One way how to help short-term missionaries and short-term teams? Shut up and listen! At least that is what Ernesto Sirolli says. After doing aid work in Africa for seven years, Sirolli understands why we fail. And he says we need to listen to our workers, and even to those we are going to minister to, unless your goal is to fail.
Looking at “Ask a Missionary” reveals some of the struggles short-term and long-term misionaries face. Do you have answers when one of your team or from your organizations asks about marrying a local cross-culturally? About their team leader being too authoritarian? About wanting to go back to seminary for a Doctorate before going overseas? How about deeps struggles of self-worth or going on a mission trip to prove their worthiness to God? Issues with Bulimia? With belief in God?
Download the full talk at TED: http://www.ted.com/talks/ernesto_sirolli_want_to_help_someone_shut_up_and_listen
And here are eight more talks on how to listen better: http://blog.ted.com/8-talks-on-the-importance-of-listening-and-how-to-do-a-much-better-job-of-it/
Do you debrief each team and short-term missionary team member individually? We hope so. They need to know they have a listening ear and yours may be the only one. Here are a few questions to get started but a wise counselor will listen in order to know which deeper questions to ask. Short-term missions may be easy or may be very challenging. They may drop the short-termer into a relatively Christian environment or a possibly hostile one. And the missionary may be ready to go back tomorrow or feel disappointed and disillusioned about their team or their whole time overseas. Even their faith in God.
I remember reading an article by a short-term missionary to India, in the Wittenburg Door over 20 years ago, that talked about the intense culture shock and “overwhelmedness” experienced by the author. I remember vowing at that time that I would always make time to listen to short-termers coming home and try my best to ask simple questions, to listen, and to help them process their short-term missions experience. And I encourage you to as well. I have been through many tough trips. I am glad I have always been willing to go back again because the next trip was always an amazing, incredible time. But the years of burnout, and struggle, in-between might have been eased if I had someone to talk to that understood the importance of listening. Over time. Because sometimes when a short-term missionary comes back, they do not know what to say, or how to process a trip, or put into words everything they have been through. Sometimes that takes time. To reflect. To work through. To heal even.
(Sirolli also recommends you read “Dead Aid” by Dambisa Moyo, which is on our “Must Read” book list for aid workers and community development. Learn more here.)
By the way, it seems the author of that Wittenburg Door article has finally come to grips with that trip years ago. I pray that it won’t take your loved ones or short-term teams years to process theirs.