Have you read When Helping Hurts? It’s a powerful challenge to church leaders and short-term mission organizations to think about the unintended consequences of “helping.” [Hint: Stop reading this post and go buy it now. It’s good.]
Short-Term Missions and Youth Ministry
Getting practical, and with an eye on youth ministry, we are often torn.
On the one hand our primary task is to invest in the lives of teenagers and to create opportunities to see your students faith mature. And, if you are like me, you’ve seen the incredible impact of an international short-term mission trip on your students in a long-term kind of way. It’s a core tool of youth ministry towards our end goal.
On the other hand, as an adult believer you wouldn’t ever want to do anything that tears down the church– any church. (Whether on a mission trip, local service project, or even in your weekly ministry.)
Toss the Baby Out With the Bath Water?
So this is what I’ve seen– Even the potential of a negative impact on a community gives plenty of caution to plenty of youth workers to the point where they’re trying to figure out replacement ways to accomplish the impact on their teenagers that a domestic/international mission trip has traditionally filled.
And for those like me, who have seen too much evidence on the positives of short-term missions that giving up altogether on short-term trips is anathema.
Flash-forward to today, in real time, I’ve got these mashed potato thoughts creeping around in my head, trying to sort it out, as I’m back in Haiti for my 4th time. Is my helping hurting anyone? Is what I feel is helping really helping? And is there any evidence that what I’ve done has helped both the participant and the local church?
It was easy to justify and swallow those mashed potatoes when there was earthquake relief to do. Even if it was messy and maybe not coordinated with a long-term development strategy… people were getting fed and clothed and shelter. So that’s always good.
But… the earthquake relief stuff is basically over. I’m not going to claim that Haiti is back and we shouldn’t worry about the needs of folks here. Instead, there’s a shift underway from earthquake relief to more traditional missions engagement with the local church.
Healthy Mission Trips to Haiti. Possible?
It is important to point out that the earthquake provided a palpable starting over point for North American churches engaging in mission work in Haiti.
This is stuff I’ve seen with my own eyes. Over the past year or so I’ve been building a relationship with Praying Pelican Missions, specifically with an eye on their work in Haiti. I liked what I learned about them in that time, and in April I came down with a group of youth pastors to really see for myself if they were doing things “the way Adam would feel good about them.” I liked what I learned about them then, now we’re back with an even deeper level of relationship checking them out from top to bottom.
Today, specifically, I got glimpses behind the scenes at the nuts and bolts of how PPM turns it into When Helping Helps. This is what I saw when students weren’t around and it was PPM leaders interacting with Haitian leaders.
- This week 170 American teenagers will be in Haiti for a short-term missions experience. And that’s amazing. What’s more amazing? That PPM is employing roughly 150 Haitians to support this trip. Those are real dollars flowing into the hands of trip leaders, translators, cooks, drivers, masons, and a whole pile of other people. Employing people is good!
- As I went around with Jim Noreen, the Haiti Operations Director, to help him set up trips for his teams coming, I watched him repeatedly push decisions back to the local church. “Let’s do what’s best for your church, pastor.” “Let’s pair up our people with folks from your church to do ministry in the community.” “We want to see you accomplish your vision for your church, not our vision for our church.” All of that is helping. It’s empowering the local church to be the church. (It was also fun to learn that some of the members of churches can’t help because their church has a mission trip to another part of Haiti this week!)
- When PPM does work on brick-and-mortar projects like helping to construct a house or a church building, the Americans aren’t directing any of it. The church committee designs and approves the buildings with the end users. And the role of teenager? They are basically doing unskilled labor like mixing concrete, carrying supplies, and stuff like that.
- At each stop, 5-6 locations in all, one theme is consistent…. PPM fosters collaborative partnerships where PPM in highly involved but not from a position of power. At each stop we got out of the car and talk to people whom PPM has long-term, lasting, and healthy relationships with. I’ve done enough short-term missions to know how rare that is.
- The end result is students and young adults getting the international exposure that helps them shape their worldview and develop a lasting, mission-centric, worldview in a way that empowers everyone. And that’s really encouraging when we think about the long-term impact of short-term missions.
The Bottom Line
Those are all signs of health. Those are all signs of When Helping Helps. And as I continue to get to know PPM and to really dig deep, asking hard questions, I can happily report that everything I’m seeing is good. They are helping North American churches connect with Haitian churches to work together in helping the Haitian church accomplish its mission, and as a by-product North American trip participants are getting a great, faith building experience.
(7/22/2013) Note: The last couple of sentences got cut off last night, I just re-added them.