If we’ve learned anything from our combined years of ministry experience, it’s that good intentions are not enough and cultural sensitivity requires constant cultivation. Even with the purest of motives and well-laid plans, we can still cause lasting harm to a community’s economy and terribly undermine a person’s worth. Just when we start to think we’ve got this cross-cultural communication thing in the bag, we discover a new way we’ve operated blindly by our western presets.
There is no silver bullet in ministry. We wish easy answers existed, but when you’re dealing with vulnerable communities there will always be gray areas. How long is it appropriate to provide relief after a crisis without crippling a local economy? What effect does giving out foreign-produced shoes have on both the dignity of the receiver and the job market for cobblers? Does changing an orphan’s diaper negatively impact a child’s attachment to caregivers?
For short-term teams, this is crucial. We have to recognize that our eagerness to serve far outpaces our understanding of the needs and challenges of the communities we enter. Here are five suggestions that encourage us to slow down and provide a helpful filter for examining the work we do on a 127 Team.
- This article talks about cultural insensitivity affecting our attempts to do good, and the author shares a story about her own blunder asking her Kenyan friends about “real toilets.” Can you think of a time you said or did something that was culturally insensitive?
- What are practical ways a short-term team might unintentionally squelch the local economy? What alternative that stimulates the local economy could they replace that practice with?
- How does the author define the difference between compassion and pity? How do you see those competing motivations playing out differently in the same scenario?
- How can recognizing that God is already at work among materially impoverished communities prevent us from creating dependencies and instead help us empower the vulnerable to flourish?