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Handling Shocking Encounters on Mission Trips

As we walked by, we didn’t hear the woman’s name. All we knew was that the other prostitutes were wishing her a happy birthday.

“Hope it’s a good night to make some money!” one said.

“Maybe you’ll get lucky like in that Pretty Woman movie,” another added.

That night, our teenagers had already seen their share of surprises. We’d walked through the city where we were serving, including streets with flamboyant sin and whole neighborhoods that magnified cultural differences. We were heading back to our hotel when we walked by this particular group.

“What do you say we go back and sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to that woman?” I suggested.

Our group’s general response was “Um….”

“For real,” I said. “How about it?”


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It took our kids a moment, but they caught the vision. Soon we’d ventured close enough that the women saw we were near their space.

“Excuse me,” one teen began. “We heard it was your birthday and want to sing to you. What’s your name?”

The woman became overtly bashful. Another gal picked up on it and said, “C’mon, Satin. Don’t be shy.”

Yet another gal cut through it all and shared, “Actually, her name is Rachel.”

So we sang “Happy Birthday” to a prostitute named Satin, who was really a woman named Rachel. And in that moment, if only for a brief second, Satin disappeared and Rachel emerged.

Has anything shocking ever happened on one of your mission trips—the kind of thing that could easily stop your team in its tracks if not addressed?

If I’ve learned one thing about these surprises, it’s that what happens on a mission trip doesn’t stay on a mission trip. That shocking moment becomes what everyone talks about afterward, so what you do ahead of time makes all the difference in the moment.

Prepare for the unfamiliar with the familiar. Shocking things regularly happen in the world every day. People cross lines we never imagined anyone would cross, from what’s considered acceptable in entertainment to what’s viewed as okay for Christians. While getting your team ready for “somewhere else,” first talk about ways to navigate what’s happening “here.” Tying these two things together helps teenagers take the lessons they learn on the cross-cultural mission field back to their home mission field.

Fight for holiness with grace. You know how some kids say they love Jesus but dive into things that clearly aren’t about Jesus? On the mission field, you may meet mothers who talk about loving Jesus yet also sell themselves at night to provide for their kids. One household may exchange cattle with another to get permission for a marriage. A local person you meet may lead you in a Bible study but then crack open a beer afterward, inviting teenagers to participate.

When you encounter a jaw-dropping moment on a mission trip, the real challenge is discerning if it’s a cultural difference or actually crosses a biblical line. You must decide whether you can tolerate it or should take a stand against it. That line can get blurry, especially if an entire culture agrees to redefine something God is clear about.

Jesus walked this line perfectly. The One who formed countless planets came to earth in a human body that got tired, thirsty, and sunburned. He let a human culture become his culture and experienced temptations just as we do. Yet Jesus didn’t sin, making him the perfect example for navigating the cultural and ethical divide.


Looking to partner with Group to bring a youth mission experience? We’re looking for volunteers, churches, and co-sponsors to join us all across North America for 2018, 2019, and beyond.


Make the call home before teenagers do. Think about every awkward situation through the eyes of parents, who are already concerned about their kids’ safety on a mission trip. Let them hear about the weird thing that was actually kind of awesome so they get the full story, not just, “So, we hung out with some prostitutes.” Parents may have given you the benefit of the doubt, but remember these aren’t your kids. Don’t put them into any situation you’d struggle to talk about afterward.

Did you experience a jaw-dropping moment during a mission trip this summer? How did you handle it, and how did Jesus work through it? Share your suggestions for how to expect—and handle—the unexpected.

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Handling Shocking Encounters on Missi...

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