Are short-term missions shortsighted?

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“Short-term” mission trips.  It is a relatively new venture that works well for Western churches.  There has been much argument over the past few decades as to the importance or impact of these trips.

Who benefits more?  Those we go to serve or the groups going?

It can be helpful to ask long-term missionaries their views on incoming summer teams.

Is there presence helpful or hurtful?  Do these strangers visiting a strange land require extra time, effort and resources for the locals, or do groups bring a much-need blessing?

Another demographic to ask similar questions are the local charitable organizations or churches.

I have been on, or lead, over thirty of these trips during my time in youth ministry.  I do believe much good has come from these experiences.  I certainly know the impact these trips have had on my students.  Like our actual time-serving, some of the impact was very short-lived.  However, over the years I have witnessed profound changes in hearts and lives and, perhaps most importantly, a genuine and lasting passion for missions in many people.

Sadly though, too often these trips become glamorize cultural experiences that have little long-term effect on either side of the equation.

A recent piece from The Onion (satire news source) highlights a very real and growing concern for short-term mission trips.

http://www.theonion.com/articles/6day-visit-to-rural-african-village-completely-cha,35083/

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I am just as guilty of this as anyone…I will admit that.  Following any of my trips, I am eager to post pictures and share stories that will last until the next adventure.

What we often fail to realize is that the people we intend to serve need much, much more than our presence and some photo op’s for two weeks.

Their lives, struggles and needs continue well past our “work vacation” and sometimes actually increase because of our time there.

I know of local organizations who actually lost money because of incoming groups.

I also know of groups raising close to $40,000 simply to travel some exotic country and virtually zero dollars remained in that country.

I have experienced both of these situations personally as well.

Knowing what the real needs and estimated costs to meet those needs would be, sometimes I shudder to think how much good could be given for the cost of one plane ticket.

But..we want the personal experience.

I have begun to ask this very honest question upon my travels:

What do you need the most?  How can we support and serve you the most effectively?

Do you know what their honest answers are?

Resources.

The truth is that every single place I have been and situation I have encountered, I have met amazing women and men who have inspiring vision, uncanny ability and ample time to really help their community.  What they lack is perhaps the one thing that my group possesses in abundance.  Money.

While I am still in favor on traveling to these places to visit people, hear their stories, encourage them and hopefully help in a practical way, I think it is essential that we bring more than just our smiles and “selfies”.

I recently asked on of my students to reflect and share his thoughts on past experiences and what he believes would be the best type of service trip.

Here is his response:

“Humanitarian work is different from tourism, as the purpose of the trip is serving the interests of the local population. Of course, those who leave benefit from the trip as well. But today mission trips are somewhat growing into some sort of “sustainable tourism”, a “to do” thing, offering wonderful cultural experiences to people from developed countries but only impacting the local situation superficially.
Many people today want to go on mission trips. The chief question in order for their trip to be helpful is to seriously ask yourself what you have to offer. Will your teaching of english in this school be of substantial help to the local population? For most fluent english speakers the answer is yes, provided that the kids focused on are attending a medium to long-term educational program.
Indeed the missions with the most impact are not the amateur ones but those of professional NGOs such as Médecins sans frontières for example. Partnering with that  type of organisms could probably be an efficient way to go about saving poor regions of the world – although i’ve never looked into it.
To me, an efficient trip would also imply spending at least three weeks to a month on spot – there is not much you can do efficiently in two weeks even if you are relayed by another group afterwards. Sadly most people, and I too for the moment, are not ready to leave a whole month in the summer vacations.
Of course, as discussed, I think it is also important to bring a cheque. A lot of places do not really need a hand, but are cruelly strapped for money.”
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Do you agree or disagree?
For those of you leading summer mission trips this summer, I would love to hear your thoughts either in preparation or reflection.
I will post various comments this summer and also create a list to think through before planning or leading your next short-term trip.
Perhaps these trips must continue  but perhaps we can do a better job being a blessing to those we go to serve.
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Real Freedom

As an American, I am very proud of my nation’s history and the independence we celebrate each year on July 4th.  Living now in France, I have also been caught up in patriotic parades on July 14.  ”Bastille Day”, as known among English speakers, is the the French National Day, commemorating the beginning of the French Revolution with the storming of the Bastille prison on 14 July 1789,as well as the Fête de la Fédération which celebrated the unity of the French people on 14 July 1790. Celebrations are held throughout France and I just recently enjoyed a wonderful parade and fireworks display this week.

