Rest assured, no one wants your brief time in missions to be a nightmare. Everyone who applies for a short term missions experience, expects that things will go well; that it will be a positive and spiritually fulfilling experience. Most times, this is the case, however there are also scenarios where an experience can go bad.
Here are eight reasons that things can go wrong.
- Lack of sufficient language skills: You could feel like you’re spending a disproportionate amount of time on language and not enough making what you perceive to be a “real” contribution to the mission field.
- Insufficient cultural knowledge: Can make it difficult to understand the actions / reactions of others, or to be understood yourself. Even if the language spoken is the same as your own… the culture can be very different.
- Personality clashes: Both you and the missionary you are going to work with are both (are you ready for it?)… human, and different personality types can rub the wrong way. They are possible to overcome but if your time frame on the field is short, it may be difficult.
- Withdrawal: A very common behaviour, when we feel the least bit uncomfortable with people or situations, is to withdraw… overtly or secretly. In the context of short term missions, withdrawal only compounds any frustration that you may already be dealing with. Don’t withdraw!
- Lack of clarity concerning what is expected of you and or what you expect of your experience. It’s important to have as much dialogue as possible with your missionary, either before heading to the field, or, at the very least… at the beginning of your AIM term.
- Lack of flexibility can usher in frustration (for you AND your missionary). You may go to the field with certain expectations and find your job description changed upon arrival. Within reason, this should not be a problem… be flexible. Remember, the LORD knew of the change long before you applied or arrived and has equipped you. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your heart (Ecclesiastes 9.10)… you’ll be a blessing.
- Impatience can be a major source of frustration. Your short term missions experience doesn’t only begin when you arrive on the field… it begins the moment God calls you, you inquire and you apply… If you’re not patient, the process will be a source of frustration before you even get to the field… flavouring the entire process.
- An unteachable spirit: Remember… the missionary you work with, has most likely been on the field much longer than you. They know the people, the church, the culture and the language. In all likelihood, they do know better than you what is needed in a given context. They may ask for and consider your advice, but ultimately they make the final call (as they will likely be on the field long after your AIM term has ended and need to live with the consequences of all decisions.) Don’t be offended if they don’t follow your advice to the letter.
The danger of an AIM term gone bad is that it could endanger a very real call that God has placed on your life. Discouragement with a particular STM experience could keep you from pursuing other missions experiences down the road, or even ministry altogether.
Guard yourself against these eight pitfalls and your time in missions will be rich and fulfilling. One of the biggest things that will help you firm up all of these areas is a good dose of patience. Two posts that discuss the value of patience are:
What other pitfalls that I’ve missed? Can you think of some?