Preston Sprinkle asked two veterans of theological education in Africa what a positive short-term mission trip would look like.
They said: don’t teach. I know you’re a teacher, you even have a PhD, and it looks like you’re doing a fine job in America, but if you come to Africa, don’t teach during your first trip. Before you teach Africa, first be a student of Africa. Sure, hundreds of schools and institutes would love to have you come teach. You’re educated. You’re white. You’re the very symbol of wealth, wisdom, and upward mobility. But frankly, you don’t know the culture, and you have a better chance at doing more harm than good if you go in and dump all your knowledge—and perhaps a wad of cash—with no awareness of the complexities of the culture. But what you could do that would be hugely beneficial for both you and them is to learn. Find an African bishop, priest, or pastor, and follow him around. Be his shadow when he’s visiting a mother dying of AIDS at the hospital, or at a refuge camp where displaced Christians are wrestling with forgiveness. Go with him to the slums, to the cities, to the villages, and to the homes of congregants living in grinding poverty. Follow him. Ask questions. Take notes. Stare into the eyes of the man who lost his daughter to the militia seeking young soldiers. Don’t teach. Don’t counsel. Just learn. Drink deeply from the rich wells of African wisdom. And if you do this for a couple of months, you will be in a much better place to teach in Africa—if your heart beats hard enough to bring you back.