Peter Abungu is a 127 Worldwide partner who directs Swahiba Networks in the Kibera slums of Nairobi, Kenya. In episode 12 of the Simply 127 podcast, Peter speaks on the importance of GO Teams and shares some insight from his experience working with Americans.
In today's world, short-term mission trips are controversial. Critics of the practice maintain that it would always be better to donate money directly to foreign organizations rather than fundraise to buy a plane ticket. After all, plane tickets are expensive. Wouldn’t that money be better served going directly to the work of local leaders instead of transporting Americans overseas and back for one week? As an organization committed to joining what God is already doing through his global church, we sympathize with this impulse. We have a model though that we think keeps the meat and spits out the bones.
127’s partner in Kenya, Peter Abungu, makes the case in this episode that GO Teams are vitally important to his ministry. He says, “People need to come and serve, not just at Swahiba but across the globe because it is the Great Commission. Jesus commanded us to go. If he would’ve felt that it was better for us to give, he would have said ‘I command you to give.’” Obviously we want to engage helpfully and wisely, but we also want to contribute to the church’s mission where we can by encouraging local leaders like Peter and his staff at Swahiba in their daily ministry.
Ideally, GO Teams create future advocates in Americans who are eager to raise awareness of the good our partners are doing in vulnerable communities. Peter recounted how the most consistent givers and the most vocal supporters of Swahiba Networks were always people who had personally traveled to Nairobi to participate with Swahiba. He reflected that,
“There is something about...the ministry of presence, where you encounter the people, break bread together, and look them in the face. You hug them. You hear their stories... You feel what they are feeling. You see where they are living… There is something that captures your heart.”
When you experience life with people, even if only
for a week, you build greater compassion
than you could ever muster up reading a newsletter
or hearing a statistic.
When you experience life with people, even if only for a week, you build greater compassion than you could ever muster up reading a newsletter or hearing a statistic. This compassion makes you a prayer warrior for the people you have encountered. It motivates you to keep supporting the work of local leaders financially. It makes you want to enlist other people to join the work too.
This type of role for a short-term mission tripper is what 127 believes is most effective. Americans go to support a partner, become familiar with their work, and then advocate for them at home. We believe that the more direct-contact work with vulnerable communities ought to fall to the local leader and their ministry staff. They know their cultural context best and are a more permanent fixture in their community than any outsider is. Additionally, language, culture, and perception barriers make it difficult for Americans to serve in the trenches of vulnerable communities as effectively as a local. We believe our efforts are best spent serving and ministering to fellow believers to encourage them in their ministry. This is why 127 Worldwide values and prioritizes partnerships with local leaders in vulnerable communities.
However, when we as Americans enter into these types of partnerships, it is important to consider cultural differences that could lead to misunderstandings and conflict. Peter spoke on this theme in the episode, specifically touching on how some differences in American and Kenyan culture can lead to frustrations on both sides. He recounted how in Kenya, respect and honor are extremely important character traits. Because of this, saying “yes” to a request is generally considered the polite response, even if you can’t always fulfill the request you have said “yes” to. To tell someone “no” would shame them.
In contrast, most Americans are fine with telling somebody “no”, but would bristle at a “yes” that isn’t followed through with. Peter also touched on how in Kenya, asking questions could be interpreted as challenging authority, but Americans “are trained to constantly ask questions.” For Americans, asking a question shows one is engaged and participating. This is just one difference between our cultures, but it clearly illustrates the need for training and for humility in cross-cultural engagement.
Like anything in life, short-term mission trips and international partnerships will present challenges. We believe that the benefits of doing God’s work of compassion alongside brothers and sisters around the world is worth overcoming these complications and continually seek to improve our model through the input of 127 partners.
To hear more of Peter's conversation, listen to the full episode on Simply 127.