I recognize and respect the many sacrifices and lives lost in order to protect these national and individual liberties.  Our two countries share much in common and just recently commemorated the 70th anniversary of the D-day landings and the eventual WWII victory.

As I reflect this month on the blessings of freedom, I also acknowledge the harsh truth that my situation is not the reality of so many in our world.  Millions of people live in oppressive situations, held captive by political or religious dictatorships.  Many nations are currently scorched by civil war and longing for safety.

While I watched colorful fireworks and heard marching bands, hundreds of thousands of people were scattered seeking shelter from air raids of missiles and blocking their hears from bust of bombs and screening sirens.

In addition to these “news worthy” stories, we know that millions of people from every nationality suffer under the oppression of hunger, homelessness, illiteracy, poverty, and addiction. These chains in many ways are just as deadly but often are swept under the rug of ignorance.

I will be honest, it is easier for me to enjoy parades eating cotton candy if I do not have to think about starving children in Africa, overworked immigrants in Asia, or orphaned boys and girls in Latin America.

Considering these contrasting realities, I am struck by a powerful quote from the great international leader and humanitarian Nelson Mandela.

He said, “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.

How are we living in a way that not only respect, but also enhances the freedom of others?  How are we spending our time, talents, and treasures in ways that help release people and communities from the chains of oppression?  Are they actually ways in which we spend our money that contribute to these global problems rather than work towards eliminating them?

Personally, I know I have difficult choices and decisions ahead.  We can all do our part and believe that the culmination of many people doing their part can make a big difference.  Mother Theresa once said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.

Let’s think this summer about how we can use our lives to help others break the chains holding them back and be set free for the life God intends for them.

 

Haiti: one year later

Like most of you one year ago I was glued to the TV in both shock and awe at the massive wide-spread devastation that rocked the small country of Haiti.  Tears welled up in my eyes and both sadness and anger in my heart.  How could such a thing happen to a country already plagued by such pain, suffering, and death.

My emotional state was also due to the fact that I had just returned from Haiti…the day before!

We lost all communication with the ministries we were with only hours before.

The orphaned children now had even greater needs.

The number of orphans grew exponentially.

We now have 2 Haitians in our youth group because their home and lives were taken away.

We lost friends and loved ones in the earthquake a year ago.

Over 250,000 precious lives were lost one year ago.

Lives continue to be lost today in Haiti because of malnutrition and the cholera epidemic.

I was originally encouraged by the global rally of support and resources flooding into Haiti.  Our nation contributed so much in terms of supplies, personal, and millions of individuals giving what they could. Even TV celebrities and rock stars got involved.  Many Christian-based organizations and churches offered support as well.  My own church raised $36,000 for Samaritans Purse relief efforts and our college mission team began the process of raising funds to build an orphanage. I went back within  two weeks to help organize and coordinate helicopter relief and rescue missions in and out of Haiti with Air Calvary

A year ago, I was personally overwhelmed with hope at the outpouring of support and promises made.  I had been going yearly to Haiti since 1999 and even though the problems and needs had always been glaringly obvious and pressing to me, it seemed the world simply did not take notice.

That all changed a year go. The world had noticed.  The world and our churches had cared.  Youth groups and students cared.

Do we still care one year later?

A year ago, my three biggest concerns were these:

1) This would be a trendy fad for the mass media to be involved with

2)  Long-term support would not last from churches, NPO’s, and individuals

3) *Haiti would not have the leadership to use these resources wisely and in a timely fashion

I believe my concerns were valid and it is hard to know how to adequately reflect and process these today.

So here we are, one year later.  I remained glued to the TV today watching old footage from last year and also seeing live images and videos of the “progress” that has been made.  Unfortunately, most of the country remains the same.

I believe the nation is still in crisis mode, as are most of the NPO’s working there.  So many lives were lost and there is still a medical crisis at hand.  So much of the efforts and money has gone (rightfully so) to saving lives and keeping people alive.

Would I like to see images of new shiny buildings, streets of gold, and green parks?  Of course.

However, the basic necessities of life: food, water, shelter are still greatly in need in Haiti.

I hope and pray that the rebuilding and restructuring of Haiti will take place, but it will take more time.

I know that many people have been frustrated with the slow pace of the relief efforts.  Our own mission team had planned to already have made multiple trips down there and to have a physical structure for an orphanage in place.  We are all learning the importance of patience, prayer, and partnerships.

Today I challenge myself to keep Haiti in my heart and mind and to persevere.  Actions made a year ago made a huge difference.  Actions made a year from now may in fact mean more.

