There are always pitfalls to cross-cultural engagement. Well-meaning people, wishing to serve Christ, travel on short-term trips every year hoping God will use them to serve believers around the world. However, without a lot of thought to how other cultures view certain activities, some trips can harm the local churches we desire to serve.
Take for example a recent trip to West Africa where one of the tasks was the face-painting of children. Go to any fair in the US and you will see children begging their parents to have someone paint their face. However, in the region of the country this short-term team was visiting, face painting was associated with witchcraft. The team could not figure out why the children were crying while they painted their face. Later that night the children were beat by their parents.
How would a short-term team avoid such a situation? It is simple. Instead of telling missionaries what you intend to do when you go to partner with them, ask them what would be best.
Darren Carlson is the Founder and President of Training Leaders International. As President, Darren oversees the general direction of the ministry and serves as an advocate for pastors with little access to formal training and thoughtful cross-cultural theological engagement. You can connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.