Are You High Maintenance?
Thinking about going on a short-term mission trip? Whether it’s your first or fifth short-term mission trip, there is always something to learn! Don’t be that person or church group that missionaries are happy to see leave. Instead, check for these 5 signs you might be a high maintenance short-term worker and what you can do to avoid them.
7 Minute Read
By Galina Hitching
1) You Think Your Culture Is the Best
I know. You’re probably convinced this one doesn’t apply to you. You adore Asian culture. You know how to order (and correctly eat) sushi. You snack on shrimp chips and watch K-dramas without subtitles. Your best friend is Asian. You’re basically Asian.
Until you find out that culture isn’t just about food, and movies and besties in your own country. Culture shock can hit hard. When it does, romance is replaced with reality and you’ll have to face the discomfort of living in a culture that isn’t your own. You may never admit it, but each of us is prone to believe our culture is the best. Especially, when the mindsets and worldviews of another culture conflict with our own.
Struggling through these things doesn’t make you a terrible short-term worker, it just makes you human. But, if your only struggle involves conflict with others, you may need to check yourself.
2) You Think You Have a Right to Complain
Let’s get this out of the way: you don’t. You don’t have a right to make demands, have people cater to your expectations, or act annoyed when you feel uncomfortable.
On the other hand, you will face broken expectations, discomfort, and frustrations. Possibly every day. After all, you will experience confusing and uncomfortable situations.
It’s ok (and necessary) to talk about and process those things as they come. Please don’t repress the struggles you face on a short-term mission trip! You aren’t the only one who has felt hot (or cold!), tired, angry, bewildered, confused, and unable to cope. We all face that. But, please don’t complain. The missionaries you are working beside have been facing those things every day. The difference? At the end of a couple weeks, months or even a year, you get to go home.
It’s all about what’s in your heart. Surrender your rights to be comfortable and feel happy. Allow the discomfort you are experiencing to give you compassion for the long-term workers and even the locals.
Instead of complaining about how hot you are, how bad the food is or how much you miss home, spend time praying for your missionaries to withstand the pressures they are facing. Shift your focus off of yourself and onto how you can love those around you. You’ll be amazed at what will change as a result.
3)You Have a Solution and an Agenda
Dear church teams. Yes, you. Your heart is for people. You desire to make a positive impact in a short period of time. And if you’re an American, I know… solutions and agendas are very dear to our hearts. To help us feel like we are accomplishing something, we want to know the plan. We want to execute the plan.
The more stories I hear from short-term workers, the more I’m convinced short-term mission is about God doing a specific work in the heart of the short-term worker and less about what the short-term worker can accomplish.
I’m not saying short-term mission has no long-term impact on the work being done. But, often things are upside down in the kingdom of heaven. We raise money and passionately launch out on our short-term mission trips to bring the hope of Christ to the nations!
And then… the Holy Spirit begins to shake and break something in our own hearts, calling us to be changed in a way that might not have happened had we stayed home. That can only happen if we are willing to set aside our agendas, our plans, our determination to accomplish as much as possible. That’s true no matter our age or our culture.
Lay it all down, friend. Be willing to go and submit to the plans of God and the plans and desires of the missionaries who have spent long hard years learning the best way to do ministry in that area.
4) You Expect Your Hosts to Be Your Stand-in-Overseas-Momma
While you need to set aside your own agendas, remember your missionary hosts aren’t your parents. Learn from the people you are around. Find out what is culturally acceptable or offensive. Then go out and explore and meet people on your own.
Traveling to another country is an exciting opportunity! Begin to rely more on the Holy Spirit than on the people around you so you don’t miss opportunities waiting for you. This can be a time for you to grow in maturity, boldness and in character.
Ask your host for suggestions to get you started, make sure you’re operating within what is appropriate for the country you are in, and then take it from there.
A little advice from the Matt Whitacre, Director of Serve Asia, “God’s love may transcend cultures, but hugs do not. As guests your goal should be to advance the long-term strategy of the host missionaries. They will know the best way to communicate love to the local people.”
Your missionary host isn’t there to hold your hand. Instead, work on finding a good balance by asking questions and then doing things on your own. Be respectful of their opinion, their time and resources. Accept you have a responsibility to contribute however you can while you’re there.
One of the greatest blessings you can give as a short-term mission worker is to do whatever will bless your host. Find out how you can remove some of the pressure and burden, rather than adding to their daily stressors.
5) You Don’t Know How to Use Public Transportation
Confession. I don’t know how to use public transportation. This is by far the scariest thing for me about traveling overseas. I was 21 and in England before I used public transportation alone.
I know how hard this one can be. At the same time, you can learn about the details of public transportation for just about any country – online. Do your research. Find out how it works and prepare yourself for the reality that at some point, you are going to have to use public transportation.
Essential public transport tips:
- Have a conversation about public transportation with your hosts before getting to the country.
- Find out social customs and safety concerns for public transportation. i.e. Is it ok to talk and eat on buses and trains? Should you avoid eye contact? Is theft common?
- Unless you’re fluent in the language, learn or write down the language phrases you’ll need for public transportation.
- On arrival, ask someone to show you how to use public transportation.
- When traveling in groups, ask if you can co-lead so you don’t get used to relying on others for getting around.
- Before you leave your country, download a transportation app (Lyft for East Asia) on your phone for use in emergencies.
You’re Not a Terrible Short-Term Worker
We all have our strengths and weaknesses and just because you do one of these things doesn’t automatically make you a terrible short-term worker. At the same time, be aware of your weaknesses.
As you prepare to journey to another country remember the reason you’re going. It’s about giving, learning, and loving.
Above all, it’s about you obeying God’s direction to fly across the world for a reason that, likely, only he knows.
Prepare your heart and be open to grow. Then, even if you find yourself doing some of these five things, you’ll be ready to surrender your natural response. Be sensitive to the Holy Spirit; he will guide you to a better way.
Galina Hitching is a writer, artist, and wellness geek. She learned more from growing up around missions and traveling as a non-profit worker than she did getting her degree in Communication. Midway, Galina took a detour from her career by working as a Serve Asia volunteer. Today, she is using her experience in marketing and communication for the Great Commission.