Here is a very helpful email exchange between a pastor and a missionary, seeking perspective and feedback after a team from the church came to visit the missionaries in Zambia.

Here’s one insightful exchange:

Was the team an encouragement to you and your family personally? Please explain.


Yes, however, our encouragement is not the primary aim of a team. We actually find ourselves having to encourage them as they struggle through the cultural adjustment and difficulties Africa can present even on a short term basis. Team members are initially enamored with the newness rather than the substance of what is actually happening on the field. They explode with expression when they experience what they had always imagined Africa to be. That is fine, and thankfully this typically wears off after a week or so (or after a “running stomach” or what they believe are symptoms of malaria). I love seeing Africa through the eyes of someone who has never been there before. They become intoxicated with a continent which truly feels rugged and exotic. This is normal, but it needs to fade at some point for the sanity and effectiveness of everyone involved. We always tried to schedule slots for our teams to enjoy the beauty of “untouched” Kenya or Zambia, but these excursions were not scheduled until they worked for it. . . .

Anytime a structured team arrives the missionary’s normal schedule is abandoned for a “maximum ministry exposure” itinerary. It’s not artificial, but neither is it standard operating procedure. It’s a high octane schedule that leaves everybody wasted. Boredom is public enemy #1 for a mission team.

Everyone steps up before and after a team. Students give their summer and raise support. Team leaders give of themselves and their “time off” to host an energetic group to a foreign land. Those who make the greatest sacrifice are the missionary wife and children. That is why it’s great when team members include our family in the little things (picture below of a team member playing checkers with my son).

The greatest encouragement is when the team takes an interest in our children. Our teams had exceptional young people who “ministered” to our children. Our children are Third Culture Kids (TCK’s) – true “Global Nomads.” For our children to be loved by “big kids” from their “Passport Culture” is huge to their little perspective! This may have been the team’s greatest ministry and certainly one of the greatest encouragements to us personally. . . .

There is so much to manage and organize to make a team of any significant size operate well. Months of planning and preparation go into a team before they “make sure their seat is not back and folding trays are in their full upright position in preparation for take-off.” Our primary focus on the field becomes the “team” having an accurate vision of mission work and life. It is imperative the team receive a good understanding of a particular region, a proper understanding of biblical missions, a realistic strategy for that area, the proper etiquette necessary when working in another culture, and the dangers of creating problems for the missionary even after the team has left. Many mission teams unknowingly harm rather than help the cause because they are not dissimilar to the tourist groups that arrive to see the wildebeest migration and the East African coast. It only takes one young person with an arrogant western outlook to create problems that could take months to clear up. We have not had this experience, but know other missionaries who have. Initial impressions are always fun to watch, but a team living in the area for several months will have most of those “impressions” forced back to reality.

You can read the whole thing here.

See also Jeff Brewer’s article on 10 Things to Remember When Coming Home from a Missions Trip.