There are two books I’ve read in the past year that have really impacted and inspired me, and I wanted to share them with you! In my mind, they go together hand-in-hand, so I will summarize them here and explain why, if you are even a bit interested in missions and doing good in the world, they should be next on your reading list!
The first book is called When Helping Hurts, by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. Let me just tell you up front – if you have ever been involved in missions, especially in a short-term capacity, this book will step on your toes! It will challenge everything you thought was good, and open your eyes to an entirely new way of thinking about missions. Namely, it forces you to address the question – whose good is short-term missions really for? And if it really is for the good of those I am going to serve, am I willing to sacrifice my own idea of what missions is in order to be more effective in serving them?
The upshot of the book is that so often when we go on short-term missions, we can end up doing more harm to the people we are trying to help, than good. We can upset ingrained cultural values (sometimes inadvertently, and other times intentionally as we try to make them more “Christian”, not realising that we are trying to enforce our culture on them), we can create dependence and a spirit of expectation that foreigners will step in with the money and resources to fix problems instead of self-sufficiency and independence, and we can feed into a Western egocentric “look at the good I did, God is so great to bless people through me” mentality that too many of us hold without knowing it.
In a straightforward but still gracious tone, Corbett and Fickkert very clearly outline the origins of these problems and explain the long term detrimental effects they can have on those we are trying to help. They acknowledge, importantly, that those who serve are often coming with a genuine desire to bless people, and just don’t realise the potential harm in their ministry model because they’ve never been taught. We can’t fault people for doing their best with the understanding they have. However, we also need to raise awareness amongst churches and other short-term missions organizations so that people will start to see the problems in their models, and seek out ministry options that are ultimately more of a blessing to the people and community.
I’ve spoken to people who didn’t like this book, and they were all people who were heavily involved in the types of short-term missions this book discourages. However, every single mid- to long-term missionary I’ve ever spoken to has endorsed this book wholeheartedly, which is quite telling. Those who are on the ground, immersed in the culture, who understand the nuances of cross-cultural ministry, and who are left to deal with fixing the aftermath of a short-term missions team, all believe that this book hits the nail on the head, and should be a foundational part of all missions experiences.
My only issue with the book is that at the end of it, it leaves you feeling like, “well, now what?” It does an excellent job of explaining the problem with most short-term missions models, and will leave you knowing that you can’t continue the way you were before – just dropping in for a week to mix cement and then going home again – but it doesn’t supply much in the way of a positive model for moving forward.
That is where the second book comes in, and why I think they belong together – preferably shrink wrapped and sold in one package.
The second book is called Serving With Eyes Wide Open: Doing Short-Term Missions With Cultural Intelligence, by David A. Livermore. In my mind, this book picks up exactly where the other one left off; now that you know you need to find a more appropriate model for short-term missions, here are some guidelines and concrete steps you can take to move forward in the right way. I’ve actually used this book as a key resource when I taught the Ethnocentrism class at ISM because it not only explains the issue, but gives such practical advice for going into ministry.
One interesting aspect to the book is that Livermore introduces this idea of “Cultural Intelligence” (or CQ, instead of IQ) which can be broken down into four subcategories: Knowledge CQ, Interpretive CQ, Perseverance CQ, and Behavioural CQ. He explains each category with plenty of examples to show how they are related and build on one another, and are all necessary areas of growth in order to successfully navigate cross-cultural ministry.
One of my favourite aspects of the book is that he ends with “10 Starting Points for Doing Short-Term Missions with CI.” This is a great list to put on your bathroom mirror, or in your Bible, or on the front page of your missions trip planning package… One of my favourites from the list is #1: “God’s a lot bigger than your short-term missions trip.” In other words, God is already active in the community you are going to serve (even if you are going to a jungle tribe that has never been reached before, is God really not there in any way, shape or form???). God is capable of reaching those people and meeting their needs all on his own. He is capable (and in almost all circumstances already has) of using other people besides your group to meet the needs of that community. God will continue to use other people after you’re gone. You are blessed with the opportunity to play a part in the big picture of what God wants to do in their lives. Therefore, you can drop the whole “we’re the saviours from the West, look at all the good/freedom/modernity/Jesus we’re bringing these people!!!” mentality and humbly focus on the role God has offered to you for this situation at this point in time.
This book leaves you feeling encouraged and humbled, as you realise the key to serving others in a way that truly blesses them and shares God with them meaningfully, is to approach ministry with true humility of spirit – to sacrifice every idea you had of what missions looks like, and what accolades you might get (and this can mean a variety of things – don’t think that just because you are “humble” enough that you don’t want “praise from man” that you’ve got the humility thing down… believe me, any long-term missionary will tell you, this surfaces in many different ways, and all different times…), and to humbly focus on serving people in a way that allows them to be drawn closer to Jesus.
If you’d like to read these books for yourself, you can order them here:
(This is not a paid endorsement or anything – just a review of some highly recommended books!)