Restorer. He is the Father who runs, shouting “We must celebrate! For what was once lost has now been found.” He is the God who sees what’s been lost, and cares. He is the God who is here. And there.

May the peace of God rest on His people.

 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence!

If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there.

If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me.

I could ask the darkness to hide me and the light around me to become night—but even in darkness I cannot hide from you. To you the night shines as bright as day.

Darkness and light are the same to you.

Psalm 139:7-12

Making Friends With Short Term Workers

This is the time of year when summer interns head back “home.” The time when short term teams taper off, and kids go back to school. The time when life on the field supposedly returns to “normal.” So as summer winds down, I want to take some time to honor the short term workers who have touched my life over the past few years.

I didn’t know my life would intersect with so many short term workers when I first moved overseas. It all started when we’d lived in Cambodia for six months, and we met a girl volunteering at the orphanage next door to us. She’d been surprised most of the volunteers weren’t believers and was desperate for some Christian fellowship. So we took her to church with us.

When we hugged her goodbye at the end of the summer, she connected us with a friend of hers. Her friend had a roommate, and both of them introduced us to another girl. They were all working short term for NGOs, and over a period of about six months, they all came to church with us on Sunday mornings.

They managed to squeeze into our mini-van with our four rambunctious kids. We ate donuts for breakfast, and after church we often ate lunch together. We laughed over homeschool jokes – both my husband and one of the girls had been homeschooled. And we introduced Anne of Green Gables to one of the girls, who had never had the pleasure of meeting Miss Anne Shirley.

God kept giving us opportunities to host more people in our home. One girl’s work kept her very culturally immersed. After she finished her work commitment, she stayed in our guest room a short while. She needed a chance to rest, and our daughters had a blast doing cooking projects with her.

When it came time for those girls to leave on a jet plane, I cried. I didn’t know I could get so attached to someone who was only here for a short time. I didn’t know it would be that hard to bid farewell to someone I knew wasn’t staying long. But we had spent time together, made memories, forged friendships.

Our family and two of "our girls," at some of the only green space in the city.
Our family and two of “our girls,” at some of the only green space in the city.

I’m coming up on another goodbye: our summer intern is leaving soon. She’s been part of our family life for over 3 months, and we will send her on her way with our blessing. God is doing some neat stuff in her life, and we’ve had a front row ticket to watch. We’ve pondered life together, shared countless meals, and laughed hysterically over nothing. . . and everything.

Each of these girls became part of our family. They leave a part of themselves with us when they go, and they go with our love. I still miss each of them. I’m so thankful I can follow their continuing journeys on Facebook — when they start grad school, when they finish grad school, when they get engaged, when they get married. Being able to see these things unfold in their lives brings me joy.

They were real-life friends for a season, but friends-at-heart forever. These short term workers have enriched my life as I have learned their stories, enjoyed their senses of humor, and discovered what brought them to Cambodia in the first place. It all seemed to be an accident, this habit of taking girls to church. But I sometimes wonder if the reason we were willing to open our home to new people is because older Christians opened their homes to us when we were younger, teaching us by example what hospitality looks and feels like.

When I was a lonely young college student, church ladies took care of me. One let me do laundry at her house, another let me cry to her when I was stressed. Both let me hang out at their houses on my 18th birthday. And incidentally, these ladies took me to church when I was without a car.

Later, when we were freshly married and still in college, church families continued to welcome my new husband and me into their lives. They included us at Christmas dinners and birthday parties. They invited us over to build campfires and watch meteor showers.

One family in particular shared their life with us. Nearly every Saturday found us driving to their house in the country, where we ate homemade bread and kielbasa soup, played board games, and sang songs with the guitar. Their family was our family, and I felt like I had a mom and a dad nearby. I believe it was out of these good experiences that we were willing to offer our own family to other people.

I’ve talked before about how goodbyes are hard for me. Sometimes goodbyes can make us reluctant to form new relationships. But if we’re reluctant to reach out to new people, we may be missing out on what they have to offer us: new perspectives, unique senses of humor, life stories that can illuminate ours. We’re missing out on the global nature of the body of Christ — and so are the new workers. They’re missing out on what we have to offer them – a “home” away from home, someone to sit next to in church, someone to debrief with over coffee.

