Are you looking for a third world experience? Is serving in a third world country on your bucket list? Many young people today look to have a series of formative experiences for their personal development as well as to increase the breadth of their résumé. If these are your primary reasons or motivations for a third world experience, let me recommend you travel as a tourist, not a missionary.
Let’s be honest. It’s not entirely your fault. You’ve heard stories or possibly read books about romantic missionary adventures – serving in African orphanages, sharing Christ in the Amazon or building houses in Central America. You want to have a certain set of experiences that mirror the excitement you’ve read or heard about. You would like to come back a different person, changed or even transformed with a greater purpose in life.
Yet, statistics and life experience tells us another story. Most people who return from serving in orphanages in Africa do not adopt orphans in their home countries. Most people who share Christ in the Amazon do not share Christ with their families and co-workers when they return. And most people who build houses for the poor in Central America do not serve the poor in the city where they live when they’re not doing short-term mission work.
Why is this? Why is there so little transformation in the short-term mission workers? It all begins with your motivation. Why do you want to have a third world experience?
What would happen if you went to another country as a student, a genuine learner? What if you went to learn from others, Christians and non-Christians? If you could travel for two months to Africa or Latin America and not be allowed to give or serve but only to learn, would you go?
You see, God has been in Latin America and Africa long before you were born. He’s been living and active in these places touching hearts, changing lives and making a name for Himself long before you knew these places existed. He has followers of His Way there doing amazing things. Would you be willing to go and learn from them?
If we could understand that our greatest obligation on the mission field is to learn and then secondly, to serve we would make much better missionaries. Those who go as learners are more likely to be transformed and greater equipped for lifelong service in God’s Kingdom than those who participate in frivolous missionary tourism.
Once you realize that the third world does not need your help – you are not their savior, you can begin to make a difference starting with yourself.