How to be a Good Missionary

Kids on see-saw

I owe my life to missionaries.” Samuel Ikua Gachagua

We came across this amazing article written by a Kenyan orphan. He shares his story of how missionaries impacted his life, changing it for good. Samuel’s life experience has also given him invaluable insight into the good and bad impact of mission teams to Africa.

Samuel’s background is filled with life-changing moments. He lost his father at a very young age and his mother abandoned him and his siblings soon after. As a family of young children, they stuck together and learnt to survive – selling water in plastic bags, but also skipping school often. Samuel’s life was completely changed when a Kenyan and a US Pastor opened a children’s home in his rural town.

Samuel grew up to as a beneficiary of missionaries who made a positive impact, and he did not restrict himself to being a “needy orphan”. In High School, he became involved in collecting for the needy and even volunteered on a service project in Equador. His involvement has taught him about both sides of the coin – being a beneficiary as well as being a benefactor. He has penned his experience on a blog and shared five pointers for mission teams to bear in mind when they plan their trips, helping them to be good missionaries. Here is a quick summary. For more, you are welcome to follow the link to his blog:

1. Rethink the goals of your short-term missions trip
Be careful of just wanting to “get things done” during a missions trip. There are many needs, and yes, menial tasks like painting or construction may help, but there are many others in Kenya who could also fulfill these tasks. It would be better to focus on your strengths and the value you could add through your own personal skills set. In other words, really think about how you can contribute: “Focus less on ‘helping’ and more on cross-cultural exchange.”

2. Don’t try to get too close too fast
Young children who are in a vulnerable position need adult mother and father figures to look up to. This means they get attached easily and are most likely to be devastated when these mentors leave. So be very careful with your relationship and try and keep the attachment to a minimum.

3. Learn what the partner needs
Samuel shares an illustrative example of missionaries who demonstrated to them as children, how they should brush their teeth and then handed them toothbrushes. They laughed it off, not understanding why these mzungus (white people) would think they don’t know how to brush their teeth. Such a powerful example of how this ‘contribution’ made no difference at all! A total waste of time and money! So before planning your mission trip, make sure to assess the needs of your partner and how you can contribute efficiently

4. Don’t forget the money
Money is a sensitive topic, but the reality is – most orphanages and projects have a funding shortage. The mission teams who visit these partners should not become a financial burden to them, but should be improving their financial conditions or at least have no effect on it. Rather arrange your own logistics or have an organization arrange it for you.

5. Follow up, Follow up, Follow up
“What a missionary does once he or she goes home is often far more important than what happens at site.”

In Samuel’s experience, his most important relationships were built through follow up, letters and staying in touch. This aids in building relationships despite short-term missions and for a team to really make a difference.

For more insight into these five pointers, please do go and read the full blog written by Samuel. For us, the biggest lesson here is that it is extremely important for mission teams to be in touch with their partner’s needs. And then to respond to these needs in a practical way, applying strengths and skills where it would help the most.

Click here to read Samuel’s blog.

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