Short term workers are a gift to us. They are only given to us for a short time, but we can make the most of that time. We can invite them into our homes and into our lives, we can make a place for them in our hearts. And they, in turn, can make a place for us in their hearts. We can remember forever the sojourners who were with us in body only a short time, but are with us in spirit always.

So don’t be afraid to welcome new people into your life, whether they’re with you for ten weeks or ten years. And remember that the love you show a college student today might be passed on to a missionary tomorrow.

 

Whether you were the short term worker or the long term worker,

how have you let people enter your life for a time, and your heart forever?

 tumblr_na0kw25OtD1st5lhmo1_1280

Story-telling and the Short Term Mission Trip

Claude & I celebrating 5 years of community development in Burundi!
Claude & I celebrating 5 years of community development in Burundi!

We just said good bye to a team of friends who left Burundi last night. Their send off included one last party with friends, good food and the experience of the Burundian drum corp. As they loaded their luggage into the cars and headed to the airport, I thought back over the week.

I remember, in a word, the vibrancy of the first few days up-country as our guests mingled with our Batwa communities. I remembered the moment Godece washed my muddy feet after I fell down the rain-soaked hill of Matara. I’ll never forget the leaders of Matara parading toward us with gifts – a chicken, a branch of green bananas, beans and fruits – all from their abundance. Now they bless us with their first-fruits, after 5 years they have more than enough to share. These are the snapshots from a full week – and if there were time I’d tell you so many more things that took my breath away during this week of visitation and celebration.

Even this morning, as I’m hung over with exhaustion (and an eye red and watery from some kind of scratch or infection) I can remember these few things clearly. I can articulate them even through the fog of my aching bones and coffee-craving. Because we prepared for this all along.

Let me share quickly (because I am really tired) how we practice story-telling and prepare our teams for their return home after their short term mission trip…

1. Give me a word.

At the end of day one or day two, the team is usually buzzing. There is still a sense of disorientation but now, after the first few experiences on the field, there are new sensations added to the mix. You can see that people are still fighting the jet-lag and that they are trying to get their minds around what they’ve just witnessed with the Batwa friends.

This is when, around the relaxed setting of the dinner table, I begin to prepare the team for their return. I look around the table, look at each team member and, after clicking the glass to get their attention, I say, “Give me a word.” I instruct each person to give me one word to describe what they are feeling or what they are seeing thus far.

You can give just one word without explanation. There is freedom in that request – especially for team members who don’t know all the others. One word is not a heavy burden. Also, for people still reeling with a mix of emotions and exhaustion, one word is manageable.

This week some of the words were familiar, joy, heaven, rightness, overwhelming, freedom, love, sustainable, transformation. Mine was vibrancy.

Some people felt the need to elaborate. Others didn’t. But everyone offered one word. It was the beginning of putting words to the experience, starting to frame this trip as it developed.

2. Tell me one moment.

About halfway through the trip I invite the team to share one moment that arrested their attention or provoked some emotion or new awareness. Sometimes this happens around a meal, but sometimes amid a time of devotions. No one is rushed, but no one is skipped either. Everyone tells the group a moment that stands out for them – even if it echoes someone else’s.

Now I watch people strong more words together around what they are experiencing in Matara, in Bubanza, with our various friends and projects. One is touched by the encounter with a driver, the conversation they had driving through one neighborhood in particular. Another shares the recognition that now these local friends have access to healthcare because there is a little clinic with a nurse on duty. Someone else notes that for the first time they’ve witnessed joy beyond circumstances when they saw the Batwa women dance.

For me, my moment was when Godece washed my muddy feet. She took my feet in her hands as her son poured water over them. She wiggled her fingers in between my toes to dislodge dirt and tiny stones. She rubbed the bar of soap over my feet and coaxed out the cleansing suds. It was a sacramental moment between us.

Stories being shared around the table!
Stories being shared around the table!

3. A break to rest.

Near the last days of the trip, the team starts to ware a bit. They’ve been on the go for days, they’ve been eating unfamiliar foods, their schedule is irregular and they are feeling it. Despite all the goodness, I can see they need a break. We also know that this is when many of our guests hit the saturation point. So many sights, so many faces, so many stories swimming in their brains – accompanied with all the emotions sloshing around their hearts.

