By Matt Morrison
It’s that time of year again! The temperatures are warming up, school’s out, and everyone is heading out on vacations and mission trips. Here at e3 Partners, this is the busiest time of year. The offices are empty and staff are taking teams to destinations in 65 countries.
For both rookies and veterans of overseas mission trips, there are many common traps in which we succumb in our efforts to help others. If you’re not careful, you could easily do more harm than good on your upcoming trip. Here are five of the most common mistakes to avoid:
1. SEEING YOURSELF AS A HERO.
Most likely, you wouldn’t call yourself a hero but it’s still easy to fall into this mentality. As you raise funds and get ready to go, your friends and family are telling you how proud they are. Others are marveling at your willingness to sacrifice. But if you let those comments and encouragement go to your head, you could do some serious damage.
It’s easy to think of yourself, either consciously or subconsciously, as some hero on a mission to serve the poor and make their lives infinitely better. But before you start thinking of yourself as God’s gift to humanity, remember that you’re nothing without Christ. In Colossians, Paul refers to the hope of glory as “Christ in you.” Notice that he doesn’t say “Christ and you” or “Christ with you.” Apart from his strength, mercy, wisdom, and provision, you can do nothing.
Furthermore, the people you’re serving aren’t incapable of caring for themselves. If you view yourself as the hero, you’ll naturally think of them as helpless. This is a demeaning and counterproductive way of viewing the people you’re there to serve. Pray for humility and ask God to use you however he sees fit.
2. TRYING TO TEACH THE AMERICAN WAY OF DOING THINGS.
The American way is not the answer to every problem, whether it comes to economic development or worship styles. Your job is to advance the gospel, not the American dream. Every missionary must be careful to export the message of Jesus without their personal cultural entanglements.
Remember that the expression of the gospel is different in every culture and the answer to life’s problems is not found in making their society look more like yours. It’s in Jesus alone.
3. THINKING THOSE YOU’RE SERVING ARE HELPLESS.
This plays heavily into mistake #1. If you see others as helpless, it will naturally stroke your own pride. But more than that, the people you view as poor may not see themselves in that same way. They likely have never known anything different and take pride in the culture around them.
It’s important to view anyone you serve with dignity, regardless of socio-economic status. Don’t go into it thinking of what you can teach them. Look for what they can teach you. Get to know them and use what you learn as a starting point to your work. It’s worth reiterating – you aren’t the hero and they aren’t the victims.
4. MAKING IT ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE.
Let’s be honest, we all love a good experience and we love to share them with others. But before you start Instagramming a bunch of overseas selfies, check your motives. It’s not a bad thing to share your experience with others but make sure your focus isn’t on what you get out of the trip.
You don’t have to feel useful, productive, or warm and fuzzy to accomplish what God wants to do through you. God’s entire plan for you could revolve around a single conversation or interaction on your trip. Look for what he wants to accomplish, what he wants to teach you, and how you can be faithful in that opportunity above all else.
5. HANDING OUT MONEY.
If you’re going on a trip through e3 Partners, this is a big no-no. It’s great that you want to sacrifice and help others. It shows that God is doing something significant in your heart. But while this may seem charitable on the surface, it can do damage to your leaders’ long-term goals on the field.
On e3 Partners trips, part of your cost actually covers a donation to the national leaders that will be left behind after you leave. The pastors and partners you serve with will choose how best to invest it. But if the people start seeing Americans as a source of revenue above all else, they are likely to say or do anything for cash. This threatens nearly every aspect of the mission.
If you’d like to make a donation to someone you meet, discuss it with your leaders. They can find the best way to move forward. There are many other options that can make a huge difference!
As you embark on your mission trip, remember that it’s easy do damage in your efforts to help. Be sure to follow the directions of your trip leaders and trust their wisdom. More importantly, pray and ask God for his direction and guidance in the process. When we humbly go and submit ourselves to his plan, it’s amazing what he can do through our lives.