One of the great joys of ministry for me involves traveling overseas to take the gospel to the nations and to serve believers in other lands. I just returned with a team from Kiev where I had an interesting conversation with a young pastor there. He told me of a church from America who came to “help” them for a week. This church seemed convinced of the power of puppetry as the key to all things Christian. Rather than helping the church called by God to reach their community in their own context there in Kiev, this group seemed to know the perfect tool for gospel proclamation globally was the proper use of felt, stuffing, and a screen.
I told them I thought the best use for puppets was at a rifle range to help sight in a new scope. Okay, before you send me that email excoriating me for picking on helpless puppets, my point is not that puppets are inherently evil. But the notion that we American believers can take what we use in the States — with perhaps a rose colored view of their effectiveness — and automatically project it onto another context is foolish at best and arrogant at worst. Please do go on mission trips overseas, but as you go, stop and think what you are really trying to accomplish when you go.
At a dinner the night before I headed to Kiev I told the team to remember we were going to Ukraine not to do our thing, but to help those God had called to live among the lost where we were going. We had done the preliminary work to put us with churches that made for a good fit for our team of mostly young professionals. In our case this meant younger churches with pastors eager to make an impact. But beyond that we came to serve. We asked what the churches were doing and how we could help them. So we have done everything from ESL classes to sports ministry, and from ministry to children to connecting with young Christian entrepreneurs.
We have heard the stories of numerous young adults as to how they came to Christ. Most come from unbelieving homes; several are the only Christians in their family. The vast majority came to Christ through camps. In this context, camps offer a huge opportunity to take young people out of their context and help them to see the Christian worldview over a period of days, ask questions, and in many cases, make lasting decisions. One night some of us were at an ESL club where many unchurched young adults came to practice English and hear conversations about the gospel. These methods are effective here.
Whether you are a guest speaker visiting another church in the states or a mission team going around the world, your primary goal should be to help those who remain after you and I pack up and go. We want the pastors and leaders who invited us to think about us in the days to come as the team who came to bless them in the work of the gospel. That is no doubt the primary goal of most mission teams. But it does not hurt to be reminded of this from time to time.
We go on mission trips not because we are the American heroes who come to rescue poor folks in other lands, but because Jesus is the hero, period; we simply want to join other believers in making Him famous.
Plan your trip, raise the funds, gather the people, and bring along young people. As you go, go to serve in the partnership we share in the gospel.
And if they say it is effective, bring those puppets.