So we plan a set of hours for the team to relax. When there is time, we take the team away for an entire day to a resort to rest. They can walk on the beach, take long naps or read a book by the pool. On shorter trips, we end the day at 3:00pm and allow the team to relax for the rest of the day. They can take a swim, enjoy dinner at their leisure or skip it entirely and go to bed early instead. We just ensure that there is some unscheduled time for the team to rest, to practice some Sabbath amid the trip.

What I’ve learned is that this time allows the stories to seep in deep. This time allows the thoughts criss-crossing their minds to untangle a bit. The rest allows the team members to recalibrate, but also to absorb what they’ve been experiencing. Open time allows the stories to find their place and for deeper connections to emerge.

The truth is that team members have busy lives back home, so we can’t just assume there will be reflection time once they return to their city. But knowing how critical that reflection time is to their ability to process all the local experiences, we make sure to offer space while they are with us.

I assure you, this is not wasted time in-country. Sometimes we don’t need one more story or one more visit across the city, we need time to contemplate all the other stories encounters thus far.

Often the best conversations happen in the following couple of days after the time of rest and reflection. People have put thoughts together and return to us with great observations and questions. I love when this happens before they leave us, when there is time for engagement before a continent separates us again.

4. How was your trip?

On the final night I invite the team to each share the moment that stands out for them, the one that rises to the top. Often I will have them break into teams of two to share for about 5 minutes each. When we come back to the large group, everyone shares the story again, but in about 3 minutes. Then I challenge them to find another team member and now share that same story in 2 minutes.

We are practicing.

Once the time is done I remind them that when they get off the plane, the question they will most often hear is “How was the trip?” This is your moment to honor those friends in Burundi, to say something true about the people or the place. Don’t waste it by saying “It was great” or “I loved it there.” Take the opportunity to share something true about your time among our friends.

So we practice in Burundi so that our team is ready when they land in Houston, Vancouver, Melbourne or wherever. They can share their moment in 2 minutes or so, offer a sterling memory of their time among the people of Burundi. Maybe people will want to hear more… and over coffee you can share more stories, pictures and such. But even if all you get is 2 minutes of their attention, in that time you honor your friends in Burundi and your time overseas.

I’ve had several people over the years tell me how grateful they were for the preparation time in Burundi. They reported that upon landing home, when they were jet-lagged and out of sorts, they kicked into gear when the question was asked. They pulled from the memory of the words, moments and stories they shared around our table and were ready to say something true about their trip.

This is one important way we can prepare our teams for homecoming from the moment they arrive with us in-country… practice storytelling the entire time. Yes, it will offer you a sense of where the team members are as you listen to what affects them. But almost more important, you will prepare them to tell their story well when they return home. I know they will take the goodness of Burundi home with them and spread it like good seed whenever they share a story or a moment or a word.

[This is the third post in a series on How To Host A Mission Trip based on our ten years of practice in Burundi!”

How do you facilitate story-telling for your short-term mission teams?

Have you ever returned from a short term mission trip and felt tongue-tied?

 

Kelley Nikondeha  |  community development practitioner in Burundi

Blog | www.kelleynikondeha.com    Twitter | @knikondeha

 

Hosting Short-Term Mission Trips: Devotions

photo credit: Tina Francis
photo credit: Tina Francis
Photo Credit: Tina Francis

When I was young I remember embarking on my first short-term mission trip – to Hawaii. I don’t recall much of what we did while on the island, but I remember when we clustered under the buckling metal patio cover for morning devotions. The team leader opened up his Bible and taught us about the seeds of the gospel we were meant to cast with generosity across the globe; a kind and gentle sort of evangelism.

Years later, while in college, I participated in a Spring Break mission to Ensenada. Did I help build something or feed someone – I can’t remember. The tents caked with dust, the days of discomfort, the paltry meals stick in my memory. The other impression time hasn’t eroded were the twilight gatherings round the fire pit, when we heard sermons on the virtues of mercy and evangelism working hand in hand for the advancing of the Kingdom.

