Mind Your Manners – Foundations for Missions

On April 9, 2014 by Bethany
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Photo by Mel Trollman

Are you leading a group on a mission experience this year?

First of all, go you! A position that requires a lot of coordinating, prayer, paperwork and patience is not something most people will take on, but you are! I know that things can quickly pile up when it comes to preparing a youth/adult/mixed group on a trip. Trying to help them remember and understand all the rules, worrying about how they will act on the trip and ensuring they follow the dress code can be enough to make anyone become a frazzled mess. (not to mention there’s the spiritual responsibility as well!)

Do you feel like every meeting you say:

“Remember all these rules, oh and these too, oh and don’t forget these!”

As a trip leader who leads mission teams throughout the year, I’m here to make it known: all those rules are set in place for a reason, normally a very good reason, and they are important to follow.  But trying to teach a youth group every rule in the handbook at once can be difficult.

So what’s my advice? Start with the basics and build up from there. To begin simply tell them this one rule – mind your manners.


Every day I work with people all around the USA and the world. Pennsylvania, Colorado, Arizona, Minnesota, Arkansas, Tennessee.. and the list goes on. Every week when leading mission trips I work with Haitians, Americans from all over the States and even the occasional Canadian team (shout out to my EMI friends). And one thing is for certain – we are all SO different! From traditions to expressions to the accents we speak with, we are an incredibly diverse people. But, no matter where you go and who you talk with, without a doubt they’ve been taught some degree of manners. Here in the South, you mind your manners or momma will wash your mouth out with soap! (yes for real.. and no, I do not condone this for your youth group. Well, maybe not ALL the time.. 😉 )

So let’s break it down and see how those manners your momma taught you apply to your mission trip:

Respect your elders (and those in authority)

  • While on a mission trip, respecting those who are in authority over you, such as the group leader or trip leader, is of the utmost importance. They have the big picture for the ministry you are working in, and have legit reasons for the rules and instructions they give you.

Eat what’s on your plate, don’t be wasteful, and be thankful

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    It was always a rule in my house that you must try whatever is on your plate. If you don’t like it that’s okay, but keep that opinion to yourself. Be thankful that you have food to eat, and don’t be wasteful. Someone likely worked hard to prepare your food, and there are others in the world who would be grateful to have the plate of food sitting in front of you.

Be polite to strangers and friends

  • Being polite to strangers makes us all feel more connected. So, as you are immersed in a different culture or community during your trip, be polite to friends and members of your team, as well as people you meet in the community.

Smile, wave, and be friendly

  • Be aware of the facial expressions you are making and what they might look like to someone who doesn’t know you. As you are travelling and interacting with others, be aware of the signals your body language can give off. Even if you are feeling happy, a scowl on your face will tell others something different. Easy ways to be friendly in body language are to smile often, relax your facial muscles, wave to strangers and greet them with a simple “Hello.” A smile is universal:  one language for the whole world.

Don’t stare

  • Having grown up with my Uncle Mike, who was paralyzed and in a wheelchair, I was fortunate that I learned this rule early. As I got older, I would get frustrated when others would stare at him, although he was more used to it and generally didn’t mind. In almost every circumstance, staring at someone is rude. Think about when someone stares at you: doesn’t it usually make you feel uncomfortable? On a mission trip, where EVERYTHING is different, you’ll want to stare at the new sites, people and activities around you. But observing is different than staring. Observe how a vendor sells bracelets, but don’t stare at him. If someone has a disability or is different in appearance, do not stare. Observe daily life, but be intentional about not staring at others.

Don’t judge others

  • To put it simply, judging is one of the most divisive things we can do to other people. When you judge someone due to their dress, culture, way of life, money, or material possessions, you put yourself above them. You create a divide between yourself and them. Worse than that, it is easy to judge someone before you really get to know them. It’s so much better to have an open mind about the new experiences and people you are meeting.

Be modest in dress

  • 20140408_150009Isn’t this simple enough to understand? When I was a teenager, my brother David pointed out a friend of mine and said, “If you ever dress like that, I’ll take you back home and make you change.” I laughed so hard when he said that, but I see now he was teaching me how important it is to dress modestly. This manner could be a whole other post itself, and a quick Google search will give you a ton of material to read about how to dress modestly with style.
  • When serving in another place, you want to be of the highest reproach. This means being respectful even to the most conservative of people, ensuring that nothing will form a barrier between you and their culture. Isn’t that the goal? Even if the local people don’t dress as conservatively, remember that you are representing Christ and you want people to see His light.. not your thighs.

Ask permission if you are unsure

  • When questions come up about situations like travelling, purchasing things, leaving the group, or whether your shorts are long enough… ask! One of the easiest and best ways to avoid conflict and confusion is to ask permission if you are unsure.

Say please and thank you

  • Simple, right? You’d think that. Something that is so simple in our own culture can sometimes get lost in another place. Whether due to being out of our normal circumstances, or feeling separated due to language barriers, please and thank you (the number one rule!) can be forgotten. If you are unsure how to say please and thank you in another language, ask someone for help.

Keep negative opinions to yourself

  • “Ain’t nobody got time fo’ that!” For real, no one likes a Debbie Downer.. and, furthermore, no one likes a complainer. This is doubly true when negative opinions pertain to personal qualities like culture, daily lifestyle, clothing, food, or politics. You are a guest in the state or country you are serving in.. you are the foreigner here. Your ways are different, and the ways of your host country have no right to be criticized by you in public. When negative opinions are made public, the whole group suffers.

And lastly, If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

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    I’m not sure what genius came up with this line, but I know we’ve all heard it and said it. Simple and to the point, it needs no explanation.

I hope that this list of manners can help you teach your team. If they come with these things in mind, the trip will run smoothly and ultimately, your group will be others-focused, positive and kind. Setting up your team for this kind of mentality, will ensure they can focus on serving, building relationships and learning from Christ.

Remember that ultimately, God wants to be and should remain the center of your team and the trip. As long as you are following Christ, your group will be in good hands as they follow you.

For more Foundations in Missions, check back on the blog for more posts coming up soon. Next up is Eric’s take on what’s most important for you and your trip. Check back to read more about it!

-Bethany

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