I have listed a few links to organizations I continue to partner with and really believe in. Please comment any involvement you may have in Haiti and include links to other organizations.   Let’s all stay united, focused, and hopeful in helping Haiti regain its hope and healing.

Tree of Life Orphanage

Samaritans Purse- Haiti

Jesus In Haiti Ministries

The day the earth shook in Haiti…a message sent?

I have been back from Haiti for just over two weeks now and have spent some considerable time reflecting upon my experience and the actual event that took place.  I continue to sort through emotions and questions and contemplate what’s in store for my future involvement.  I intend to continue to write about future developments from both a personal standpoint and ministry involvement.

Below is the first of my initial thoughts and reactions……

Shock waves were sent throughout the world yesterday, and literally through the country of Haiti.  A 7.0 magnitude earthquake devastated the country around 5pm on Tuesday.  If you have been watching TV, all the major news stations have done a great job in covering this catastrophe.  The Red Cross estimates that over 3 million people have been affected and possibly thousands of lives have already been lost.   It is hard to imagine what the devastation will look like, given the country’s poverty and poorly constructed infrastructure.

Its amazing to think that I left the country the day before the quake.

My team returned late Monday night from Port-au-Prince from a week of service just a few miles north of the city.  I have a passion for Haiti and have been going for the past ten years. In fact, prior to this trip, I finally had to renew my passport.

I spent the summer there back in 1999 and have been going ever since.  I love the country and the people and really have hope for the nation.

Then the earthquake hit.

This recent natural disaster only brings more hopelessness and despair to a country that lacks hope.

If you know much about Haiti, you know that it is by far the poorest country in the western hemisphere.  80% live below poverty line.  Almost 70% are illiterate.  The majority of the population lives on $1-$2 US dollars a day.

There is wide poverty, starvation, disease, and unfortunately corruption throughout the land.  Missionaries and aid workers have been trying for decades to bring relief and hope (and they do in small isolated pockets), but the truth is the country has seen little improvement.

Hard to believe with millions of dollars pouring into the country.

Not hard to believe when you realize that the country was officially dedicated to Satan.

Now, I am not one to quickly bring things into a spiritual light, however, until you have been in Haiti, it is hard to understand the reality of spiritual forces.

To be honest, I am a skeptic by nature.

However, the people of Haiti have taught me much and opened my eyes.

It’s not that I am trying to project something into the situation.  The Haitians are the ones confessing that their situation is due (largely) to the effects of spirituality.

Yes, education is a factor. Corrupt government is to blame.  Mismanagement of money is a major problem.  etc.. etc.. etc..

But the real question is why are all of these things happening to Haiti over the years.

It sits on the same island as the Dominic Republic, yet shares in none of the blessings of that nation.

Haiti has been ravaged by politically turmoil, civil unrest, massive natural disasters, and a general sense of despair.

Why?

For the sake of time I will spare you with the history, but records show that the country was dedicated to Satan.

Voodoo is a commonly practiced form of religion and even though officially 80% of the population is Catholic, a very large majority of them also practice voodoo.

I will not get into what exactly voodoo is, but I will say this.  It is not some heightened form of superstition and it’s not the fun masks and dolls of Mardi Gras

This religious activity is very real and very powerful.

The people are both curious and scared of it at the same time.

Personally, I have witnessed demon possessed people in Haiti.

It still scares me to death, but it is not fabricated or imagined.

There is real spiritual power going on there.

Two days before the earthquake, we were outside the presidential palace and watched a voodoo carnival in process.

Again, this is a celebrated event in the country.

I am not exaggerating when I tell you that at the moment the carnival began, dark clouds began forming and hovered directly over the roads where the carnival progressed.

Coincidence? Maybe?

But Haitians do not believe so.

We were walking through a village with children, and they pointed out the houses and people who had been cursed by a voodoo priests and others whose homes or business were destroyed “because of demons”.

Now again, I am not one to readily buy into spiritual warfare and what exactly it looks like, but I continue to hear stories from places like Africa, Asia, and Haiti.

There appears to be a spiritual power battle  in the works in this particular country and has been for years.

One would think that if you devote your nation’s health, welfare, progress, and future to evil forces your prognosis cannot be great.

After all, the Bible says that the evil one comes only to “steal, kill, and destroy”. (John 10:10)

Now, do I think that the devil is destroying the country…I am not sure.

I have also heard leading evangelical pastors claim that the earthquake was God’s judgment upon the nation of Haiti.

I am not eager to set foot in the camp either.

However, I have been reading through the Old Testament this year, and there were numerous stories of God’s wrath and judgment being poured out on neighboring countries and even his own people through warfare, famine, and natural disasters.

