Reaching out Responsibly

Reaching Out

1 Thessalonians 2:8 “…so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.”

We all know missions and Christian Volunteering are about reaching out to others, sharing the love of Christ and expanding his Kingdom. Part of this entails actions that physically improve the lives of impoverished communities. This forms part of showing God’s love in a tangible way.

This is exciting stuff and a good way to make a difference in the lives of others, whether it involves building new structures, providing food, education or much needed love and attention. But before you set out on your mission or volunteering, it is important to take a moment and make sure that your ‘call to action’ is realized in a real life-changing way and that you are in fact reaching out responsibly.

We have put together a list of 5 main pointers you should consider before you sign up, to make sure your impact is sustainable and positive.

These pointers are based on our experience of handling mission teams and individual volunteers on the ground in Africa. Of course this is by no means the holy grail of responsible mission work, but rather some practical things that we have learned.

1. Change the way you think about poverty
The way poverty is viewed is an extremely important factor in determining sustainable solutions. Poverty can be a disempowering concept that is associated with humiliation, fear and hopelessness. In our view, poverty should be seen in the light of broken relationships – self-doubt and lack of confidence has to do with a broken relationship with oneself (poverty of being); there are also broken relationships with others (poverty of community); a broken relationship with God (spiritual poverty) or with the environment (poverty of stewardship).

What this means to you the volunteer, is that you should always understand that we all are poor in some way and we should never treat community’s who lack in one of the above in an inferior manner, but rather relate with them and aid in resolving these broken relationships. In this way the outreach becomes a mutually beneficial exchange and all involved has a life-changing experience.

2. Do ‘with’ and not ‘for’ the community
When you set out to help, make sure you do it in the mindset of long-term solutions. Your actions should not create a dependency, but rather offer long-term results and empowerment. One method of achieving this is to focus on what the community has, rather than on what they don’t have. In other words, find the strengths in the group and work with the community to find solutions and enable development. Of course you may need resources from the outside in some cases, but be sensitive to not undermining the local capacity. A responsible project should already have this approach, so this would mean you work with the project and not necessarily try and change the way things are done.

3. Get to know the people
Relationships are probably the most important aspect of your Christian volunteering or missions trip. Take the time to do research on the culture, to learn about the community’s customs and beliefs. This respect will help you understand the people you work with and will build the platform for your relationship with them. This will make your time in a community so much more worthwhile, and sharing the love of Christ will become a natural extension of your existing relationships. Through simply showing you care, being ready to listen and be a friend, you would already impact lives.

4. Choose the right project
It is a good idea to choose a project where you feel you can apply your strengths. We all have amazing gifts from God, from giving and serving, to teaching, exhortation and evangelization. If you know what your gifts are, try and find a project where you can use your gift in action. This will help you focus on your strengths and you will learn more about yourself through the process. But of course you may also find your gifts during your time on project. So be open to discovering and exploring your gifts and sharing it with others.

5. Prepare your heart
Christian volunteering in a new environment with different challenges is not always easy. Physically, emotionally and spiritually you are exposed to so many new realities and you may feel overwhelmed at times. The best way to make sure you are prepared for this is to start in your own heart. A good way to do this is start your mornings with prayer and Bible study and end your days with reflection and even some discussions with other volunteers. Preparing yourself spiritually and being open to what God wants to teach you and how he wants to use you during your outreach should be the center of your preparations for the trip. For the physical part it would be good to do some research on the project.

Familiarise yourself with the setting, the climate and the culture as much as you can, but also be careful of not creating a set image as reality does tend to differ from what is presented on the internet.
And lastly, remember to keep your focus on Jesus during your visit and He will guide.

Colossians 3:17 -Do all in the name of Jesus “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”

So these are a few pointers, by no means and exhaustive list – but perhaps things to ponder before you go on an outreach.

God bless!

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