Thursday, October 9, 2014

Short term teams and a Culture of Honor

Short term missions trips.  They've certainly become a popular thing to do.  They can be life changing experiences for sure!  On short term trips, when we are out of our own context, we often have opportunities to do things we struggle to do back preach in the street boldly, share the gospel, love the poor, demonstrate servant hood and generosity.  These experiences done in the context of the high level community a short term team usually has with one another, often brings true life change and transformation. For those who go.  But what about the aftermath of their visit? Are these trips truly a blessing for the hosts?  Or are they something long term people or local hosts feel obligated to do in order to receive ongoing financial support for their work? 

It is vital that we not approach short term missions with an attitude of "What is in it for me?" Dare I ask you that question? "What IS in it for you?"  Are you going on this trip because you want to feel good about yourself, feel like you did something humanitarian and noble in the midst of your materialistic lifestyle?  Is it because when out of your context, you are more bold than at home and you want to go home with a story of some crazy and amazing way God worked through you?  We need to examine our heart motivations prior to short term trips. It is also crucial that we not see ourselves through ethnocentric glasses, or from a perspective of superiority to the local people.  See my friend Jean Johnson's book for more on this Sometimes I wonder what might be different if short term teams took time to consider what a "Culture of Honor" looks like in how they interact with local people, be they the national hosts, or those they desire to reach or touch with Christ's love.

A recent film that is being widely promoted in some circles showed a short term team going into a very important religious site, playing a guitar and singing a song against the advice of the local hosts.  This film depicts this action as bold, courageous, an action of faith and risk and seems to imply that this is what is really needed on missions trips to see God's Kingdom Advance.  Sadly, this action while indeed bold (and many would say unwise and very dishonoring to those of Hindu faith) may not result in positive fruit or impact but may actually create walls and barriers in the hearts of Hindus toward Christians, and consequently affect their openness to the gospel.

What does it mean to live out a Culture of Honor on a short term missions trip?  Let me give you a few of my thoughts for your consideration.

1. First, it means honoring and showing respect for the local people who are hosting you and listening to their advice and input about what is safe and wise to attempt to do.  While there may be things you feel the Holy Spirit is leading you to do, or things you think would be "really awesome and incredible" to do, be very careful not to let your love for crazy adventure cause you to put your local hosts in danger by your unwise actions.  Remember that most local people are in a lower "power position" than you are. (See Sarah Lanier's book for more on this; Due to your wealth and education and the fact that you are their guest,  it is difficult for them to tell you a contradictory opinion and especially hard for them to say to you "no, please don't do that." This puts the full responsibility on you to honor them by really seeking for them to share their honest and experienced opinions with you rather than discounting them as foolish and faithless.  Remember that your reckless actions could lead to long term persecution for them as well as long term set backs in a ministry they have worked for years to establish. You are there to serve them, come alongside them, and learn from them. 

If for some reason you really feel the Holy Spirit is leading you to do something they don't seem excited about, pray about it with them and submit it to them.  Then trust the Holy Spirit to confirm that in their hearts and give them the same level of conviction and boldness he has given you.  Let them own the decision and be part of it.  Then, if there is backlash in persecution or spiritual warfare after you leave, they will have the grace and be prepared for it because they too heard from God that this was His leading.  This is living out a Culture of Honor and respect for your local hosts.

2. Second, show sensitivity and honor to the culture and religious sentiments of those you are attempting to reach or impact.  Many devout Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims are very sincere in their efforts to do what is right and to please god.  These cultures highly value respect for religious sites and religious leaders.  Be very careful to honor this and not desecrate their religious sites, causing unnecessary offense.  Singing praise Jesus songs on the top of religious monuments or inner sanctums, does not open the hearts of those from other faiths.  Instead, show respect for their beliefs and efforts to live in accordance with the religious truths they have been taught.  Recognize them as God fearers and start where they are at.  Engage in a dialogue about your faiths and show genuine interest in what they believe and why, rather than condemning it. Ask them key questions rather than tell them why your religion is better than theirs. (See Any 3 book by Mike Shipman for an excellent resource on how to use questions in your evangelism approach. )

This will lead to open hearts and they will also be more than willing to hear what you have to share and about your amazing journey of life with Jesus.  Honor doesn't trample on other's sentiments and the things they hold dear.  Honor recognizes the good in them and their pursuit of god in the ways they have been taught up until now, and journeys alongside of them.  When they see the genuine connection between God and you, genuine godliness of character and attitudes, the power of God's love flowing through you as you interact with them, and as you boldly share the simple gospel message of His love, you will be amazed at the deep impact you make.

I recently (just last week) listened to the story of a formerly Hindu friend who came from a very devout family.  He now follows Jesus.  He shared the story of how deeply impacted he was by the humility and servant leadership of one of his professors in university who was a Jesus follower. This man shared his story with tears welling up in his eyes.  In his home country, he had never seen a professor treat a student with such love and humility.  This made his heart ripe for the message this man shared.  Honor opened the door to his heart.

Jesus had a lot of negative and pretty biting remarks to make toward the Judaizers and Pharisees (the religious leaders of his own faith and culture).  But to the lost and to those outside his Jewish community, he was kind and respectful. He asked questions and share simple truth.  Lets follow His example when we cross cultural barriers hoping to be a blessing.  Honor your local hosts.  Honor those you came to bless and touch.  Don't do things that are so clearly a trampling of their precious religious sentiments and feelings and then expect them to want to hear your message.  And if by chance God's Spirit truly leads you to do something really unusual and potentially upsetting to the local people, clear it through your hosts first and get their buy in and full blessing.  This kind of honor will lend toward a fruitful and effective trip where you will be welcomed back and will leave with many bridges built rather than burnt. You may even catalyze a movement or a true revival.  The extra blessing will be the impact on your own life of the lessons learned through honoring your hosts and the local people. This will be with you forever.


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