There are four common mistakes people make when they are part of a short-term missions team at a camp. Most of these misplaced expectations are easily adjusted when you learn what they are and what to do instead.
First, thinking we know what to do. Western camping leaders are experienced and confident. Yet those very qualities can be a liability in another culture at first. Here’s why: philosophy is transferable; application is often not. We tend to blur the two until they are indistinguishable, which leads to the idea that, “I can duplicate my program overseas.” That approach usually fails. You must fit their context. First be a learner. Go in listening. Use your experience to help them craft the necessary components to achieve their vision. ("Do not be wise in your own estimation.” Rom. 12:16
Second, giving money too soon. The recipient will not likely be accustomed to handling much money; it will place temptation in their path before management skills, trust, and accountability are established. As a result, one of three things will happen: 1) the money will be misspent; 2) you will create a false affiliation based on money rather than relationship; 3) the recipient will change—their soul charmed by a new love. This will jeopardize the future. ("There is an appointed time for everything." Ecclesiastes 3:1)
Also, making promises, either with good intentions or unknowingly. You will probably not be able to keep them all, and you might be remembered as untrustworthy, or having given false hope. Even non-promises are taken as promises in places where the need—and your perceived wealth—are great.
- What they said: "We need sports equipment."
- What you said: "Maybe we can help."
- What they heard: "We're for sure coming back with lots of new free sports equipment."
Best practice: Clearly state that you cannot promise any items; you came to learn about the ministry, meet the leadership, and pray about further involvement. ("For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified." 1 Corinthians 2:2)
Finally, assuming it’s about facilities; it's really about people. The future of missions is the equipping of indigenous leaders in their homeland. Invest first in people, not things. In training, not facilities.Resist the temptation to focus on property too soon. What is in the heart can never be confiscated. Memorize this guiding phrase: Relationship Before Resources. ("…these entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also." II Timothy 2:2)
Dan is Executive Director of Global Outreach Group, a ministry that trains Christian camping leaders worldwide. A former camper, counselor, and camp director himself, Dan has trained leaders from more than 30 countries since 1996.
To discuss these, and other principles for “going well,” Dan invites you to contact him.
903 659 6508 USA office