A friend returned from a humanitarian mission. He was glad to share his medical skills, but he was troubled by the experience. He was bothered not just by hardships the local residents faced, but also by the sense that there wasn’t a spirit of fellowship throughout the team. His group’s mission had, oddly enough, been too well-managed. The service project went so mechanically, it felt antiseptic.
For a project to really draw its participants together, it must be a little messy. A team coalesces when something goes awry and everyone must band together to figure out a solution. Team members need to face problems in order to draw our each person’s personality and talents. If supplies don’t arrive at the mission site, who can improvise and build a makeshift water pump, heater, or sterilizer? If twice as many people show up as anticipated, who is adept at recalculating rations and communicating with a crowd?
Sometimes a situation calls for perfect execution of logistics, but if the purpose of a mission is not only to serve a group, but also to strengthen the team that provides the service, give space for the team to encounter challenges and devise solutions. The team will still get the job done, and it will also be better prepared to respond to emergencies in the future. Furthermore, participants will gain more appreciation for each person’s capabilities. A well-designed mission covers the crucial pieces well, but leave less critical elements open to improvisation and ingenuity.