One of the great sins of Western short-term ministries is bringing our bad habits and presenting them somewhere else as healthy.
In the United States, the local church has largely recast itself as a place of spiritual renewal. The message of Jesus Christ in our cities and towns largely remains in the 6 inches between our ears. We preach about renewing our hearts, our minds, our relationships, our marriages, and investing in the spiritual lives of our children.
Yet we’ve largely abandoned our larger, more holistic mission whereby Jesus renews all things, bringing “Good News to the Neighborhood”. (John 1) Instead we allow and depend on the State or the individual to meet our physical needs to the point where we’ve forgotten that the churches greatest movements of growth in the early church were because we became known as the people who looked after the sick, the poor, the widows, and orphans. It wasn’t bold preaching that took the Gospel to the ends of the earth in less than 75 years, it was meeting the physical needs of others.
The North American church is seen as successful if a lot of people show up, they have a big staff, and a big building.
But that’s like saying the Cleveland Cavaliers had a great season. Sure, they won a lot of playoff games… but they came up short of winning the championship… just like our churches come up short today.
We’ve divorced our ministries from meeting physical needs to the point that when we go on short-term mission trips we place meeting spiritual needs above physical needs.
And just like in a divorce, both parties eventually carry on. Things might be different but they’re never the same.
What Marriage Looks Like
One of the great reminders and great teachings of visiting Haiti is seeing a church who is still married to the full work of Christ.
The other night Jean Delcy told us about his ministry here in the Les Cayes area. After a successful career in a camp ministry and some other things, he moved about 20 minutes west of the city to a rural village of a few hundred people along the sea to create a beautiful place for Haitian families to come.
American’s come to EdenHaiti and are instantly drawn to the sea. When I arrived there was a magnetic pull, I had to see it. You can hear the waves crashing as soon as you open the car door and our ears are finely tuned to connect to the sea.
What Jean Delcy learned when he got here was that the needs of the people were great… and since he was seen as a person of means… the people of the village started coming to him for help. Sometimes it was a small request, like a ride to town, or other times it was a bigger request like a 2 AM hospital run with a mother in labor only to have her deliver a baby in his backseat.
But these are his neighbors and he knows he can’t just ignore their needs. As he lived here longer he recognized more of their more basic needs. Such as,
- Though the local fisherman can catch a lot of shrimp– enough to support their families, when they catch a lot they are at the mercy of the local buyer’s prices since they can’t freeze their catch. And since the buyer knows they can’t store the catch he pays a terrible price. There’s an urgent need and a huge opportunity for the community to freeze and store their catch so they can sell at a better market price.
- Jean Delcy has started a school for the children, but the community is largely unable to afford proper education for all the kids, which puts them at greater risks for other issues. There’s simply more need there than he can currently reach.
- Family planning is a major problem. It’s not unusual for a young woman to have her first baby at 14 years old. The average woman in the community has 6 children in her lifetime. In this case, he can see the problem and knows it’s impact on his community but lacks the resources needed to help in a big way.
- While there is access to clean water in the community, there is virtually no sanitation for human waste. He has built 3 latrines, which is a start, but there is need for at least 27 more to meet the basic needs of the community to keep human waste out of the water, beaches, and oceans.
- The communities greatest asset for fishing revenue and even the possibility of long-term investment by way of tourism or a related industry (condos, etc) is the beach and coastal access. They don’t have a pier for larger boats and currently the community is using the beach as their town dump and community bathroom.
- Lastly, Haitian culture looks down on this community because it’s next to the sea. Haitian traditionally “turn their back to the sea” and use it as their dump. The villagers are mocked by others because they smell like the sea. Pastor is helping his community members see that what their culture sees as a liability is an asset to the rest of the world… Westerners LOVE the sea, coastal access, etc.
And then, about 18 months ago, the local community saw the need for a church. After trying unsuccessfully to convince a Les Cayes pastor to take on this community as a satellite or church plant (of sorts) the community recognized the obvious: Jean Delcy was already their pastor. He was caring for their physical needs and influencing the community for good to the point where it was obvious that he could also be their spiritual leader.
It’s Time for a Remarriage
A pastor is just a fancy church word for a shepherd. This illustration of the sheep and the shepherd is the most often used descriptor of the role of the church leader in the Bible. (If we want to divorce something, we ought to divorce ourselves from the idea that a pastor is a profession speaker or CEO… there’s simply no way to twist the New Testament enough to get to that mindset, though many are so deeply intwined in it they’ll defend their role to the death.)
And in our churches, beyond a shadow of a doubt, our pastors love their “sheep.” They care for their families, they teach the word of God, they create and foster programs to reach more people spiritually and a whole lot more. Sure, there are bad pastors out there. But the vast majority are amazing people trying their very best.
But… but… BUT… we can’t forget that a shepherd does more than love the sheep… he looks after their needs.
This is one thing that’s missing. Most of our churches don’t really look after the full needs of our flock, we care far more about spiritual neediness than we do physical neediness. Church leaders aren’t trained to even access a communities needs or the physical needs of people in their church because they have a false assumption that there are other entities already doing that.
The Best of Short-Term Missions
Let’s be frank. Over and over again I hear short term-mission maligned because it’s seen as some form of tourism. And I stand in full-acknowledgement that there are bad short-term mission trips out there. But you simply cannot toss out the baby with the bathwater in this instance because we have more to learn than to give.
Yes, we have stuff to give. But we, as a tribe of leaders, must get out of our own ethnocentricity to learn from the success of Jesus’ church elsewhere.
This week I’m in Les Cayes, Haiti sharing stories from a mission trip. Want to learn more about Praying Pelican Missions’ work in Haiti or explore bringing a group? Fill out the form below.