By Doug Nichols
This letter is a letter of advice to the Europeans, Canadians, Americans, New Zealanders, and Australians who are going as short-term missionaries on vision trips, church trips, and as ministry visitors to the Philippines (and other parts of Asia and the world). I hope the following information is useful to you:
Recently, I was speaking to Christian workers and leaders in Manila. Halfway through my message, we were interrupted by a group visiting the organization where the meeting was being held. They were a short-term missions group consisting mainly of Canadian and US college-aged students and adults. Even though this was a meeting in a major city at a Christian organization (with all present dressed neatly for work in the city), the visitors looked as if they were going to the beach! They were wearing cutoffs, tank tops, beach shoes, and carrying backpacks. It was embarrassing!
Since I had not lived in the Philippines for several years, I asked the Filipino leaders if this was the normal dress for visitors. They answered “Oh, yes.” They said people from some countries were worse than others, but most of them dressed as if they were going on a picnic or to the beach. Even though they were reluctant to say anything about it, they were all very embarrassed to be seen with them. They were especially reluctant to take these people to minister on the streets and into offices. They did take them to these places out of politeness and because they wanted to encourage them in ministry, but they were still uncomfortable to be seen with them.
Recently, a big-name management leadership speaker arrived in the Philippines. Large billboards were posted in several places in Manila showing his picture. On the billboard picture, he wore a suit and a tie and looked very dignified. Later, however, there was a picture of him in the newspaper arriving at the Manila airport wearing a flowery Hawaiian shirt and shorts! The official Philippine delegates greeting him were wearing suits and very nice Filipino formal attire. The embarrassment was that he should have known better since he was a Christian leader who had been in the Philippines before.
So, may I give a word of advice and also plead with those of you in churches and groups who are visiting the Philippines and other parts of the world? Please be careful how you dress!
It is very simple for the visiting men to wear a nice short sleeve shirt, slacks, and regular dress shoes. You are not going to Hawaii, the beach, or on a picnic. Ladies, wear a very simple dress or blouse with slacks and nice shoes (not flip-flops). Do not wear tennis shoes; you are not going on a hike.
If you are going to these countries to visit the ministries and to participate in short-term work, go to be a blessing and dress appropriately. Find out what you should wear before you go. Do not be an embarrassment to your hosts by coming out in the morning with “sloppy grubbies” on and asking, “Is this okay?” Of course they will say “yes,” not wanting to offend you.
As you will stand out anyway, do not let your dress detract from the message you are trying to portray. Sloppiness and immodesty are marks of our western culture, but do not carry this lack of etiquette and social grace to other countries. Dress appropriately for the glory of God. Do not let it distract from the message of life!