As we approach the summer months we begin what is traditionally the season for volunteer groups to come down to help us in our mission work. We are very grateful for all those who come year after year and do such a great job while amongst us. After every team leaves there are things I wish I had shared but always feel that I might be misunderstood, so usually say little to nothing about these matters.
Things I would like to say to our Baptist partners and friends from the States coming on mission trips but am afraid of being misunderstood.
1) We desire an on-going relationship. Most of the groups coming down see the trip as a "missions experience." Something to talk about for a few days once you get back home. You want to DO missions, not just give to some missions offering. For a few short days you are eager to do things you normally wouldn't do. You take lots of photos. You meet new friends, experience a taste of a developing country's culture, food, and way of life. You have a lot of fun. Your heart is broken at seeing the how the poor barely survive from day to day. Once your 7-10 days are up, you get back on the plane and we never hear from you again. That is, unless you decide you want to come back, and then our communication is about dates for next year.
This is not what WE want.
After you leave, we want to stay in contact with you. We want to know that you are praying for the people you have met and worked with. We want you to pester us with questions, updates, and actually stay in contact with those new friends you met while here. We want to feel that you too are committed to finishing the task you came to help out with while here.
Most of you who come are deeply touched by what you experience while here. Many of you say your life has been changed by the experience. Your eyes have been opened to things you never knew were out there. Why then, once you leave, we never hear back from you? If your lives have been changed it would seem you would at least want to sign up for our PrayerNewsletters to keep up at least in your praying for us. It is also strange to the nationals that after all the hugs and tears and moments shared, you never call, write, or even ask about them. Where are all the promised copies of those photos you took while here holding their kids on your laps?
2) We want you to become advocates for us there in the States. If the trip meant so much, share it with everyone you know back home. Make everyone look at your photos. Tell them how your life was changed by the trip. Share with them people's stories; not just, "oh, it was awesome!" Request time at church to share. Start an Ecuador prayer group, or at least keep Ecuador in your prayers. If God spoke to your heart while on the trip, follow up with the Lord about what He opened your eyes to. Don't return to life as it was before you came down. Be an advocate for missions. Keep Ecuador and global missions on the front burner of your church's attention.
3) Come prepared. It is amazing to me how many come down knowing they will be spending a lot of time sharing the Gospel one-on-one and yet not knowing how to do so. One of the comments we hear from our national brothers after every volunteer team has left is, "They apparently had never shared the Gospel with anyone before this trip." While there are certainly people who have come down who do know how to share an effective Gospel presentation, I would say that it is a very small percentage. Many coming on missions trips are doing so for the first time, and have never shared their faith back home, little less, overseas.
4) Be ready for the schedule to be changed. I know how frustrating it is to have one's plans changed at the last minute. But that is just the way things are here. Americans plan months and years in advance and like to have an hour by hour schedule of what they will be doing to maximize their time. That isn't the way things work here. We can plan all we want to and make out nice, organized sensible schedules, but most of the time things here are decided on the spur of the moment. I know it is frustrating (it is for me too) but being flexible is and willing to adapt quickly is something I wish I could say and not upset you.
5) Eat what is set before you. Most of you do a super job at eating all the foods and drinks offered to you while here. You make our people feel that their food is the best in the world. It really is! But there is always at least one of you in the group who is picky about what they eat. To not eat what is offered is a huge offense here. The people will always give you the best that they have. They are often embarrassed by the little they have to offer, but when it is rejected they are hurt. No excuses are acceptable, such as: "I am on a diet", "this is too much starch on one plate", "I can't eat this much", "has this lettuce been washed?", "what is this?", "if I eat this it will make me sick." Eat what is set before you (that is Biblical--see Luke 10!) The people who are hosting you have been eating/drinking these foods for eons and they are doing just fine. You'll be fine too.
6) Don't make promises you can't keep. After being here for a few days you realize how blessed you really are. You want to help the dear brothers and sisters whom you have grown to love in the few short days you have been here. But please be careful in what you tell them you are going to do after you leave. Without exaggerating, hardly ever do you follow-up on what you offered while here. One of my personal pet peeves is to hear you talk about all the great new books and tell me you'll be sure and send a copy, but never do. It is like "out of sight, out of mind" once you get back to the States. Closely related to this one is #7 below...
7) Consult with the missionary team about any money matters. Money is something you have a lot more of than those you are working amongst. When you see needs, the tendency is to want to do something to help. I'll be honest here. There are many things that we definitely could use money for. But most of the time we are not consulted. Amongst yourselves you decide where you want to give money. This usually causes problems after you leave. For one thing, if you give to one dear brother whom you met and grew to love, what about all the others? To give to one and not to all the others causes problems. I could write pages on this, but suffice it to say, if you want to leave some money, tell us how much you want to give, and then ask us where/what/who it would best be used.
After all the above, I hope you hear my heart. We really want you to come help us. We have definite areas of our strategy that you can play a major role. What we are asking for is probably more than most are willing to give. But these are some of the things I have always wanted to say to the teams coming down.