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Sinister Tips for Mission Trips
Image: Jonathan Assink / Flickr

This summer, many of us will head out on short-term mission trips, spending anywhere from a week to a couple of months serving in a developing country with members of our church or para-church group. This summer, I plan to help lead a group from InterVarsity to a village where our organization Mayan Partners works in Guatemala.

For many of us, this will be one of the great highlights of the year, despite the challenges of working in difficult circumstances. Many will experience culture shock, argue with teammates about what we should be doing, and/or spend one or more days lying in bed with diarrhea. Missions work in a foreign country opens the door to a variety of trials and temptations that exceed those in the relative comfort of everyday life.

No one more famously wrote about temptation than C. S. Lewis in his classic novel The Screwtape Letters. This past November marked 50 years since the passing of Lewis and has been accompanied by numerous commemorations, including the present one.

I began to write a short piece on tips for mission trips from the perspective of a development economist. But upon settling in to write, I was interrupted by a series of cryptic e-mail messages that appeared in my Gmail inbox. Initially perceiving them to be an annoying barrage of spam, I nearly deleted them. Upon a closer investigation, I found them to be written in an ominous red font, indeed appearing to be a list of tips for mission trips—from the Other Side...

from: sr_diablo@hell.net
to: lucifrito@sector6.mex
date: March 15 subject: Alert and Re-deployment

My Dearest Lucifrito,

Word has reached our office from the North American command that a despicable little team of pimpled teenagers—and the adult buffoons who lead them—are headed into one of our sectors in northern Mexico. Their sojourn will occur during what the Christian humans call "Holy Week" (yes, a time of seasonal depression for us). I am therefore requesting you temporarily to redirect your efforts. Put on hold fomenting reprisal executions among drug traffickers and focus on the work of this group. It should prove a welcome respite from your ordinary labors, and indeed I have decided to count it against your vacation time.

Jerry seems to genuinely believe that churches are things created from building materials. Of course, you must deepen this shallow view.

These missioners originate from the Glad Tidings Bible Church of Tuscaloosa. They want to build a church near one of the sectors you patrol. The construction is to be led by a middle-aged civil engineer named Jerry, who despite years of time logged in the Enemy's camp, seems to genuinely believe that churches are things created from building materials, and that the more resistant walls are to seismic tremor (I speak in the physical sense here), the sounder the church. Of course, you must deepen this shallow view. The "church-as-building" view has proven notoriously effective over the centuries at distracting these people from real church—the community of "love" and "service" (horrid thoughts)—the Enemy wants them to build.

Encourage Jerry to hold his convictions to the point of dispute with the other adult leaders. They unfortunately may attempt to refocus the efforts of the group to the nurture of individuals. Indeed as Jerry slams bullheadedly into the project and barks out commands from his scaffold, lead him to feel two things: (1) convinced that the project must be completed and with excellence above all else (even if relationships must temporarily suffer), and (2) a profound sense of pride in the project. Nurture the thought in him that none of the locals could have ever been capable of such an engineering marvel. The desire to be indispensable has lured many a missioner into the field, and we have frequently been able to exploit such bent motivations for our Eternal Purposes.

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Sinister Tips for Mission Trips