For many in the United States and Northern Europe, doing missions outside the country is a common practice. It often allows volunteers to experience new cultural realities, deepen their faith, and assist indigenous people in improving their own communities. However, without advanced prayer, discernment, and intercultural competence, mission groups may unwittingly speak and act in ways that foster racism and xenophobia. Additionally, mission groups in more privileged communities may focus more on their own agendas than providing the support their host communities need. As you plan a mission trip, ask and answer these questions:
- What is the purpose of this mission trip?
- Why do I want to go?
- Who benefits most from this mission trip? Will our work offer a mere bandage to a need or will our work help address root causes and foster systemic change in the local community’s health care access, poverty prevention, education, etc.? How is our mission group working in our own communities to address the same concerns we will address in an overseas mission trip? If we are not working locally, why not? What social concerns are you ignoring in your own community?
- Are we spending money most efficiently by traveling? Or would the money be better spent if we donated directly to the host community?
- What do we know about the language, cultural practices, and etiquette for the community hosting the mission trip? How can we learn more? Have we learned to offer greetings, say “thank you,” and ask basic questions in the language of those we are visiting? What specific plans has our group made to be as self-sufficient as possible onsite, so as not to overtax our host community?
- Are we prepared to participate in the indigenous Christian practices of the people in our host community, rather than assuming that we are “taking the faith” to them? How will we share our faith in ways that respect indigenous traditions and practices?
As you embark on your mission trips, consider these dos and don’ts:
- Ask about their needs before bringing foreign items that are not useful to them.
- Acknowledge they have their own ways of doing things.
- Be mindful and respect cultural differences.
- Listen and observe the host community.
- Spend time getting to know their ways of living.
- Give space for the locals to get to know you.
- Leave the rest to the local leaders (you are only planting seeds).
- Assume they have nothing.
- Aim at changing their way of things or assuming you know better.
- Force the American mindset on the locals.
- Make drastic changes to their way of living.
- Excessive closeness (don’t be overly excited with hugs, gifts, physical touch, etc.)
- Expect outcomes to drastically appear.