In 2008, I took my first short-term trip to Burkina Faso. I fell in love with the people (the Burkinabé) who are some of the most joyful, giving and beautiful people you will ever meet. I knew before I returned home that I would be back next year. In 2009, I returned for my second trip, and even though I didn’t feel called to move to Burkina at this time, I knew I wanted to return yet again the next year...
Do you remember those Verizon commercials with the man in dark framed glasses holding a phone up to his ear? He’d be standing in different locations, asking that same annoying question, “Can you hear me now?” Over and over again. I get it, Verizon. You have lots of really big cell towers that allow for fewer dropped calls. But what if I can’t hear you and what if it has nothing to do with my cell phone carrier?
When I was in high school, I was required to take two years of a foreign language. French, Spanish, and American Sign Language were offered. French seemed too hard, I thought I would never need or use Spanish, so that left American Sign Language. Much to my surprise, I fell in love with the language, the culture and the people! Plus, as a highschooler, it was handy to be able to silently communicate with friends while in class. I’m sure my teachers really loved that. I grew such a passion for the Deaf community, their language and culture, that after college I became an Educational Sign Language Interpreter. But to be honest, before taking a sign language class I had never really noticed any Deaf people. And that is exactly my point...
Growing up, I attended a week of church camp every year. Every year there was an iteration of the evening service focusing on responding to God’s calling to full time ministry. There would be an exciting missions message from an international worker, with pictures of lost people flashing up on the screen behind them. Scores of students would stream to the front to meet with God and to respond to this calling. It was during a service much like one of these that I responded to God’s calling on my life to serve internationally. I felt God touch my heart and ask me if I was willing to leave the comfortable, going out into the unknown for His glory. I answered yes and was so excited to be used by God! I was proud that I was part of the special group of people who God wanted to use in the Great Commission! After the service and throughout the years to come, I was given many resources to help me successfully pursue this calling.
I went to college with this international calling at the forefront of my mind. I specifically filled my schedule with extra classes and activities that would make my “ministry resume” look good...
“You should go to Germany.”
It was late fall, and my wife and I were having dinner at my mentor’s home in Lexington, Kentucky. We had been spilling our guts out to these sweet people - everything. This was an incredibly challenging semester for myself (and my wife – she might as well be a student, too). We both were experiencing tremendous amounts of fatigue (emotionally, physically, spiritually) and simultaneously attempting to reflect on the the ways we had grown during our first 3 months of marriage.
“You should go to Germany.” You can imagine the host of questions. Why do this in our first year of marriage? How are we going to fund this? We were reluctant, hesitant, unsure – we had no clue what to think. Only God knew.
Long before embarking on a short-term trip, a church must start by asking, “Why would we want to send a team in the first place?” Your answer to that question speaks volumes about the kind of ministry your team will do and the attitude you will have.
Some common responses include, “we want our people to get out of their comfort zones, to share the gospel, to grow in Christ, to see the world, etc.” For some churches, a short term trip is just “what we do” each summer in the line-up of ministry activities.
But if a short-term trip is simply another to-do on your church checklist, may we challenge you to rethink your vision? It may be too small.
Your motivation matters. The purpose for even a one-week trip must be shaped and carried by the highest level of leadership and cannot be taken lightly. WHY you go drastically impacts HOW you go.
“Non merci.” “No thanks.”
That was the response we heard over and over as we attempted to hand out glow sticks to the passing crowd. We had created a unique way to advertise an upcoming kids English camp. We had attached business cards with the camp information to two thousand glow sticks. Interns, staff and friends were enlisted to hand out glow sticks to the crowd gathered to listen to music in the streets during Paris’ Fête de la Musique. As dusk fell the glow sticks came out and our workers came back saying “Nobody wants them.” As the night continued we handed out a few here and a few there, but most of the people didn’t want them or didn’t trust that they were actually free. Finally, the glow sticks were forced into the hands of those passing by. We hadn’t asked of our local friends if they thought this was a good idea. We had just ordered the glow sticks and business cards and bull-headedly went to work. As we left that night, business cards could be seen littering the sidewalk for blocks. Not one single person called or registered from all the work we did. But I did learn a valuable lesson that night. Always work with your host to develop ideas and advertising.
This is my system. I keep a yellow legal pad, and I list everything I want to accomplish that week in a narrow column down the left hand side. Some things I need to do everyday, like update my class website - I put five small boxes next to those things, one for each day. Now, at the beginning of a new day I highlight that day’s tasks and cross them out when finished with a thick-tip black Sharpie. Things that don’t get finished carry over into a new column - next week’s list. To you non-listers, I can’t adequately describe the satisfaction of a Friday afternoon with a yellow legal pad that looks like a heavily censored CIA memo.
But in all seriousness, it’s probably not difficult to diagnose the spiritual difficulties this accomplishment-based mindset brings with it...
I do it for “the one”.
Even if it’s just a moment.
A little can mean a lot.
I will fully admit I am chronically optimistic. The glass is almost always half full in my life. More often than not I am able to find something to be glad about. I’ll also admit, I think I’m quite a bit more pleasant to be around then those who are chronically pessimistic, although I’m sure some would disagree. The reality is that in this world we live in I believe we need a few more people to be chronically optimistic with me. Life is hard, walking with Jesus is hard, and the world is awfully dark. And yet, but still, we serve a good God.
I have been stunned as I read through the book of John to notice how often Jesus tells his listeners that He was sent by the Father. It seems that He concludes almost every statement with the qualifier “because The Father has sent me,” and that He consistently deflects attention from Himself and towards “the One who sent me.”
Curious, I did a little study on the word “sent” in the book of John and found 41 times that it is used by Jesus in this way.
4:34 My food is to do the will of the one who sent me
5:30 I seek not to please myself, but him who sent me
When I first moved to Paris, I wasn’t necessarily sure as to what to expect as far as cross-cultural ministry. I’d been overseas before, having lived in multiple European cities, and having traveled to Africa, but I hadn’t yet been a part of an established ministry center.
After being here seven months on the ground, I can tell you that my approach and viewpoint of cross-cultural ministry has completely shifted. God has continued to show me time and time again how He wants to shape the culture over here, and what I can be doing to come alongside Him in His plan for here.
Before embarking on your internship, my advice would be to prepare yourself in every way possible before getting on location. Here are a couple ideas of what you might want to do to prepare yourself for your internship.