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Missions 101

Should I Pass out My Email on a Short-Term Missions Trip

Oct. 3, 2016By: Jeff AtherstoneAuthor Bio
Editor’s Note: Over the next two days we will look at the impact of passing out your personal contact information on short-term mission trips. Jeff Atherstone is a missionary of Training Leaders International and serves as Chancellor of Africa Renewal University.

Over the past 7+ years I have had the opportunity to host over 300 short-term visitors in Uganda at Africa Renewal University. We have been blessed to have teaching teams, construction teams, community outreach teams and curriculum development teams.

I always encourage the teams to exchange their emails with the management staff at ARU. The national ARU staff have excellent training in theology and development issues so they can help the visitors as they learn about cross-cultural ministry. By exchanging emails the relationships that were established during the trip can continue and a “peer relationship” between the two cultures can begin to form.

When the staff communicates with the visitors through email the discussion usually revolves around projects that we are working in partnership on with the visitors, curriculum that we are developing together and the sharing of resources on the web that we can both learn from. This type of “peer relationship” has been a very empowering exercise for my staff helping them to put aside the “colonial mindset” that many were raised in which taught them that they were inferior to Western visitors.

Although I encourage visitors to exchange emails with the people that they are “ministering alongside” I do not encourage them to exchange emails with the people that they are “ministering to.”

There are a number of hazards that come with this type of email exchange. One hazard is that this can lead to scams and frauds, which are common through email and I will address this in another post. The primary hazard that I wish to address today is that by exchanging emails you can actually have a negative impact on the local ministry.

We have experienced this a number of times where a visitor begins emailing a student of ours and the effects can be damaging to the development of the student. The visitor will often offer the student gifts or money that other students do not receive which can cause the students to become jealous of each other and can even bring competition between the students for the visitor’s attention.

The other problem with the visitors offering our students gifts and money is that our university training is helping to give students the skills they need to lift themselves and their communities out of poverty. By offering the students these benefits the visitors are moving them back to the “begging culture” that we are trying to lift the students out of.

Aside from the offer of gifts and money the visitor’s emails are robbing the students of the discipleship relationships that are right in front of them. Email is a great tool but it can never replace direct human interaction for discipleship but too often nationals are more interested in emailing a rich visitor from the West rather than connecting with their national pastor or ministry leaders. The discipleship that I have seen effectively done through emails begins with a long-term relationship not just 2-weeks together on a short-term experience.

The exchange of gifts and discipleship might not be the key issues for other ministries but one thing remains constant – the nationals and missionaries on the ground will always have a greater understanding of how to minister to the people where they serve. That is why God has called and placed them there! The role of the short term visitor is a supportive role and should be to come alongside local ministries joining the Gospel- movement that is taking place on the ground.

Just because someone has spent two weeks in Uganda or even been on ten trips to Uganda that does not make them an expert on the issues facing Uganda. Be careful who you hand your email out to and make sure that your ongoing communication is a blessing to the ministry and people you came to minister alongside of.

Jeff is the Vice-Chancellor of Africa Renewal University. One of the greatest needs in Africa is the training and mentoring of pastors. Before coming to Uganda Jeff served as a Pastor at Cornerstone Community Church of Moorpark and has been involved in pastoral ministry since 1998. Jeff has a Bachelors Degree in Theology and a Masters of Divinity from The Masters College and Seminary. He lives in Uganda with his wife Christine and their two sons Noah and Kadin.

Tags:  short-term missions
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