Numbers 16:25-32

Numbers 26:9-11

Deuteronomy 11:5-7

Psalm 18:6-8

Here is a gem from Revelation 16

17The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and out of the temple came a loud voice from the throne, saying, “It is done!” 18Then there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder and a severe earthquake. No earthquake like it has ever occurred since man has been on earth, so tremendous was the quake.19The great city split into three parts, and the cities of the nations collapsed. God remembered Babylon the Great and gave her the cup filled with the wine of the fury of his wrath. 20Every island fled away and the mountains could not be found. 21From the sky huge hailstones of about a hundred pounds each fell upon men. And they cursed God on account of the plague of hail, because the plague was so terrible.

Clearly, in the past (if you believe the Biblical records) God has caused earthquakes to send a message and punish His people.  That much cannot be denied.

Now, the question really comes down to whether or not we believe God works in the same manner now as he did back then.

Perhaps, God’s wrath being unleashed on the person of Jesus appeased his need to constantly take out his anger like that today.

I really don’t know what caused the earthquake (besides the fact that Haiti rests on a major fault line!)

I could simply be the way of the earth.

Natural disasters happen all the time.  Hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, floods.

Do we so easily label each occurrence an act of God as many have with Haiti?

Are some disasters a work of God’s plan and sovereignty while others not?

And if so, how can we tell?  Does it matter how many lives are lost (the more lives the more reason to think it was God…or just the opposite?)

Does it matter where the disasters hits?

It seems easier to say that places like Haiti (voodoo), New Orleans (voodoo) and Indonesia( Islam) were targets of God’s wrath rather than Iowa, Pennsylvania, and Texas (even though people died there due to floods and storms)

Here is what I do know and have concluded:

For whatever reason, God allowed the earthquake to happen in Haiti.  That much seems obvious

I believe there will be great hope restored to the nation that would have never happened were it not for the earthquake.

I have been praying for over 10 years for the eyes of the world to be upon Haiti.

Praying for a change of government.

Praying for the infrastructure and economy to be given a real shot in the arm.

Praying (most importantly and urgently) for the people as a whole to turn to God.

All of these are happening now because of the tragedy last month.

Would I wish the earthquake upon Haiti?  By no means!

Am I grateful and thankful that, for the first time possibly since its conception) Haiti now has a real change for change and hope for generations to come…Yes

24 hours in Haiti

The first 24 hours I arrived in Haiti my eyes gazed up the horrors of:

disease

malnutrition

starvation

trash everywhere

orphans roaming the streets

the apparent lack of sufficient infrastructure

roads that were completely gone

My ears heard the sound of …

cries of pain, agony, and death

screams of hopelessness

the lament of loss

My heart ached for the nation of Haiti and a people in such despair and utter desperation.

These 24 hours were truly eye-opening, revealing, and painful to bear

And the thing about these 24 hours were that they occurred before the earthquake!

On Jan 4, a team of 15 from my church headed down to Port-au-Prince, Haiti for a week of service and ministry. I have traveled to this island for the past 10 years, ever since I spent 3 months there as a missionary during my college years.

We had a truly remarkable and heart-touching week.  To read the journal entries of our team members, you can visit the link below

Haiti blog entries

The images, pictures, faces, and eyes of the people spoke and ministered to us.

What I would like to reflect upon was the change inside of me.  I write, in truth, more of a personal journal than anything else.  Writing helps me sort through my thoughts and emotions and make sense of certain experiences.

So…here we go.

24 hours before our flight left from JFK, I was enveloped in another world.

I was still in the post-Christmas phase of taking down decorations and sorting through my gifts. I was trying to figure out where and when to spend my gift cards.

I was actually stressing that I would not get a chance to see Avatar before I had to leave for Haiti.

I was upset that my car did not get washed.

I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to watch my Patriots in the playoffs that weekend. (although as it turned out I was glad I didn’t watch!)

I was cranking up my writing and was excited for some great upcoming speaking and writing opportunities available to me.  They could become my defining moments and help secure my identity as one of those youth min “guys”.

And, to be 100% truthful, I was going to miss watching TV.

You see, my wife and I just started getting into the show Lost, and had spent the last few days watching the first two seasons.   Too bad we were not watching the show 24, because that title would really fit in well with my theme.

Anyways, these were the thoughts that consumed me before departure, and I was already making plans for my return that included trips to the mall, the movies, and of course heavy dosages of Lost.

24 hours later those things seemed completely irrelevant.

