STM Freak Out Syndrome

I have recently come to the conclusion that there's a little control freak inside of each of us. Some people are better at hiding it, at living in a way that fools the rest of us into thinking they are incredibly laid back and easygoing, unfazed by the difficulties of life. I've also concluded that there is one great equalizer, something that exposes even the most well-concealed inner control freak. It's called "the short-term mission trip."

For the past month (and for the next month), World Relief Cambodia is hosting teams of Americans to teach ESL to our staff. We've been doing this for the past four years, and I like to think we're getting better at it every year. However, there is one thing that I just cannot figure out how to improve. I'm at a loss when it comes to dealing with Short Term Mission Freak Out Syndrome, or STMFOS.

Every person has a unique STMFOS trigger. For some, travel is what prompts stress. No matter how many times I say that arriving at the Phnom Penh airport three hours before your departure time is a bit extreme, or rehash plans for transport to and from different mission locations, some folks just aren't reassured. Others need to know that their living quarters are taken care of—that there is a bed, a bathroom (with an American-style toilet), and food and water. I once answered a phone call from a volunteer who was staying three hours away from the city and wanted me to do something about the power outage at his location. It was difficult to explain that I was not in charge of the main power supply for the country of Cambodia.

This is not to say that these anxieties are unjustified. I sometimes think that all of the worry and fear people express over these easily-controlled aspects of the trip is masking some deeper issues. It might be a long-standing belief that cross-cultural differences will result in embarrassing mistakes, fears of failing at completing the "mission" or facing the unknown in another country.

Many churches are sending multiple teams this summer, to different parts of the globe. Those who go often learn to trust in God's daily provision during the journey, amidst other faith-stretching experiences. Those who stay home have the opportunity to be a source of great comfort to people, to cover them in prayer and in love as they go. Perfect love drives out fear, after all. Even fear over what might be served for dinner.

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