Book Review: Serving with Eyes Wide Open

I’m probably in the minority of youth ministers in the country who have yet to take an international mission trip. I’ve often been torn inside with this fact. I talk often with guys who regularly go to Honduras, Mexico, and any number of other countries in their attempts at fulfilling the Great Commission.

This is not a reflection of my passion and zeal for foreign mission work. In college I was quickly turned on to the idea of forgeign missions (I even declared Missions as my major for awhile). However, it was the short-term mission trip that always left me feeling a little uncomfortable. For me and some college friends to head to another country for two or three weeks to spread the Gospel, seemed dishonest to me.

If I was going to raise all this money to head to a country somewhere in the world, my first interest was not going to be spreading the Gospel, but it would be exploring a new place – essentially it would be a glorified vacation. In saying this, I am not making judgement on anyone who takes mission trips – I have heard of the many life-changing events people have had on their trips, but speaking from where I am, I just can’t justify it. Or at least I am struggling through it.

It is this mindset that led me to pick up the book Serving With Eyes Wide Open: Doing Short-Term Misions with Cultural Intelligence from Half Price Books. I was intrigued by some of the comments others had made on the cover. This didn’t look like the usual Youth Ministry Short-Term Mission Trip Guide, and it turned out to be far from that.

In this book David Livermore addresses many of the concerns and questions that I have had regarding short-term mission trips, particularly those youth ministry trips. He addresses the tough questions regarding the need of trips and the actual benefit of trips. He questions many of the presuppositions that many people have in regards to short term mission trips. He even critiques the affect that it has on those who attend. I found his discussion on each of these very encouraging and affirming. While he doesn’t dispell short-term trips as useless, he does offer some reflective discussion points

The thrust of the book is aimed at helping leaders broaden their perspective of the world. In the first two chapters, Livermore unloads a wealth of information that helps illustrate the limited perspective that American Christians tend to look at the world. Blow by blow, he crumbles the nice and tidy view many of us hold of the world.

He follows by addressing some specific issues that whose connotations vastly differ among Americans and natives of other “mission” areas: motivation, urgency, common ground, the Bible, money, and simplicity. Each discussion is provocative and a definite cause for reflection for those who lead short-term trips. It would be difficult to read through these chapters and find criticism in what Livermore offers. The challenge is not in understanding his message, it is putting it into practice and allow ourselves to be challenged and our perspectives to be widened.

The final section of the book is really the heart of what Livermore hopes the reader takes away. He discusses in the first chapter the idea of “Cultural Intelligence” (CQ). He compares it to IQ and other means for quanifying intelligence. CQ is a matter of understanding and identifying the vast differences between culture in the world. The final chapters aim to address specific aspects of CQ as diplayed in Knowledge CQ, Interpretative CQ, Patience CQ, and Behavioral CQ.

There is much I could say about each of these, but Livermore’s chapters are succinct and well-deserving of reading. He offers fairly theoretical discusssions on inter-cultural exchanges, but is helpful in offering easy-to-do practices in addressing each of the CQ tenets. His aim is noble, and his take on missions is refreshing.

In the final chapter, he offers 10 Starting Points for Doing Short-Term Mission Work that are great.

Livermore has helped redeem the short-term mission trip in my eyes. He offers a very challenging, but doable approach to engaging another culture with the Gospel of Christ in a way that is not results emphasized (something that many missions works tends toward), and honest in orientation. In experiencing another culture we are not simply finding more people to save. We are experiencing another culture God has created and redeemed and is already at work in – we get the opportunity to sit back and watch in wonder and awe.

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