My own experience of short-term mission trips convinced me that people needed me to come and help them fix their broken world. The times of devotion reinforced the message, telling me that Jesus expected me to do my part in saving people. I often walked away from mission trips feeling sorry for the poor, sensing the imperative to evangelize but heavy with guilt because I didn’t do enough of it. My ways of thinking about poverty, mission, and evangelism were never challenged, only confirmed.

But when people come to Burundi I want them to see Scripture afresh. I want team members to witness the words and works of God already afoot in Bubanza, Matara and Bujumbura. I want the stories of Scripture and the red soil to mingle – stretching and challenging us, over-turning our assumptions, offering fresh vision. I want my team to feel God’s active and subversive words as work among us.

tree dancing mamas

Here are some things I consider when it comes to crafting devotions for short-term mission teams:

1. What do I see God doing in our Burundian communities?

One large narrative I see played out in Matara, a community of 28 families we’ve been working with for five years, is Exodus. Our friends used to live like slaves huddled on the corner of someone else’s land, working and living at their mercy. When they describe these cruel landowners they sound like the taskmasters of Egypt. But then God gave a gift that changed everything – new land. This allowed our friends to move out of the brickyards and toward freedom. In this Promised Land they faced challenges – hostile neighbors, fields in need of planting and learning to live together in unity. In this land they experienced God’s abundance for the first time – food security by the second year, livestock, businesses allowing them to earn money, access to medical care and education for their children.

Leading devotions along the Exodus storyline creates opportunities to see that slavery still exists, freedom still happens and God has never stopped giving good land and creating viable communities. Maybe we stop thinking of Egypt and Sinai and the Promised Land as props in a Sunday School class and recognize how current these places are in Burundi – and maybe even in our own home as we think about local oppression, liberation and places of promise in our cities.

2. What is God stirring in me, as the local practitioner on the ground, as I engage in this work?

A couple of years ago I was steeped in the book of Isaiah, reading the words of the prophet and the two-volume commentary by Walter Brueggemann incessantly. I could not get enough of the God who called us from weeping to dancing, transforming landscapes, repairing the streets where people lived and doing a new thing. I began to see the images of Isaiah come to life around me as I walked in and out of our the Batwa communities we partnered with – the prophetic visions were inescapable.

SL day

When the women of our community got identity cards and became fully recognized citizens of Burundi for the first time, I thought of how God calls the prisoners to come out – show yourselves, an invitation to re-enter society. When wells came to Bubanza, turning the brown dirt into soil able to hold seeds, I remembered when God opened rivers on the bare heights, fountains in the midst of valleys, making the wilderness into a pool of water and transforming the dry land into springs of water. And when it became apparent we were meant to build a primary school in the middle of this remote and unlikely community, “forget the former things, I am about to do a new thing – do you not perceive it?” echoed in my ears and gave me hope. Isaiah named our community development work.

When the team landed in Burundi that summer, sharing from my own interactions with Isaiah seemed appropriate during our devotions. This is what community development looks like, theologically speaking. This is why we do what we do – and see it as Gospel work, like runners coming across the mountains announcing good news. So each morning we would reflect on these prophetic words, then travel to communities and see the text spring to life before our eyes. God still transforms land; God still rescues prisoners and sets newness in motion!

3. What does this look like?

When the central market of Burundi burned to the ground one Sunday morning, the entire city slumped over in despair. Within mere hours thousands of people fell further into poverty, ejected from the economy. Amid the cries and confusion, we sensed the Spirit push us to open new avenues for our clients to re-enter the economy. (Did I mention we run a community bank committed to partner with the working poor?) Against the odds, we worked with each client to see them recover their business and get a second chance at a vibrant life in the neighborhood. By the end of the year, people weren’t just treading water or catching up – many moved further and saw their revenues increase and even hired more employees.

What did this look like – jubilee! We hear in Deuteronomy and Isaiah – even in the words of Jesus – that jubilee is meant to set people free from perpetual debt, to give them a second chance to enter the economy and start again. Jubilee offers concrete economic relief, frees real captives and allows debt forgiveness to recalibrate the local economy. This is what we witnessed in the wake of the market place fire.

