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Short Term Missions Training and Good Intentions

Is it optional to train for a marathon? A personal choice whether or not to go to school before you try surgery? Is ‘on-the-job’ training enough if you want to build a bridge over Niagara? Then why is short term missions training often considered optional?

There are some who say that this is an overreaction, after all we do not need to train for a party, or for a walk, we do not train for a vacation – there are many things in life we do not have to prepare for. Additionally, many people go every month on a short–term trip, they meet at the airport, and they seem all right.

These under-prepared teams, of course, are often the same people who return angry at the world. Those two weeks has convinced them that they have seen the light and only they know how mission is supposed to work. I have met countless short-term missions participants who return, depressed and upset.

Too many others return with the impression that they have ‘done their duty’, they have done their lifetime missions thing.

I would beg to differ, a focus or mission should not be activity, it should not simply be a once-in-a-lifetime goal – like sky-diving, or a return to my college weight.

Short term missions training should be more strenuous not less

I once trained a team that was working in Southern Africa, they got together 12 times before they departed, one of the team members lived in another province – a one-way six hour drive – guess who was on time every week? As far as I remember, she only missed one training event – due to a blizzard

That kind of commitment is rare – but she was from Saskatchewan. That’s just how prairie people are, roll up your sleeves (on your bunny-hug), stop complaining, and get-er-done

Compare her to those people, who promise the world in order to get on the team and then do not bother to show up for 1/2 or more of the training (always for very, very good reasons). If I remove them from the team at this point, I am accused of being a BAD LEADER. But in every occasion when we keep them on the team, they have been a problem, never fully part of the group, the loudest complainers, and involved in the most destructive forms of participation.

In my view, short term missions training must be non-optional. I expect a very high degree of participation by people who want to join a trip. This is not unreasonable. After all, I am not a tour guides, nor an activity director. I am asking people to get involved in raw relationship in difficult areas of the world. I call teams to real commitment and significant participation. STM is no longer simply jr. high teams arriving with their skits and puppet shows.

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Set the bar high

Once a team leader collects a team they should clearly spell out the requirements. Before they ever join the team they should know all of the dates you have for training. Let people make an informed decision.

If you were joining a softball league you would be expected to show up at every practice and bring the snacks once and a while, shouldn’t we have at least the same expectation for teams that are trying to change peoples lives?

I get it though. A few of your potential team members will immediately tell you all of the reasons why it is impossible to meet those requirements: work, busy-ness, family obligation, conflicting schedule with another ministry, they are all great reasons but the list is endless. Don’t give in. Do not reduce your expectations for total participation.

A volunteer, no matter how experienced, never does a team leader a favour by coming along at the last minute.

Team leaders need to commit to the tough work short term missions training. You may even need to be prepared to disappoint potential team members. Even saying ‘no’ to people who cannot commit to prepare with the team. The kind of volunteers who can prioritize, make other arrangements, and find the time to prepare are exactly the kind of volunteers who do a fantastic job in effective short-term mission.

Your host will be grateful you are bringing your best, rather than bringing people who see mission as easy.

For those who feel these crazy-high expectations too unrealistic, all I can say is that the teams that exercise ahead of time in a full training regimen, do better. They complain less, work harder, accomplish more, harm the situation less, and missionary hosts want them back.

Missionaries know the difference, they might not say it to you because they might not want to offend you, but they want you to do a better job. You can, if you are willing to work at it.

What do you think is a non-negotiable for volunteer preparation?

Mark Crocker

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