Wednesday, September 11, 2013


Recently I was involved in a facebook discussion about a short-term mission team coming to Thailand that had a small food budget.  The missionary responsible for them was stressing out over how to feed them.  This stress is pretty real and it isn't pleasant.  I have been in similar situations and have come away wondering whether hosting the team was worth it.

Short-term mission teams can either be a blessing or a burden.  I have experienced my fair share of both during my six years in Thailand.  What I've noticed, is this; the teams that prepare usually offer a blessing and the ones that don't become a burden on the missionaries and ministries they are trying to help.  How can a team be well prepared before embarking on their journey?  Below are three things to focus on before you get on the plane.

1) Communication:  Communication between the team leader and the missionaries on the field is crucial.  In the past (before the internet) this was difficult.  It was done mostly by telephone, which could get pretty costly.  But with advances in technology, there's no excuse for not communicating with one another beforehand.  Email is always effective in transferring information back and forth.  Video chatting is also a great way to communicate face-to-face.  Then there's always facebook and twitter. The great thing about all this is that it's free.

So what do we communicate about?  First is logistics.  This is figuring out travel dates, setting up accommodations, figuring out a budget for food, ministry expenses and travel within the country.  It also needs to be clear between the team leader and the missionary what type of work they will be involved in.  A daily itinerary should be established ahead of time.

The team leader needs to learn to give way to the missionaries suggestions in these areas. For instance, I have worked with teams that try to limit their budget as much as possible.  There could be a number of reasons why this is done, but many times what ends up happening is that where the team falls short on cash, the ministry ends up picking up the slack.  When a typical meal costs 40 Baht, don't try to limit a team member's budget to 100 Baht per day.  The next thing you know, the missionary is trying to figure out a place for the team to eat that won't break the bank, so they end up traveling across town (which costs more money in fuel than you would save by eating cheap) to eat bad food served in very small portions.  This is not good for the morale.

Most missionaries will know more about a budget than a team leader.  They know the costs of hotels and food.  They know travel costs.  While a team leader may have good intentions about limiting a team's budget, it puts a burden on the missionary and ministries they are trying to help.  

This rule goes for the type of ministry the team will be involved in too.  Because I live in Thailand, many times I have teams asking me if they can somehow help with ministries working to stop sex-trafficking while they are here.  While I applaud their desire to help in this type of ministry, it's not something I do or am involved in.  I work in church planting and teaching English as a second language.  In order to partner with a ministry trying to stop sex-trafficking I have to travel three hours away.  That costs money and takes time away from the ministries I am focussed on, so I have to say no to requests like this.  My basic rule-of-thumb is this; if it isn't local, I say no.

The missionary must also let the team leader know how the team can prepare in advance.  He needs to tell them what they should bring with them, what activities to prepare for and what cultural nuances they need to know about.  If you know they will be performing a puppet show at an orphanage, have them prepare that before they come.  The missionary should have a pre-arrival packet made up that they can email to the team leader.  Make sure there is information about visas and pre-trip vaccinations.  This will help teams prepare in advance.

2) Understanding the Culture, Religion and Language:  Whatever country you visit, you are going to encounter things that are unfamiliar.  As a team leader, you are responsible to learn about these things ahead of time and prepare your team for what they are about to encounter.  Here are a few examples that people experience here in Thailand.  Avoid touching another person's head, since it is considered very improper.  It is also not polite to point your feet at another person.  Because the king's picture is on all the money, you must always handle it with dignity and respect.  These are just a few of the many things you must understand when visiting Thailand.

But this goes beyond just cultural issues.  Because we are trying to proclaim the gospel message, we must also understand the religious worldview of the people.  In Thailand most people are Buddhists / Animists.  In their worldview, there are many spirits and gods.  When we talk about Christianity, and use more than one word to describe God, it can get confusing.  For example, if in a conversation I use the words God, the Father, Jesus, Lord, my King, etc., a Thai person who hasn't had much interaction with Christians will be wondering how many gods I worship.  Also, Buddhism doesn't have a creation story, so if I share the story of Adam and Eve, this is a brand new concept for most Thai people.

Get prepared as a team.  Talk to the missionary about these issues.  Do some research on your own.  Have team meetings to discuss these issues.  I highly recommend setting up a video chat with the missionary to discuss this ahead of time.

Another helpful tip, would be to learn a few words of the language before you leave. Greetings and polite responses (thank you and you're welcome) should be appropriate.  Also, if you have a smart phone, try to find a language app that would work well with the country you are visiting.

3) Pray:  This can hardly be said enough.  Sit down as a team and pray together for the trip. God is the only one who can move people's hearts.  It is only by His power that any mission work can get done.  Pray for the ministry you are teaming up with. Pray for the people you will be ministering to.  Pray for your team as well.  No trip is perfect, but God uses our weaknesses for His purposes.  Pray!

So be a blessing and not a burden.  Prepare yourself and your team before you hop on that plane.

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