Devotions last summer centered on each of the jubilee passages in the Old and New Testaments. We saw jubilee with our own eyes – we met people who got a second chance, people no longer enslaved to debts and witnessed a community re-imagined by the gestures of jubilee. It was no longer some antiquated economic policy in the Hebrew Bible – we knew it was real, and jubilee was for today!

This is my encouragement to fellow practitioners hosting teams this summerpick a narrative that parallels your community work. Allow these stories to unfold slowly over days, mediate on the Scriptures and look for connections to your place, your people, your project.

Allow the biblical text to illumine your landscape; allow your landscape to illumine the biblical text. What often emerges, in my experience, are catalytic moments where we see deeply and are transformed by both text and terrain.

*****

What stories in Scripture have come to life for you in the context of a short-term mission trip?

How do you shape devotions for your team members – share some best practices with us!

Do you think devotions on a short-term mission team must mention evangelism and salvation? Tell us why.

*****

I’m working on a series of posts on How To Host A Short-Term Mission Trip. The first one, focusing on logistics, can be found HERE. Next week I’ll share about story-telling and preparing your team to return home. But now I’m boarding a flight taking me to my Burundian summer where I will be reunited with my husband, sit on the shore of Lake Tanganyika, eat my share of sun-sweetned pineapple and… host a short-term mission trip!

Kelley Nikondeha, community development practitioner & chief storyteller in Burundi

Twitter:    @knikondeha | Blog: www.kelleynikondeha.com

 

Step Away from the Guilt

Step Away from the Guilt 01

I was worried I’d grown numb to it. Maybe I’d become calloused. Hardened. Immune.

Because poverty wasn’t affecting me like it used to.

When I faced it as a teenager—on mission trips to places like Nicaragua and Botswana—my eyes and my heart were opened to things I never knew existed in the world. I was wrecked to discover such unimaginable and inescapable poverty, and it messed with me. I’d return home and make all kinds of extreme commitments. I vowed to be less materialistic. I took radical stances with my “self-absorbed” Christian friends. I soapboxed about America’s obsession with excess. I volunteered more, and served wherever and whenever I could.

But as the aftershocks of my experiences with poverty wore off, so did my radical life changes. Until my next mission trip.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

It was a vicious cycle of the best intentions that did nothing more than fuel my need to continually strive to be better, do more, and—somehow, hopefully—be enough. I’m not saying I didn’t genuinely have compassion, conviction, and passion to live a life that makes a difference. I did. But it translated into a guilt-driven reaction to the extremes I saw and experienced, because I couldn’t reconcile the poverty I witnessed with the life I lived every day.

It was a nauseating roller coaster ride as I tried—and failed—to bridge the disparity between my abundance and their lack.

It was years after I moved to South Africa to serve in the poorest region of the country that I finally realized that those things can’t be reconciled or bridged. The contrasts will never make sense.

I mustn’t allow my guilt to force-feed my insatiable striving complex. Nor must I allow it to paralyze me into inactivity or apathy.

I finally learned to step off the roller coaster and actually engage in doing something that would truly make a difference. Not fueled by guilt, but by hope.

Step Away from the Guilt 02

I realized that it isn’t about being apologetic for what I have, giving everything away, or looking down on how much people spend at Starbucks. It is about stewarding what I have well—using it to serve, strengthen, and love others.

People often ask me how I could live and work for so long in a community of such dire poverty. “Do you just get used to it?” What they are really asking is the same thing I’ve asked myself: “Did you grow numb?”

And I see now that I didn’t. But somewhere in my 13 years of living in Africa, something did change in me.

I stopped feeling guilty about what I had and the “luck” of being born an American, and I started to feel grateful to be part of the solution.

The problems and challenges are enormous, but I am confident that we can all do something that makes a difference. In our own unique ways, with our own individual passions and talents, we can bring hope into places and hearts that gave up a long time ago.

Not because we feel guilty, but because we are compelled by the hope we ourselves have been given.

What’s been your experience with responding to poverty?