Even though I was watching and conversing about Lost during the entire flight to Port au Prince, something hit me upon arrival.  Once we left the plane and walked across the sunny and hot runway towards the masses of Haitians at the airport, I quickly found myself back in another world.  (I suppose the Avatar concept could apply here).

But, what I discovered was that though the environment changed, I changed also.

All of a sudden, Lost didn’t seem to matter.

What I was wearing had absolutely no significance.

Sports seemed a bit trivial to me when people around me had no clothes or food.

And for a place that had no electricity, let alone movies theaters, the need to see Avatar disappeared

All throughout the week, our team served those living in the poorest of the poor villages, garbage dumps, and orphanages.

Tom Osbeck, a missionary and founded of Jesus in Haiti Ministries Jesus in Haiti told us on day one that “In Haiti, God has a way of taking your heart, breaking it into a thousand pieces, then giving back to you and asking what you will do with it.”

That is exactly what God did in our hearts while in Haiti.

As I did training with Tom’s leadership team, preached a sermon at a packed church on Sunday, helped lead a village youth group, and simply walked through the dirt paths meandering through the dusty villages with young Haitians attached to me, I began to realize just how unimportant I really am.

What made me important in Haiti was simply my obedience to God and willingness to love with abandon the people of Haiti.

My theological degrees did not matter.

My complex thoughts about youth ministry is a postmodern age did not matter.

My future speaking and teaching engagements did not matter.

This blog did not matter.

And you know what? It was such a freeing experience.  I had put too much stock on what others thought.  I had found value in what I perceived were my contributions to the world of ministry.

My real value was found in Haiti in the smile of an orphan when I threw him up in the air.

My real value was discovered sitting down next to a starving girl as she eat her only meal of the day with her hands

My real value was revealed to me simply as my identity in Christ, as a son and as a servant.

Now, this service does include, first, my wife and also my family, my church, my students, etc…

For being my 8th time in Haiti, this experience seemed as profound as my first encounter.  Perhaps God was teaching me valuable lessons in preparation for something.

Perhaps Haiti speaks to me in powerful ways unlike back home.

Or perhaps I become more available, open, and sensitive to God’s Spirit without the common distractions of busyness, ambition, selfishness that I easily succumb to.

By the end of the week, our team pledged to raise money to help build some orphanages and a sports complex. Our prayer was to restore hope in Haiti and see lives transformed by the love of Christ.

We met Monday, Jan 11 in the airport to discuss the next steps and a sense of excitement and urgency was in the air.

Our flight was delayed and we took off about at 5:00 PM from Port-au-Prince airport.

24 hours later everything changed.

Within the first day back my excitement level was through the roof as I eagerly anticipated the beginning of our vision unfolding.

5:00 PM on that Tuesday, a massive earthquake shook Haiti to the core.

Our team had an emergency meeting. We embraced each other, prayed, and cried for the country and people we loved.  Fortunately we received word that our friends and family down there were all safe, but still are hearts were not.

I was able to secure a flight down to Santo Domingo the next day and spent the week working with Air Calvary  Air Calvary- aviation rescue and relief

helping organize and coordinate helicopter flights to and from Haiti for relief workers and missionaries.

This time, Haiti was even worse off.  The problems that existed just a few days earlier were all magnified on a scale like never before.  What was already a desperate situation now seemed like utter hopelessness.

However, even in the midst of tragedy, good can and will come forth.  Within 24 hours of the earthquake, the entire world was watching Haiti.  All eyes and hearts were now centered on this one small country.  Prayers were offered, aid and money given, and people’s lives forever changed.

It has been just over 2 weeks since the earthquake hit Haiti, and although the situation is still dire and over 200,000 lives will be lost, Hope for Haiti is in the air.  The people are turning to God like never before, and finally the world has taken notice of Haiti and addressing its foundational issues and problems.  My prayer is that attention will remain long after the news crews depart.

I am now back home, although my heart remains on that small piece of land in the Caribbean.

I am in a difficult time of transitioning back to this world and reality and trying to discern what to do next.

Youth group goes on, budgets and annual reports have to be written and reviewed.  I have youth events and retreats to plan and yes and some more writing to do.

And if you are wondering, my wife and I started watching Lost season 3, but it has less appeal.

My speaking and teaching engagements…..do not carry nearly as much weight or clout as before.

Everything was put into perspective for me 24 hours in Haiti.

Lord, may I live with that same perspective and passion.

Lord, may I see with the same eyes, hear you with the same hears, and may my heart be as wide open, tender, and broken here as it was in Haiti.  Merci Jezi!