Updated: Dec 3, 2022
Todays guest post is by Lisa Beiderwieden. Lisa is the Manager of Missionary Care for the Evangelical Free Church of Canada. As a mission leader, she occasionally professionally listens to people complain about mission trip rules
The unreasonable rules
As a Short-Termer, you will work with Missionaries who have been on the field a long time. Perhaps, even longer than you’ve been alive. They are a rare breed and they follow different mission trip rules.
No – you can’t wear shorts
Just ignore that dirty poor kid
Tell that skinny man over there to carry this bag for us
Many of those rules will seem absolutely ridiculous. Or racist. Or heartless. You try to understand, but you start to wonder. You ask why a certain rule is in place and your host acts too busy to talk to you. They flippantly tell you “we’ll talk about it later”.
The internal conflict in mission trip rules
You tell yourself you want to understand. You would like to pause, analyze, discern and make wise choices. As a leader you don’t like to be told “because, I said so”. You like to understand what is happening and why.
If you are strong and independent (some people call it resistant and stubborn 🙂 you might even resist mission trip rules, until they are completely explained.
This causes a conflict on the mission field.
Host Missionaries have learned to operate in a new country and community. They will use two or more languages in one sentence without noticing. They will make sudden decisions that don’t make sense to you. They will suddenly ask you to stop talking, or even remove you from a situation. As a leader, this feels arbitrary and insulting.
If you ask them why, they may be vague or act like they are covering something up.
Trusting in the Dark
When you’re on the mission field, demanding to understand something before you will change your behaviour can be perilous. You will not always understand your host’s mission trip rules while you’re serving with them. Still, as a follower of Jesus, you are called to trust. There is a time to ask for explanations, and a time to trust in the dark.
There is always a bigger picture that you are missing. It is rarely easy for your mission host to pause and explain this in the moment.
Check out these great answers to 10 (seemingly) absurd mission trip rules:
1. “Why shouldn’t I sit cross-legged?”
You’ve just aimed the sole of your foot at a Muslim. The insult has destroyed a credibility that took years to establish.
2. “I don’t agree, and I won’t do this until you explain yourself!”
The rest of the team is watching us argue, and it is causing anxiety and division. The nationals are also watching, and see our disunity as a reason for not trusting us.
3. “I don’t understand! Why I can’t give him money, when he needs it?”
This man has a church, a pastor and a community who are responsible for him; you’ve just disrespected their authority and encouraged everyone else to do the same.
4. “Why won’t you tell me what’s going on?”
As soon as I know, you’ll know. I am thinking in two languages here, and it takes time to process.
5. “I’m just an extrovert! I have a right to be myself!”
By hugging that teenage boy, you just agreed to marry him. Congratulations.
6. “These dogs are being neglected! Someone had to do something, so I fed them!”
The food you just threw to the dogs is more than these people will eat for supper. So that’s cool …
7. “I paid a lot of money to be here! Why are we eating this garbage, and staying in such a dump?”
I will give you a copy of the budget later. For now, if you want a hotel room, everyone here will see you as the spoiled princess you apparently are.
8. “My needs are not being met!”
That is probably the truest thing you have said all week. I really want to know what you think a missionary is, exactly?
Yep. Right now, I am the boss. Deal with it.
10. “What am I even doing here? I feel like I’m wasting my time, I don’t even speak the language, etc….”
Your very presence is communicating that you care, the fact that you are sacrificing time, money, to be here.
Just focus on making ONE friend, make one person know that you see them, care about them, and will remember them once you leave.
Seriously just one. It might just change a life – yours!
You are in good company
While on mission, remember the greatest Biblical characters needed to learn to obey without fully understanding, what was going on.
Abraham, arguably the first missionary, is told: “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” No further details were given. For his trusting obedience, Abraham becomes the acknowledged spiritual father to the three major global religions; one half of the world’s current population.
Moses is told by God, “Bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” There is no strategic plan unpacked; had there been, perhaps Moses would have been even more hesitant. Instead, Moses obeys, founds a new culture, and establishes a nation of royal priests.
Rebekah is asked, “Will you go with this man?” She agrees to leave home and go to marry Isaac, a total stranger. The result is a son named Jacob, patriarchal father to the twelve future tribes of Israel.
Peter is told by Jesus to cast his newly-cleaned nets yet again, after a fruitless night. It was the catch of a lifetime, as was everything else that Peter went on to do.
Your host must also trust in the dark.
Your host will never be perfect, but remember they know a lot more about the culture than you. Your host has had longer practice at trusting in the dark than you. They have to trust they are moving in the right direction, making a difference, and do it with a bunch of newly arrived experts (your team.)
Trusting in the dark is uncomfortable for me and for you.
Someone has to make the mission trip rules and this can be threatening and ego-deflating. But trust is also courageous, noble and honouring to God and to the leaders he has appointed to care for you.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. -Proverbs 3:5
Ever had that ‘A-Ha’ moment when a crazy rule suddenly made sense?
Are you ready for the Short Term Mission Leadership course. The course is built for leaders (newbies and experts alike) who are learners, want to grow, and are ready for the next step.
Lisa Beiderwieden is the Manager of Missionary Care for the Evangelical Free Church of Canada Mission. Her favourite parts of the job are debriefing missionaries on the field, organizing spiritual care retreats and leading the Tim Tam Slam.