When Helping Helps


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.






8 responses to “When Helping Helps”

  1. Aaron Lee Avatar
    Aaron Lee

    I’m impressed with the perspective you’re gaining. When Helping Hurts and Toxic Charity have been great reads and are shifting my viewpoint, and it’s great to read about practical solutions.

    Is PPM involved in any economic development projects?

    1. Adam McLane Avatar

      @disqus_V2C4ugmnqe:disqus That’s a great question. From what I can tell, their mission is solely focused on growing the church. So to my knowledge they aren’t involved in any macro-economic projects. (Like building infrastructure, education, etc.) But they are very engaged at the local level in practical ways… like hiring local workers, buying stuff locally to support their trips, connecting participants to ministries they can support in a more long-term way, etc. I’m not an evangelist for PPM, but I’m definitely appreciating their style. For instance, they have several ministry locations that are only working with a single church from the States. I think that’s really cool… and a choice they make which is harder for them, but better for the local church.

  2. Erin C Avatar
    Erin C

    Adam, thank you for talking about this and being so honest. I had my eyes opened to these issues a few years back and I still feel conflicted about what should be done. When I read that you were going to Haiti, I got the familiar pit in my stomach of unease so it is really refreshing to have it addressed while in the act of missions.

  3. […] mclane’s post (adam is with me here in haiti) yesterday on this very subject. read his post When Helping Helps (it’s really […]

  4. Lanny Avatar

    Greatly appreciate your “eyes and ears” on the ground in action! Keep up the GOoD Work. His Kingdom is expanding and I am moving with Him.

    I was introduced to PPM while setting up AIM’s network in Belize. They do a great job of church-to-church collaboration.

    Would love to reconnect when you get back to the states regarding DFGM’s status … shoot me an email.

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  6. […] We were both impressed by that. Marko wrote, Haiti Does Not Have a Shortage of Construction Workers. And I wrote When Helping Helps. […]

  7. […] That’s why Marko and I have taken so much time and gone so slowly, examining and re-examining PPM’s philosophy and on-the-ground actions. We’re sensitive to the reality that many mission trips do indeed “pimp the poor” or turn mission trips into “poverty tourism.” And, while it’s impossible to always be perfect, we’ve found PPM’s way of doing short-term missions to be great for North American participants while actually helping further the ministry of the local church in places they serve. (see When Helping Helps) […]

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