13 May 2014

"… Flight attendants, prepare for take-off."

By Joan Jarman

As the summer season approaches, so does the season for short-term mission trips.  Planning and fundraising efforts are dwindling and it’s almost time to hit the long lines for luggage check-in and airport security.  For those new to mission trips…don’t let the initial airport chaos hinder your excitement for it will be quickly forgotten once the aircraft doors close and seatbelts are fastened for take-off.

David A. Livermore, author of Serving with Eyes Wide Open estimates there are over 4 million Americans going on mission trips each year.   The number itself is telling but so is the fact that such large numbers of Americans are choosing cross-cultural trips.  How does that happen in a country like ours where, unlike other parts of the world where students graduate with proficiency in multiple languages, foreign languages are not even taught until high school (and even then produce relatively few who are truly functional in the second language.

One would assume that in a country where mission trips are so popular there would be a high degree of commitment to cross cultural awareness and sensitivity, especially amongst church leaders.   Not so, at least not according to Livermore’s personal journeys and experiences.  He contends that still today there exists a sense amongst Americans  that they have the “right” culture and must therefore “convert” others to their ways.  He goes on to point out that for this very reason short term missions fail…they lack cultural intelligence due to, among other things, neocolonialism and failure to incorporate the voices of non-western church leaders on the receiving side of the short-term mission projects.

As Livermore says, its about ‘changing the way we see and therefore do short term missions.’ Serving with Eyes Wide Open is a good book with good insight. 

For additional resources on the topic, please visit Freedom Collaborative website library http://freedomcollaborative.org/organizations.