Lesson #7 – Gifts

TopTen Cross Cultural Lessons Worth Applying

Lesson #7 – Be careful of gift giving that creates unwanted indebtedness.

Gift giving is a special part of a short term missions trip.  In many ways, when we serve on a short term trip we give the gift of our time (often taking vacation days to be on the trip), we give our resources, our skills, love and hopefully, the Good News of Jesus Christ to those God brings into our paths.  After all, most of us go with this in mind, to give.

It is natural for us to also bring a few thoughtful gifts to give to those with whom we have become especially close; workmates, missionaries, local church members, hosts, etc… Gift giving is a special exchange.  However, if the two parties are from vastly divergent economic situations I have seen gift giving create an unintended dynamic in a relationship.  In many cultures accepting a gift obligates the receiver to respond in kind by giving a gift of equal or greater value.  This can lead to an unintended burden upon your friend.

Therefore, cross-cultural lesson #7 is: Be careful of gift giving that creates unwanted indebtedness.

A good approach to avoid making your friend feel obligated to give you a gift in return is to associate the reason for your gift with something that your friend has already done for you.  A simple example might be that he/she invited you to a meal or into his/her home for a visit.  In this way, you become indebted yourself by acknowledging a kind act of hospitality that you have received from your friend before offering a gift of thanksgiving in response.   Your gift becomes a way of saying “thank you.”

Helpful Hint: It is great to bless someone with a gift, but considering how to do this wisely will better ensure that it is received as you intend it.  Usually, the most knowledgeable people to ask about what to bring and how to give it will be a local missionary or your hosts onsite.