The Best Kind of Short-Term Missions is Reciprocal

It is that time of year again when hundreds of short-term mission groups stream into northern Baja Mexico. Short-term mission groups come to build houses, work in orphanages and provide support to local churches. Many come with the hope of spreading love, hope, and joy to those living here in Mexico. Some groups do some amazing work, and there are others, as well documented, who do a lot of damage. I hope that we all want to be that group that wants to do amazing work. If you are one of those groups, let me encourage you to consider what the best kind of short-term mission trip or service looks like.

I did not go to college to study English nor am I very good at my native language to begin with, but I recently learned a very important pronoun. In John 13:34-35 Jesus encourages His disciples to “Love one another as I have loved you.” The words “one another” is one word in the Greek language, allelous.” Allelous” is a reciprocal pronoun. If you are like me, you are asking, what is a reciprocal pronoun. The best definition I can give you is this, “ A reciprocal pronoun is used when two or more people are carrying out or have carried out a similar action with both receiving mutual benefit or consequence.” Here is how I experienced it.

A few years ago I attended a cross country meet of two of the students who participated in the youth group where I was the youth pastor. I found a place where there weren’t any other spectators so they could hear me as they ran by: “Nice job! Keep going! You are doing great! Relax your arms! Catch the person in front of you!” Later that spring, the same students hosted a 5k road race to raise funds and bring awareness to modern day slavery in the cosmetic industry. I signed up to run, and though I’ve always been a competitive runner, I hadn’t trained for more than five months, and I wanted to quit. As I was rounding the curve where I planned to give up, there were the two girls that I had cheered on during their cross-country race: “Don’t stop now! Keep going! You can do it! You are almost there! Catch the person in front of you!” With their encouragement, I finished.

By encouraging each other during our races, we all enjoyed the benefits of the joy of finishing the race. We showed love to “one another.” We received a mutual benefit for our act of care and love for each other during the race.

When we step into our short-term missions trips, we should look at these trips as a reciprocal relationship. Our relationship should be mutually benefiting, and it is up to us, the trip-goers, to do the hard work of being sure we are helping to facilitate a reciprocal relationship.

Too often our relationship with the local communities on our short-term mission trip is not reciprocal. We, the short-term missions groups come with our agenda, our way of doing things and our insensitivity to the local customs and culture. Too often we step into a community with little to no regard or sensitivity of local customs and culture only to transport our American ideals onto a local organization or community. Too often we give our charity with no desire for relationships when the greatest desire the people we serve with is relationship and solidarity.

As we serve together, missions trip “goer” and missions trip “host,” there is no “us” and “them.” There is just US! We have so much to learn from the people we serve with. They have stories of what God is doing in our lives that can encourage us forward. They have a perspective and understanding of faith and Jesus that will challenge us in our growth towards Him. When we build reciprocal relationships, everyone benefits and everyone feels honored, and everyone serves.

This trip season, when you go on your short-term mission trip whether it is to Mexico, Chicago, Haiti, or Africa, go with a desire to build a long-term reciprocal relationship where everyone wins, everyone benefits and everyone grows closer to each other and Jesus. We need each other. Reciprocal relationships are the best way to serve and how to have an effective short-term missions trips.

Phil Steiner
President of Be2Live
Co-Author of Reciprocal Missions: Short-Term Missions that Serves Everyone  (Coming Late April)


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