Alece RonzinoAlece Headshot

After pioneering and leading a nonprofit in South Africa for 13 years, Alece now lives in Nashville, TN. She is a Nonprofit Communications & Development Strategist, a freelance copywriter/editor, and the founder of One Word 365. She blogs occasionally but candidly about searching for God in the question marks of life and faith. Follow Alece on Twitter and visit her blog, Grit and Glory.

{Photos Source: Daniel C. White}

A previous post by Alece: Bring the Rain

Breakfast with Gracia Burnham

Gracia Burnham and me at IHOP standing conveniently in front of the globe

I arrived at the restaurant way too early and waited in the foyer Wednesday morning.  Part of me still expected her to show up with an entourage.  A driver and bodyguard at least!  She is that much of a rock star to me.

Over a decade ago Gracia Burnham, author of ‘In the Presence of My Enemies’, became a widowed mother of three after 16 years of missionary service in the Philippines. Her husband was killed after they both spent a year in captivity in the jungle.

Now she was having breakfast with me. Wow! She is so much more wonderful in real life than I had imagined in my mind. Can you believe it? So sweet, kind, humble, gentle, smiley, and peaceful. And very short!

I asked if I could blog about our chat and she graciously agreed.

Q: This is my favorite quote from the book –

Because the Abu Sayyaf — and all of us — still retain the power of personal choice, the option of standing stubbornly against the will of God. And that obstinate stance is, apparently, something an almighty God is not willing to bulldoze. Of course, he could have fired heavenly lasers into the brains of Janjalani and Musab and Sabaya, forcing them to wake up one morning and say, “Okay, Martin and Gracia, this has been long enough. Feel free to hike off whenever you like.” But that would have made them puppets instead of independent human beings with free will of their own, for which they will be eternally responsible.

In this section you give some vivid imagery of who God is not. He is not a bulldozer, not a sharpshooter, and not a puppet-master.  Could you give me an image of who God is to you?

Gracia:

God herds me. I see God like a herder behind and around some sheep and they are all milling around and God has his arms out and they are being herded by him. God as my leader? No, I don’t see God out front leading or guiding. God is my herder.

Q: Do you miss living overseas? I’m sorry, people probably ask you that all the time.

Gracia:

I don’t get asked that very often. People assume that I am content and happy to be in the United States. And there is a chosen contentment. But I very much miss living overseas. I would much rather be in the Philippines.

Q: What new trends do you see in this generation of missionaries who are just getting started out as compared to when you began as a missionary over two decades ago?

Gracia:

What I see in today’s missionary is a strong emphasis on safety and comfort. And who am I to say that making a safe and healthy home is not the way to go? But it is a trend. The missionaries going now are talking about the big house they are going to have and where it is going to be and how it is going to be better than the standard of living of the people they are ministering to. Whereas, years ago, the idea was to go to the people and if all they had was one white t-shirt to wear then you wore one white t-shirt. Maybe you had five white t-shirts that you rotated. But the people only ever saw you in one white t-shirt.

Another thing I see happening in the States is the efforts of the church have shifted. Now, all the focus is on getting people on short term trips. I sat in on the board meeting of a group of churches as they discussed their strategy for missions. I had to bite my tongue when they said that the whole of what they were going to do was try and get everyone in their congregation to go serve for a week or two on a short trip. Where is the part where we teach children about the people of the world? When do we pray with the young people so they can ask God if they are called to be a missionary? When do we say to a child who feels called to the mission field, “Yes, okay, we will train you, and pray with you, and spiritually prepare you for a life of sacrifice and simplicity”?

Yes, the simple lifestyle. I don’t see as much simplicity in today’s missionary. The focus is on safety and comfort. Before, the focus was on sacrifice and simplicity. Different lifestyles. We are in different times, so there are different focuses.

——————————–

Discussion question:

What pros and cons do you see in the two different missions focuses Gracia highlights? 1. Sacrifice and Simplicity 2. Safety and Comfort

 – Angie Washington, missionary living in Bolivia, South America

blog: angiewashington.com twitter: @atangie work blog: House of Dreams Orphanage

——————————–

Click here to hear the back story of when Graica Burnham called me, me?!?, on the phone: A Call from Gracia Burnham.

