Can elephants and mice dance together?

Do you know what you may be leaving behind on the field when you go on a brief mission trip? Do you know how your hosts in other countries may sometimes feel about you and your visit?

Consider the lesson in this fable about a dancing elephant.

When elephants dance: Thoughts on short-term mission trips

A story illustrating the problems which arise when over-exuberant, lets-get-it-done Americans interact with Christians of other cultures

by Miriam Adeney

"Would you like to know what it is like to do mission with Americans? Let me tell you a story," said David Coulibaly, a ministry leader in Mali, West Africa.

Elephant and Mouse were best friends. One day Elephant said, "Mouse, let's have a party!"

Animals gathered from far and near. They ate, and drank, and sang, and danced. And nobody celebrated more exuberantly than the Elephant.

After it was over, Elephant exclaimed, "Mouse, did you ever go to a better party? What a blast!"

But Mouse didn't answer.

"Where are you?" Elephant called. Then he shrank back in horror. There at his feet lay the mouse, his body ground into the dirt -- smashed by the exuberance of his friend, the Elephant.Escaping mouse

"Sometimes that is what it is like to do mission with you Americans," the African storyteller concluded. "It is like dancing with an Elephant."

From the Mobilizer

Negative side effects

"A group of young people went from North America to Guyana (South America) where they built a church in three weeks. They joyfully presented the new church building to the people and returned home.

Two years later this message was sent from Guyana to the people in North America: 'The roof on your church building is leaking. Please come and fix it.'

"In this case that short-term group had ignored the need for insuring psychological 'ownership' when doing cross-cultural ministry.

"In West Africa, a young volunteer worked with a congregation alongside a medical doctor/church planter missionary. That missionary had been encouraging the local church to increase their awareness of world missions and evangelism. He was elated to hear from the local pastor that their annual missions offering had increased from forty-five dollars to sixty-one dollars. That step caused rejoicing on the local scene. It also motivated that particular church to set about to plant another church some kilometers away.

"At that point, the young volunteer from America, feeling pity for the local pastor and his congregation, sacrificially gave $6,800 -- out of the goodness of her heart -- to build them a new church building. One immediate result of that gift was that the local pastor took his eyes off what his people had accomplished. He began to ask where he could find more of that kind of money. The missionary was devastated as he saw his efforts at promoting local self-support go down the drain.

"If short-termers can learn the importance of being rather than doing, great good can be accomplished."

     -- Glenn J. Schwartz of World Mission Associates

Coming home: dealing with re-entry from a mission trip

Next "We are not the same people who left our home country five weeks earlier." [ read more ]

SNU missions course materials and syllabi

Cultural Anthropology    Introduction to Missions    Linguistics    Missions Strategies    Modern Missionary Movement (History of  Missions)    Nazarene Missions    Church Growth and Christian Missions    Theology of Missions    Traditional Religions    World Religions
  Top of page| My Home Page | Master List\Index| |SNU Missions Program |Scripture index

Howard Culbertson, 5901 NW 81st, Oklahoma City, OK 73132  |  Phone: 405-740-4149 - Fax: 405-491-6658

Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. When you use this material, an acknowledgment of the source would be appreciated.