Short-term mission team case study: Don't tell Shari!

Problems during a university student short-term mission trip when most of the team members decide to sneak out and spend all night at a dance club while keeping that a secret from their onsite coordinator

Jon was angry at his Youth in Mission teammates, but he didn't know what he should do at this point. It seemed to him that they had breached team unity and violated a shared code of ethics. Their decision to "sneak out" and spend nearly all night at a dance club also raised some serious safety issues.

Shari was the site coordinator for Jon's Youth In Mission team. After graduation from college, Shari had given two years of volunteer service to help start the Church of the Nazarene in Macedonia. Upon her return to the U.S., she enrolled in graduate school. Now, during a summer break, she has come back to Macedonia as the Youth in Mission team leader. Around the first of July, Shari told her team that she would be gone on an overnight trip to another city with the missionary couple working in Macedonia.

With the missionaries and Shari gone, it was a "day off" for the team of college students. That afternoon, another American who was in the country doing volunteer service for the church came by where the YIMers were staying. He told some of them that they ought to go out together that night to a dance club.

When they approached Jon about it, he figured it must be an idea they had been tossing around for a few days. His first reaction was that they wanted to do it to meet young Macedonians and begin developing relationships with them that would bear fruit for the Kingdom. So, he asked, "What does Shari say?"

"She doesn't know," said one of the girls. "It's a 'Don't ask/Don't tell' situation'."

It was pretty clear at that point that this club visit didn't fit into any evangelistic outreach strategy. Some of the group jumped at the idea of going out to the club; a couple of them thought it was a bad idea. Those who thought they shouldn't go were concerned about two points: (1) the denominational stance on this kind of entertainment and (2) safety/security issues in a country with a fairly high crime rate. As they talked, tensions rose between team members.

By evening, a decision was made. Four of the team members went to the club; two of them didn't. The four team members that went out didn not return until dawn.

Jon -- who hadn't gone to the club -- had tossed and turned in his bed all night. "How could they do that to us?" he kept thinking.

When the four finally awakened for lunch, they pleaded with Jon and the other YIMer who hadn't gone with them: "Don't tell the missionaries. Don't tell Shari."

The afternoon wore on and the missionaries and Shari returned from their trip. Jon was miserable. He didn't know what to do. "What would Bo Cassell (YIM director) advise me to do?" he wondered.

He wasn't sure the group would ever feel like a close-knit "team" again. Would this club visit be detrimental to the new believers with whom they were becoming friends? Would it be detrimental to their Christian witness to unbelievers? Jon felt they should be open about their actions with the missionaries and with their team leader, Shari. If team members were doing things on their day off that they wanted to hide from their leaders, weren't they thereby creating obstacles to the establishment of a healthy church?

That evening after supper, Jon decided . . .

Written by Howard Culbertson, . Case studies are actual events. Names and places have been changed.

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