American or American't? A critical analysis of western training to the world

Written by Karl Dahlfred on .

A lot of ink (and pixels) have been spilled talking about the incredible impact that short term missions are making.  However, that conclusion is based almost entirely on the perceptions of those who went on the trip. And the impact in question is often the effect that the trip had on those who went, not those on the receiving end.  It is fantastic that so many people are blessed by going on short-term missions but are the people whom they went to serve getting blessed as well?

In a disturbing, yet eye opening article, David Livermore ("American or American't? A critical analysis of western training to the world", EMQ, Oct. 2004; Vol 40. No. 4. [pp. 458-456]) writes about a study that he did, “comparing North American pastors descriptions of their experiences training cross-culturally with the way national pastors and leaders described those same experiences.”


Here are a few quotes from the article, comparing the perceptions of the two groups: 


North American Pastors   National Pastors
They're so hungry for the training we can offer.  You conclude that you're communicating effectively because we're paying attention when we're actually just intrigued by watching your foreign behavior.
We've got to do something. The window of opportunity is NOW!  You too quickly get into the action without thinking through the implications on our churches long after you go home.  
The issues we deal with are pretty much the same. You act as if the American church is the true trendsetter for how we should all do church. 

And a couple more comments from national pastors on the receiving end of a short-term training mission trip:

“I wish we could have shared more about the real challenges we’re facing in our battle? How do I help a parent care for their AIDS baby? Those are my pressing issues, not growing my church bigger or starting a second service. I didn’t get that whole discussion.”

“During our class, I was describing some of the challenges our church is facing in our bible study groups. I shared how our adolescents rarely feel free to speak up because of some dominant older members. The trainer immediately started to tell me why this proves our need for a specific program for the young people. I told him we were resisting that trend out of a desire to keep the generations together. He laughed and said, ‘that’s where the American church was 40 years ago but you’re going to have todevelop a strong youth ministry or you’ll lose those kids.”

And for short-term missionaries who want to financially bless the local Christians that they are visiting, consider this anecdote:

“[My national pastor friend] went on to tell me about the visiting group of American pastors who were just with him in Punjab. They were really concerned about the bicycle Ashish used to get back and forth to his church. They found out how “inexpensively” they could purchase a car so they came to him telling him they had decided to go in together to purchase him a little car. “The last thing I wanted was a car,” Ashish told me. “I had to find a tactful way of telling them that if they really wanted to invest in something, I had several members in my church who could use some help setting up a microenterprise development. But I think I kind of ‘rained on their parade’ as you say.”

Despite the negatives that came up in his study, Livermore concludes the article with some positive recommendations for preparing Western pastors who go on short-term cross-cultural training trips

To read the whole article, click here to download the PDF

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