Related links: The Changing Face of Missions – – Short Term Missions and a Church in Haiti – – A Case for Short Term Missions

Short Term Missions and a Church in Haiti

Guest writer and missionary to Haiti, Shannon Kelley, shares a short term missions experience.

————————————————

It’s a typical Sunday.  My family walks over dirt roads about a mile to a little cinder block church.  We are the only non-Haitian’s there.  We sit amongst our friends – people with hard lives that get down on their knees and pray prayers that make Jesus feel palpable in that room.  The kids sit mostly well-mannered in fear of being shushed by some of the elders in the church.  There is no fanfare. We sit in our usual seats. A couple guys bang on handmade instruments to worship.  It is beauty.

Several weeks later I sit within those same walls. This time a group is visiting on a short-term mission trip. Today there are plants and decorations lining the “stage” and the crackling of a mic with a short in it makes it impossible to understand much.  The pastor spent last week’s offering on gas for a little generator to power a mic and keyboard player just for today, for the group.  The handmade instruments I love sit unused in the corner.  The blan (white) pastor leading the team gets up and introduces his team by name, making them parade to the front.

As the service wears on, a few of the moms of the group motion for some kids to come sit with them. They proceed to chat and play with them while, unbeknownst to them, the congregants are praying.  The elders that typically shush the kids shake their heads and don’t say anything because they don’t want to insult the visitors. The kids know this and take full advantage of playing with cameras and phones and other gadgets, being generally disorderly in comparison to the usual way they’re expected they behave.  I sit there and wonder how we would feel if we were sitting in a church in the States and a group of people from another country came in and acted that way.

Church ends and the visitors go on to do their week of serving the community. I watch as the labor they do takes away jobs from the nationals, like construction and painting. The money from their airplane tickets could provide employment for Haitians which in turn feeds families.

Sometimes service from foreign groups can be fruitful and I can see the need for it. They leave the village better off by training pastors, educating Haitians, and supporting the long term missionaries. I wonder, though, if the risk of having a group who might do more damage than good is too great.

I’m struggling with the good of short term missions.  I see the side of it that is good because it shows people a different part of the world and challenges their faith. But are we searching for substance in our lives at the mercy of those we came to help?

I don’t know the answer. Let’s talk. What has your experience been with short-term teams? What methods effectively help all those involved, nationals and foreigners alike?

More on STMs: A Case for Short Term Missions  |  Is the Price Tag Worth It?  | Rice Christians and Fake Conversions

——————————————

Shannon Kelley lives in a rural fishing village with her  family on the Southern tip of Haiti where they fight for families. Follow their journey here:
www.shannon-kelley.com/blog

A Case for Short Term Missions (Guest Post: Seth Barnes)

I am a progeny of the short-term missions movement. My life was shaped by trips I took as a teenager to Guatemala and Peru. And here’s the ripple effect: in addition to sending tens of thousands to the field, my family has been profoundly affected. My daughter Estie just left with her college group to Ecuador, my son Seth Jr. has spent a year in Nicaragua, and for the last 17 years, my parents have spent three months doing medical ministry in Kenya.

From www.sethbarnes.comBuilding on that early experience as a teenager, I’ve spent 25 years doing short-term trips and it seems that my blog “Are short-term missions becoming faddish?” has made me something of an “authority.” Over 60,000 people have looked at it since I wrote it a year ago. And the tide of emails in my in-box like the one I just received made me realize that perhaps it’s time for a considered response.

So, be warned, this is gonna get long – hang in there!

A random person recently wrote me saying, “Hey, I am doing a speech opposing short term missions [STMs] today, I was wondering if you have any data or statistics that would work for this?”

I’m afraid my response wasn’t too encouraging: “You may have mis-read my perspective.” I wrote. “I believe your position is unbiblical. Luke 9 and 10 is a clear biblical precedent. My issue is not STMs, but STMs done poorly, which is most of the time these days. If you’re ‘opposing STMs’ then you’re opposing Jesus.”

What’s going on here? Is this a tempest in a teapot, or do we need to trash short-term missions and start over?

