I’ve been taking teams to Haiti for 27 years. We often travel with a mission named Reciprocal Ministries International. They’ve been helping teams go to Haiti far longer than I’ve been going. You can learn more about them at their website – www.rminet.org .
Going to any Third World country is difficult. It’s not a good idea to just jump on an airplane and go without first having a good plan. Part of a good plan includes some orientation sessions so you know something about the country, the people, the culture, the weather, the customs, what you can do and what you shouldn’t do etc, etc. Fortunately for us, RMI has put together an excellent orientation package and we spend 12-16 hours with each team learning about Haiti. The goal is to prepare people so they will be ready when they arrive. It cuts down on culture shock. It makes everyone more efficient with the little time they have to minister. It allows people to better process what they see and experience.
One of the things you need to know about ministering in Third World countries is that you need to be flexible. The only thing that you can count on is that you can’t count on anything going according to plan. So. Be. Flexible.
You see the most important thing about ministering in another culture is not what you learn about the country and the people you will go to – it’s what you learn about yourself. Who you are. What kind of person you are. What kind of Christian you are. If you are flexible, you can survive in a place like Haiti without all of the knowledge you would gain in an orientation session.
However, my experience has been that the better prepared a person is the less problems they will have. Their transition into another culture will be relatively smooth and easy. That’s because they have learned something about themselves in the process and have prepared themselves. On the other hand the person who isn’t prepared, because they didn’t take the orientation sessions seriously, hurt themselves, the ministry and ultimately the team.
Those thoughts led me to this (it’s not a perfect analogy but you’ll get the point). Christians need some orientation for Heaven. After all you’ll be there a lot longer than the average short-term missions trip. The more you learn about heaven now the better prepared you will be. I can’t prove this but I wonder how many Christians are going to experience some kind of culture shock when they get to heaven because they weren’t prepared.
But more important than learning about Heaven is learning about yourself. Learning who you are as a person. As a Christian. That’s why so much space is devoted in the Bible to issues like how you live. There are over 40 references in the Epistles about how the Christian is to live using the term walk. For example:
Walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called (Ephesians 4:1)
That you might walk worthy of the Lord (Colossians 1:10)
In fact the theme of the Epistles is how we are to live out our faith. That’s because God is more interested in who you are than in preparing you for heaven (and He’s certainly doing that). If you are the kind of Christian He wants you to be here, you won’t be shocked when you get there. In fact, it will be a relatively smooth and easy transition for you. Your orientation will prepare you for life as well as heaven.
The key place where your orientation sessions take place is in Church. Yes, you can read the books about Haiti and get some benefit from them. But you will be much better off working through the material with people who have more knowledge of the culture.
And you can read your Bible and learn a lot about both heaven and how to live out your faith. But there is some benefit to gathering with God’s people and working through the material. The writer of Hebrews had that in mind when he wrote we should keep on encouraging each other to be thoughtful and to do helpful things. Some people have gotten out of the habit of meeting for worship, but we must not do that. We should keep on encouraging each other, especially since you know that the day of the Lord’s coming is getting closer (Hebrews 10:24-25). That happens in the Church.
Christians who approach church attendance casually hurt themselves, hurt the ministry, and hurt the team. But more importantly, they’re not prepared for life.
Stay in the Word