Monday, May 30, 2016

Dear short-term missionary

Dear short-term missionary,

God bless you. I am so glad that you have made the decision to get out of your comfort zone and go serve God in a tangible way. Over the past 13 years, I have seen a lot of missionaries come and go and I want to share with you what I think you should know.

1. Be humble. God once said that He opposes the proud and if God isn't on your side then you should just stay home. If you come into a ministry setting thinking you have more to offer than you have to learn, it may be nicer for everyone if you just send the cost of your flight as a donation. I have met short-term missionaries with attitudes and postures so humble and kind that they truly impact the lives of the children and staff in a way that doesn't depend on the eloquence or coherence of their lingo. I think our best example is Jesus himself who came to model humility as a servant and who, in turn, has become the most influential and powerful leader to ever walk the face of the earth. If you seek to positively influence the people you are going to serve, you will have to begin with an attitude of humility.
2. Learn all you can. Springing from that humility, you should consider trying to learn everything that you can. Some of the people who have blessed me the most are those who have asked me really good questions that obviously stem from an attitude of wanting to learn. When a long-term missionary answers your superficial question for the 22nd time that month, you have to think of it as them serving you. What if you were to shift the tables and ask them good questions that would actually serve them? A few months ago, a short-term missionary sat down with me and asked me on a scale of 1 to 10 how well I take care of myself and my family. Then she asked me exactly what I did to take care of myself. It made me think and also made me feel like my experience on the field mattered. I was blessed by that. Thanks short-termer.
3. Connect with and support someone that is doing what you would want to do. Connection is key. But think of how you truly connect with someone. You have to take into account the past two points. It is really hard to connect with someone who has nothing to learn and considers themselves better than you. If you want to connect with the kids, get down to their level (See number 6). If you want to connect with the adults, find something you have in common and ask them meaningful questions. It would be awesome if you were to follow up with them too. Even if they aren't able to respond very often, send them a quick message saying you are thinking of them once you get home.
4. Don't make promises. One of the biggest bad missionaries booboos is to make promises to the staff and kids. During your week on the field you are most likely going to be on a philanthropic high, super sensitized by the daunting needs you are witnessing firsthand. It is awesome you want to meet needs but don't make promises you may not be able to keep. Don't offer to take staff members to McDonalds, much less to the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. You don't know how many Guatemalans I have met that are still waiting for their well-meaning American sponsors to follow through on something that may never even be possible. Unless you literally get online and finance what you are promising, don't tell anyone about it. Jesus encourages us to go even further and do the opposite of making promises. We should not even let our own limbs know what the others ones are doing...Please don't make promises to anyone. Go back home and evaluate what you are offering. Pray about it and if you still feel peace, then do it.
5. Be watchful. Not so you can judge, but so that you can pray. I love people who are intrigued by Guatemalans. Not so much those who are obviously and dramatically inconvenienced by them or even those who fall so head-over-heels in love with them that they are wanting to move down by next week. Take your time. Take things in. Be observant and respectful and I know that you will not only bless others, but you will learn more than could ever be possible by talking without ceasing.
6. Play as much as you can. One of the best things you can do that transcends language and most cultural barriers is just to play. If you are coming to Guatemala, please think of what Football means to us down here. We don't know who the Patriots or the Seahawks are. I have loved seeing people coming down to meet a soccer ball for the first time, getting in the game with the kids and playing their hearts out. Even though you may feel frustrated because you can't get your giant Timberland work boots to connect with the ball, just try your best. If you think the kids are making fun of you, they most likely are. But just keep playing. You may not learn to dominate the ball like they do, but you will have won a place in their hearts and I guarantee they won't forget who you are for that. When I have taken our youth on local mission's trips I tell them to at least take the first step and play with the kids. It's a great place to start.
7. Remember that once you leave North America, you are no longer in North America. It's really hard in someways. I still get the shakes from Dr.Pepper withdrawal, but it gets easier, I promise. Don't expect things from the people here that they can't give you. They did not decide to invade your culture so please be respectful. Try to limit your disagreeing gestures and comments and choose to love. It will be better for all of us. God has created such incredible beauty and richness in cultural diversity, however few are wise enough to see past their own inconveniences to truly appreciate it.

You are going to have the most amazing time. I know it. But just keep these things in mind. God does not need you to go on this trip, but I think He really wants you to. It may be more about what God is doing in your heart than what he will do through your team and that's okay. We are so glad to have you.

David McCormick