A short-term mission participant gets in the van to head out to Svay Pak, excited to see the town and the people for whom she has long been praying. As she pulls into town, she reaches for her camera and begins to take pictures from the van window. The van stops, the door slides open, and the hot humid air rushes in. Her heart beats with excitement as she steps into town, camera in hand. She is ready to capture amazing moments, images of Cambodian men at a coffee shop, children running and playing in an alley, and street vendors bartering over prices.
After taking a few pictures, however, an AIM staff member approaches her briskly. “Put your camera away,” he says firmly.
“I was told by someone else at AIM that it was okay to take pictures in Svay Pak,” she replies.
The AIM staff member grabs for the woman’s camera and says in a firm, almost aggressive, tone, “I need you to put your camera down and get indoors right now!”
The young woman walks away, frustrated that she wasn’t allowed to take pictures and taken aback at the staff member’s abruptness. Hadn’t she been praying and preparing for months to come and serve the people of Cambodia, giving of her time, energy and finances?
Given the situation, how should the staff member have responded to the young woman? What could the young woman have done to improve the situation?
Maybe the staff member should have been kinder in his tone. Maybe he could have explained why he wanted her to go inside. All the answers that you may give to the above questions are based on your understanding of what was going on in the scenario. However, there may be much more happening behind the scenes.
Read the story again.
Two hours before a short-term mission team is about to arrive in Svay Pak, the AIM staff member spots a trafficker and two young girls for whom the anti-trafficking police had been searching the last few months. The staff member discreetly follows the trafficker to a home where he is hiding the young girls. The trafficker locks the young girls inside and sits down on a chair outside the home to stand guard. The staff member finds an inconspicuous spot to keep an eye on the home, just far enough away to avoid scaring the trafficker into running away with the girls and to call the anti-trafficking police to get a warrant and rescue the girls. The staff member sits in a chair, watching, praying, and waiting, and he’s very excited about the potential of seeing these precious young girls rescued.
While he waits, the van full of Americans pulls up and one young woman starts taking pictures of the alley he is in. The trafficker stands up nervously and begins to debate whether he needs to run to a different location with the two trafficked girls. The AIM staff member briskly approaches the young woman taking the pictures and says, “Put your camera away.”
To his extreme frustration, she replies, “I was told by someone else at AIM that it was okay to take pictures in Svay Pak.”
Knowing that the police are on their way and that these girls might not have a second chance, he grabs for her camera and forcefully says, “I need you to put your camera down and get indoors right now!”
As the young woman reluctantly and slowly obeys, the AIM staff member turns around to see that in the time he was talking with the young woman, the trafficker has fled with the two child victims.
The saddest part of this scenario is that it is a true story. We were never able to find those two young girls again.
Knowing the full details of what was going on, how would you now respond to those same questions? Given the situation, how should the staff member have responded to the young woman? What could the young woman have done to improve the situation? Now that you know the details, maybe your answers to this question have changed.
Here’s the reality: You will not know the full details of what is happening in every situation on the ground. You may not know that the reason an AIM staff member asks one of the young men on your team to do a menial task instead of a home visit with some of the other women on the team is because one of the girls at the home was abused by a Westerner. You may not know that the reason that an AIM staff member cancels an outreach is because police are trying to do an investigation. You may not know that the reason you are not permitted to take pictures on a given day is that tensions are high on the streets because two gang members got in a fight last night.
You may not know, but you must trust and obey the staff. Understand that rules or plans may change for reasons that are outside what you need to know. They are not being made simply to test your flexibility or patience, but for your own good or for the good of those you are there to serve.
We cannot stress this enough. You must trust and obey the staff on the ground without hesitation. Questions can be asked on van rides, at the hotel, or over lunch, but if you’re on a ministry site and a staff member asks you to do or refrain from doing something, trust and obey immediately.