Cultural Differences Can Be Overcome With Time

By May 4, 2007

International (MNN) — Yesterday we said that some short-term missions can be vacations. But there are many organizations that offer more than that. 

Trans World Radio offers one- to two-year trips for those fresh out of college or retirement who feel called to do mission work for a short period. "A one- to two-year commitment isn't as daunting as saying, ‘I'm going to give the rest of my life, my career to missions.' Many of our short-termers decide this is something amazing, this is really where I feel God is calling me," said Heather Johnson of TWR. 

Most of TWR's short-term mission trips must be one- to two-years because of the nature of the work. "We're a huge fan of the one- to two-year assignments," said Johnson. 

This extended time allows the excitement and nervousness to level out. "Those first two or three months are both a honeymoon and a scary time where they're just getting adjusted to the culture," said Johnson. As time goes on, they are able to cope with the foreignness and the unknown. "That's when they can really begin to minister to the people that they are living with and around," she added.

The few-weeks experience isn't a negative or bad representation of missions; it's just not a very accurate one, according to Johnson. 

Most cultures are much more relational than the Western, task-oriented culture. "I do think that, in general, most people who live in these kinds of environments that are highly relational would much rather have you come and just spend time with them for a longer period of time than come and complete a project and leave," said Johnson. 

Lifewater International also does technical missions and needs workers to train nationals who can commit to a longer period of time. Their goal is to help empower communities so they can eventually continue without Lifewater's presence.

"So often, short-term mission creates dependency, because we've been taught since we were little kids to solve problems. And we're good problem solvers, but people need to own their own issues and use their own resources and their own assets to develop their communities," said Dan Stevens of Lifewater.

Westerners want to simply complete a task for a community. "Unfortunately the Christian church today is tending to build a world-wide welfare system," said Stevens. This usually makes the problem worse. "It takes away people's initiative and self-direction and self-assertiveness," he said. 

Lifewater has an online application to become a part of a team that trains nationals to take care of their own water treatment systems. "They're the ones who are out there oftentimes doing the hard work of training partners in drilling and hygiene and latrine construction. So it's the giving that they do. But in return they are tremendously blessed by their short-term missions effort," said Pat Klever of Lifewater.

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