On the one hand, STMs have become over-the-top faddish when you can now sign up for a “missions cruise,” – I wonder whose “have-your-cake-and eat-it-too” thinking produced that? On the other hand, when you go to a bad restaurant, do you give up on eating food? Many of us attend dull churches, but believe in the concept of church. Everywhere in life there are examples of excellence contrasted with poverty of imagination and execution.

STMs are a necessary part of discipleship. The people who would do away with them are missing a big chunk of Jesus’ pedagogy. Jesus was big on faith – asking us to do a trust-fall with the Father. How else are you going to learn faith if not by being thrust into unfamiliar territory with an overwhelming assignment? You can study diving all you want, but until you jump off that high dive, you don’t know diving.

STMs are also a necessary part of missions. Paul went on a series of STMs and jump-started the long-term mission movement. Usually when planting a long-term work in a community, those planning it are going to begin to establish relationships in a series of forays that culminate in a long-term commitment.

STM teams work – sometimes spectacularly. The uneven results they can produce open the door to criticism. Here are the most prevalent criticisms:

*They cost too much.

*Short-term missionaries can’t do a missionary’s job.

*Short-term missionaries should help the needy people in the U.S. first.

Jesus tells us, “Go into all the world spreading the good news.” The passive approach to faith is an oxymoron – we can’t sit still and practice the kind of risky faith steps that Jesus advocated. Christ sounded a clarion call to battle. Religion for couch potatoes placing a premium on safety or formulas doesn’t sit well with our Lord. We’ve been commanded to get out of the malls and into the streets. The question before the court then is not one of a mandate. The questions are: What we should do with the mandate we’ve been given? And, just how far should short-term missionaries go with their mandate? Are there any limits?

Sometimes, the critics score a bullseye. Mission trips too frequently are costly. By definition they can’t incorporate the follow-up work that only someone with a long-term commitment to a particular mission field can. Often they are overly ambitious, aspiring to pierce the darkness in a place like Romania, when the light may be dimmer next door in Philadelphia.

Other criticisms are more easily countered. Some critics dismiss short-term missionaries out of hand with the comment that “They’re not really missionaries.” To which I say, if being a missionary means something other than sharing the love of Jesus cross-culturally, then it is true, short-term missionaries may not measure up. Yes, often they do have a quick-fix mentality in a world where change may be measured at a glacial rate. However, I suggest that labels are a peripheral issue. Jesus called us all to be missionaries. He sent his disciples out in pairs as the first short-term missionaries (Mark 6:7-13). To judge the validity of the STM movement, we need to dispense with old preconceptions and look at the fruit, not the duration of the term or even the commitment of those involved.

Another criticism in the same vein is that the ministry on a mission trip is more to the short-termer than it is to those to whom they’re ministering. To which I say, “So what?” It’s true that STM leaders may seem more focused on the needs of their group than they are on the ministry they’ve undertaken. Often the changes that occur in their lives are profound. It may frequently be the case that short-term missionaries are the primary beneficiaries of their trip; however, the most successful models of STMs emphasize a partnership in which both participants and nationals benefit equally as they develop relationships with one another.

These kinds of criticisms persist and confusion flourishes when STM leaders embrace questionable models of STMs. Because there are so many flawed models floating around, they inevitably tarnish those models of STMs whose fruit has stood the test of time.

When STM groups come in for criticism, most often it is because they have adopted one or more of the following flawed models of short-term missions. Let’s look at the six worst:

QUESTIONABLE MODELS

1. No Preparation

2. No Prayer

3. No Jerusalem

4. No “Ends of the earth”

5. No Stewardship

6. No Perspective

Some critics see STM groups as being on a kind of philanthropic sightseeing tour. An STM team can be a negative experience for both long-term missionary and participant alike if the team is inadequately prepared and is seen as a necessary inconvenience. The same team can have an incredible impact if they are trained and come to the field with the right attitudes.

****

The above article was used with permission from Seth Barnes, President of Adventures.org. Since 1989, they have taken over 100,000 young people overseas on short term missions trips. You can check him out at his blog, SethBarnes.com or on twitter @sethbarnes

****

What are your thoughts on Short Term Missions? How have you seen them positively affect people, help your long-term ministry, or impact the culture where you are living?

Long-termers: What do you want short-termers to know before they start their trip? Advice for them?