It’s a very common scenario. A church decides to send a short-term missions team to another culture. Well-meaning, loving people gather for the cause – to dig a well, to share medical care, to build a house. And…while we’re there…why not minister to the adorable children? After all, Jesus loves the little children! What could it hurt?
Is it possible that these well-intentioned actions could result in unintended consequences? Unfortunately, the answer is yes. Here’s a partial list of what some short-term teams “accomplish” without recognizing what went wrong:
- Local leaders are “demoted.” Even our least-trained teachers have benefited from being raised in an excellent education system. We teach as we were taught. When Westerners put on a “good show” for the kids and then go home, kids may be less appreciative of their everyday shepherds than before!
- Children’s ministry is “discouraged.” When affluent visitors use imported props, visuals and supplies to minister to children, local leaders may hear the message, “This is the only way to teach kids.” Teachers living in poverty know they will never have those frills, so they can never reach and teach kids.
- The Christian message is “diffused.” In any culture, gifts and trinkets will draw a crowd of kids ready to comply with our wishes. But a child’s interest in your “toys” gets confused with his desire to hear the message. Remember the phrase “rice Christians?” Gifts can also create jealousy and competition in an otherwise loving community.
- People can be “damaged.” The story is told of a team that brought shoes for the poor children who had none. Everyone felt good! That is, until the children wore out their shoes and returned to walking barefoot. While wearing the shoes, their calluses softened up and now the children’s tender feet became injured and infected.
- Kids can be “dissuaded” from personalizing the gospel. Using Western songs and English can make Christianity seem foreign. Most people find it difficult to personalize faith through words and music that are not from their “heart language.” Too much outside flavor in our message can actually make Christianity appear to be “not for me.”
Don’t get me wrong. Reaching out to help children is important. I would go as far as to call it our Christian responsibility! But there are right ways to do it that are more likely to bring about the desired results of blessing God’s people:
- Prepare yourself: Recognize that if you don’t have experience reaching and teaching kids in your own culture, you are in not prepared to do cross culturally. Get experience at home first. Understand how kids work, not just how a program is taught.
- Propagate your skills: As much you want to love on the kids, focus more on their leaders. Equipping and encouraging parents is much more fruitful in the long-run. Leave behind skills that will go on blessing the kids you seek to serve.
- Plan your project: Carefully consider, pray about, and seek counsel regarding what the real needs of the people are and what will bring about the most blessing. Contrary to what we often assume, money does not solve every problem and can actually destroy what it seeks to help!
(For help launching a responsible short-term trip to reach and teach kids for Christ, contact KidZ At Heart International at www.kidZatheart.org/trips. This article was recently posted at www.kidmin360.com/blog.)