Three weeks after coming back from my first Global Village build in Costa Rica, I have been thinking about short-term mission. It is such a blessing to meet diverse people while absorbing a different culture and learning about a community’s needs. Making a short-term mission successful is tricky. Youth World is an organization based in Quito, Ecuador that focuses on making short-term missions work well. I have been on a couple of their programs and wanted to share what I’ve learned from those experiences in order to enhance any future work you may do with Habitat’s Global Village program.
First, I want to explain why I will not use the word “trip” when talking about missions. This word implies that there is an end to the journey. When you go on a trip, you prepare to go to a destination, you travel to that place, and then you return. There is an end. With short-term mission work, the most important part of the experience is the post-field work that happens. With successful missions, there is no end; rather, the on-site mission is the beginning to a life-long journey of change.
Making the journey successful is about benefiting four groups: The team members, the people who host the team, the team’s community, and the host site’s community. The impact on these groups will be much more successful with a mentality around partnership. According to Youth World, ‘mutual using’ is when the short-term team brings goods that the host site needs and the host team gets to check off a job well done on their guilt list, but both groups fail to engage with one another. Mutual using looks fine on the outside: both parties get what they want- a good deed done on the short-term mission side and needed goods received on the host site side. However, this relationship is not sustainable for long-term growth.
Rather, ‘reciprocal partnership’ is ideal for creating a lasting relationship that most positively benefits all four groups. This relationship is based on the basic understanding that both sides have much to offer to one another. Each serves as part of the body of Christ, each has something to give and to receive, and each recognizes that the people are more important than the program. Even though this premise sounds simple, it is challenging to embody fully while serving. So often we hold prejudices: we are better, more blessed, lucky, and have much more to offer to others than to receive. Understanding and appreciating another culture is tough when our natural state of mind is to think that our own culture is the best. Jesus tells us that we are all one in Him. It is a simple statement but living it can be tough. Cameron Graham Vivanco, Director of Youth World, lays this idea out well with this model:
-One way: “We help them.”
-Transactional: “We help each other.”
-Transformational: “We need each other to understand who God is, to be more like God, and to grow Christ.”
Who is to say that giving is better than receiving? Both are essential to developing partnership. Host families and individuals have much to offer to teams and individuals on the team should be open to receiving from them. To deny them of this act of giving would be saying that their gifts mean nothing to you. Understanding that partnership is much more beautiful and glorifying will help make the on-site portion of a mission much more successful.
So how do you make the post-field successful? This is the most important aspect of a short-term mission. This is the make-it or break-it answer for whether it would have been more impactful to cut a check for travel costs to the host organization rather than sending a team to the host site at all. Here’s what you should know…
Youth World defines the post-field experience with Five F’s:
- Fun: This is the honeymoon phase of returning home. You are delighted to shower in your own bathroom, wear clean clothes, see your friends, share about your experience, and sleep on your comfy bed.
- Flee: The second F is focused around avoidance. Things like a busy culture or impersonal relationships start to annoy you. People aren’t as interested in your short-term mission as you want them to be. You start to feel isolated and crave to be around your team again because they are the ones who understand you. You long to go back and deal with more serious concerns than the petty ones of those around you. Life felt more significant during the mission.
- Flight: This phase centers on anger and criticism. Your home culture makes you mad and you start to resist. You may vow to never take a hot shower again. You might compare cultures and think that the benefits of the other culture outweigh your own. The acts taken at this phase are normally insignificant and do not foster true change. You might become critical of things in your home culture and speak out against it. If you’re silent, you may feel a sense of spiritual superiority because you believe you understand better than others.
- Fit: Things aren’t fun anymore and you’re too tired to keep fighting and fleeing. I’ll fit back into my culture. You begin to reconnect. You fit back in, hang out with your friends, go to school or work, and return to daily life. You long for another mission to feel that sense of spiritual fulfillment and community. The re-entry process stops. Aborted mission.
*Most people stop at this phase. It’s unfortunate but true. People who go on lots of missions might make it to this phase every single time and then stop and repeat the process. This is a trip. Stopping at this phase makes donating the money that was spent on the trip more worth it than ever going in the first place.
- Fruit: Creative engagement. Going on a short-term mission, this should be your goal from day one of planning. Getting to this phase means your mission will be worthwhile for all four communities. How will life change for you after the mission? What will God do to work through your experience? This phase shifts the conversation from spending or wasting money and time to investing and multiplying resources. Who will grow from your short-term mission experience? How will our world be better because of your time spent discovering another culture’s way of life? Fruit from the mission looks different for everyone. Each person interprets this in a different way for different experiences. My encouragement is just that you get to this phase.
Each of these phases is felt at varying levels and varying times depending on the individual and their experience. Regardless, getting to that fifth phase is essential for any short-term mission.
So how will you make your time successful?
There have been some cool ideas just from the Costa Rica Global Build a few weeks ago. One thing that has happened is that some who went to CR are now training to be a Global Build leader on another mission experience. Others have educated people on the Global Build sect of Habitat. Some may choose to mentor younger employees on the program and encourage them to get involved. Another fruit idea is to incorporate the site into daily prayers and lift their needs up to the Lord. For my time in Costa Rica, I found it appropriate to set up a recurring donation to the Habitat Costa Rica organization. There is an abundant array of choices to make your mission successful. Find one and go with it. The options are endless and God is working through you to come up with a creative way to make your journey great.
Go, experience, live, and bear fruit. I’ll be praying for your mission to yield extraordinary change.
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