"Curiousity killed the cat that ate the rat that lived in the missionary's house we kinda trashed..."(Gentle Translation: Try Your Best Not to Exhaust
Our Long-termers or Damage Christ’s Witness)
Consider this. You're sitting on your front porch having an afternoon tea. Suddenly a van of people pull up, take a photo of your home without asking, pile back in, and leave. Kinda weird, huh? Yet ... it happens all the time in third world countries.
“The last thing we want down here is ‘Tourists for Jesus’! We don’t have time to babysit,” said Kim, a missionary in Catacamas, Honduras.2 Molly, missionary in Poland, recounts a situation in Vienna when a team opted for the opera over a church gathering! 3 Another missionary tells of a man who held up the group’s schedule for an entire afternoon because he panicked about an appointment he may have been missing in the states, only to find out (thanks to his palm pilot, which he was asked not to bring) that it was a haircut! These are just some of the attitudes and perspectives that can fatigue career missionaries and local leaders, taking them away from the critical objective at hand….souls.
I hate to say this out loud, but sometimes, usually due to deficient training, short-termers can actually injure the present Christian witness. Many missionaries have complained about the sweep up that follows when a group of teens/adults have not followed their advice on appropriate dress or appearance. Most things are cultural, but they all have to be explained. When someone with a different point of reference sees an innocent tattoo, it is the various African missionaries who have to explain that the bearer is not worshiping another god. Since in some countries legs are more private than breasts, a local resident sees a girl in short-shorts working out in the sun, again, it is the missionary or local preacher who has to explain that she is not intending to be provocative.
Don't you think it is arrogant to assume that just because one is doing some good, people should just accept them for how they present themselves? The bottom line is, the missionaries and locals know more about the culture and perception of the people with which they work. It will not hurt to wear pants and cover up the tattoos for one week.
Then, there is damaged witness that has little to no possibility of setting right. Two missionaries in Germany got “plastered” one night because they simply wanted to taste the famous beer! (I guess they liked it, right?) Clearly, they lost credibility for a new Bible program they had come to support. The local people, who tend to know better how to drink responsibly, didn’t understand. Can you blame them?
There may be some ideas or rules endorsed by the church or program you are participating with, but there is a larger mission involved and everyone needs to keep that in mind. Yep, you may need to adjust styles of dress, behaviour and activity for personal and group safety while traveling to and fro. But each group member has chosen to be a representative of your organization while traveling in this different place. It is imperative to uphold individual and group standards appropriate to the mission and to the culture of the target mission point.4
And one more thing about avoiding exhausting a witness, the girl in the cover photos in front of the plane? Um, if you like doing that particular gesture ... just check to see if that is 'okay' in YOUR destination and not an equivalent of 'the bird' as it is in some other countries. Just saying. Heh.
The simple lesson we all can learn here is that we need to "get over ourselves." I'll bet you're good at listening to people, learning about them, and humbly walking with them. I know you'd never objectify them or treat them as your pets - but many have. If we choose to walk into the mission field with the latter attitude, we are choosing to live a lifestyle outside of the spirit and character of Jesus. He was a great listener, learner, and companion. And, um – He was God! If anyone had a right to a superiority complex…..you get it. ;-)