I got an email today from a very sincere, well-intentioned volunteer currently on a 2-week mission trip. Apparently, he had been told not to freely distribute Bibles as he ministered in a Muslim-run refugee camp. Deciding that those long-term servants who live and serve and know the area were trying to prevent him from sharing the Gospel, he did it anyway and now the presence of all the missionaries in the area is in danger of being suspended. This guy is so sold-out for Christ. He’s so very sincere. He is so very godly. However, in this instance, he was so very wrong.
We have never had a volunteer team’s visit go awry, but the missions journals and discussion groups of missionaries are full, FULL, FULL! of horror stories of well-intentioned volunteers who refused to listen to the resident missionary and ended up destroying much, if not all, of a career’s worth of work in just a week or two.
“OH NO!”, you say. “I’m about to go on a volunteer mission trip and I have very sincere intentions. How do I keep from messing up?”
The answer is easy: “Trust the missionary or team leader of your trip.”
Remember that they are a lot more motivated to see this people group come to Christ than you are. They are giving their whole lives for these people. Think of what a sacrifice you’re making of a couple of weeks and a few thousand dollars. Then imagine if it was your whole life and earning potential.
Remember that the missionary on the ground knows a lot more about the people and area than you do. He knows the culture and preconceptions of the people. He also knows the potential dangers around you.
Try to withhold judgment of the missionary, at least until you have more information. Ask questions if you don’t understand the reason for his decisions or behaviors.
One of the first things we tell volunteers is not to distribute candy, toys, or other goodies to children on the street unless we tell them that that’s a good time and place to do so. A few months ago, one lady named Jenna* get absolutely livid with us for this policy. “I love children and NOBODY’S gonna tell me I can’t show the love of Jesus to these children! I came all the way to Brazil to show love to these children and I most CERTAINLY will give them candy!” Actually, Jenna followed the policy all week, but she was not happy about it. During the week, we had an outside worship service and declared it was the time to freely distribute candy and other goodies to the children of the neighborhood. The thing about giving away goodies to large numbers of urban poor children who never get goodies is that they quickly turn into a mob. In just a few short minutes, our shell-shocked volunteers had been stripped bare of any desirable giveaways. As we left, I found Jenna, alone on in a corner, hiding and hugging a bag of candy. I said, “Jenna! What are you doing with candy left? Why didn’t you give it away?” “They mobbed me, they mobbed me . . .” was all she could say. I think she finally “got it.”
Have a great trip. Go ye therefore, heal the sick, cast out demons, baptize, teach, be innocent--but also be wise!
*Details have been modified to protect the well-intentioned.