More and more schools are getting involved in “mission trips.” I applaud the initiatives in many way, but more and more research is suggesting there are serious flaws with the one- or two-week “mission project.” Haiti is currently in the news, and I don’t doubt that some of our schools will take the opportunity to take on projects. May I suggest that any school that takes on a “mission project” first call it a “cross-cultural partnership project,” and then take some time to have the leadership immerse themselves in the opportunities and pitfalls of something that at first glance might seem so right!
Now to the book and website reviews. Three Cups of Tea is the real-life story of Greg Mortenson, an American, raised in Africa. The biography, written by David Oliver Relin, reads like a novel (Penguin Books, 2007). This is a compelling , interesting narrative of how a young man, driven to conquer the Himalayan Mountains, failed in that ambition, only to channel his energies into assisting isolated Muslim communities in setting up fifty-five schools for children who had no schools. The practice and opportunity of drinking “three cups of tea” signalled acceptance into Muslim communities. As Mortenson discovered, this does not happen overnight! Permission to drink three cups of tea can be a metaphor for any person or school that hopes to adopt a cross-cultural project. I recommend every student and leader read this book.
Christianity Today, the flagship magazine of the evangelical church in the United States and Canada, has sponsored a new website dedicated to equipping those who go on “mission trips.” Teachers who lead a team need to check out this website: www.roundtripmissions.com. This site aims to “promote values such as cultural awareness, partnership in mission, long-term transformation, and to teach against Christian tourism” and to make “efforts long-lasting and reciprocal.”
For those who are really serious about cross-cultural partnerships having a positive impact, then a long-term relationship needs to be part of the equation. In my mind, the foremost thinker about cross-cultural partnerships is Paul G. Hiebert. Check out his resume on Google. He provides an anthropological perspective on what happens when one cultural group moves in on another in hopes of bringing enlightenment or material enhancement. His biblical perspective will resonate with those in our family of schools. Check out Anthropological Insights for Missionaries and/or Anthropological Reflections on Missiological Issues.