Liked This Too!

I’m reposting, again, because those Livesays just have a way of saying things that many of us think. The following post is SO good and is a conversation we’ve had MANY times with various people. MANY times. And when we talk to other long term missionaries, we hear the same things, over and over and over again. I absolutely agree with Tara’s suggestion that everyone contemplating joining a short term missions team or even traveling to a developing country or other culture read “When Helping Hurts”. I found myself saying, “Yes!” so many times while reading through it. It’s worth the time. It challenges us to think about our motivations, what we’re really doing, how what we might see as good intentions can actually cause many problems… so many things. You can read the original post HERE.

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Thinking through STM

STM = Short Term Missions/Missionaries
LTM = Long Term Missions/Missionaries

Below are random (but true) examples:

A.) Team comes to visit.  They go on a walk through the small village they are visiting.  One boy speaks English. Everyone migrates to him because he can be communicated with easily. He asks for a bike. One man in the group tells the boy offhandedly that he can have a bike. STM gets to be the hero and make promises.  For two years the boy asks the LTM why the bike has not arrived.  He does not forget that the white guy said he could have it. The LTM has to field the requests for delivery on the STM promise.

B.)  A bike arrives for one kid in a village of 700 kids.  A well meaning STM sent it because they really love their child they sponsor in the feeding/school program and they want him to have a bike.  The LTM begs the ministry partners in America not to force them to give that bike. The LTM fears the trouble it will cause.  The ministry wants to make the donor of the bike happy.  They say the LTM must give the bike and take photos.  The boy gets the bike.  The donor gets the photos.  The donor is happy.  The boy gets beat up and his bike gets stolen by bigger older boys that are angry that the mission did not give them bikes.

C.)  A STM group comes in wanting to help build houses.  The LTM suggests they work with Haitians and get their input. The LTM makes many suggestions based on the years in country and the things they have learned about the culture and its building practices. The STM wants to build the house according to their practices and styles of building.  They force their way of building onto the group of Haitians they are building the house for and refuse to believe that the Haitians way of doing it has any merit. They finish the house and take many photos of their good work to go home and show their church proudly.  The following Sunday the group is sharing their photos at church and the Haitians are tearing off the roof of the house and re-doing the way that they prefer.

D.) A STM group focused on medical care come to offer a one-day free clinic. Word gets out that the team will give out peanut butter if you say that you have a child at home that is anemic. Suddenly every child in the village is anemic.

E.) STM group comes in to host a VBS not having any cultural context or awareness.  Gifts are given all week. The kids continue to come to see what gift they will get. Songs are sung and taught in English.  The kids speak Creole. A large number of children are “saved” the group does not know that four other STM groups have come through that year and the kids now know that praying for Jesus to come into your heart equals a congratulatory gift.

F.)  A STM comes to distribute food. They don’t have relationships in the area they are distributing. They don’t know what is needed. They don’t know who else has worked in that area prior to them. They hand out food for two hours only to realize that there are 300 people that did not get food waiting outside.  Fighting starts between those that got food and those that didn’t.  The group is forced to tuck tail and run before they get stuck in the middle of a fight.

These are just a few examples among dozens and dozens. Haiti is close and easy to visit from the USA. More STM trips happen here than any other country in the world. Since the earthquake teams have increased. Every week – all year long – team after team visits Haiti.  Some come to “save” and tell and some come informed and ready to learn and observe. Some come thinking that relationship doesn’t matter and they walk around handing out $5 bills and gospel tracts and some come to sit and listen and learn. Some come trying to be aware of what others before and after them will do and others come thinking that what they do matters more to Haiti than any single thing that ever happened here.

A while back we went to a conference where one of the speakers was the author of “When Helping Hurts – How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself”.   If you are coming to Haiti or Africa or Asia or Guatemala or Timbuktu we think it is wise to read it.

I don’t believe the man who offered the bike ever meant to cause so much trouble for the LTM or the kid.  I don’t believe the VBS group meant to pay kids with gifts to become Christians. I am fairly certain that many groups have not considered that they are one of thousands of STM groups that will come to Haiti this year. I don’t think groups come here wanting to foster dependency and send a message that Haitians cannot do things for themselves.  Sadly, for many many years we’ve been doing just this.  Not because we wanted to – but just because we came in with the wrong attitude.

Many people, ourselves included, come with good intentions.  It is important for us to recognize where we have failed and attempt to learn from our mistakes. We need to realize that good intentions are often times not enough and in the end we might do more harm than good.  All of our pride needs to be laid down. Short or long term, we need to be completely open to learning from those that have been here even longer.

A few excerpts from When Helping Hurts:

 

It is crucial that North American STM teams move beyond ethnocentric thinking that either minimizes cultural differences or immediately assumes that middle to upper class North American cultural norms are always superior to those of other cultures.
By definition, short term missions have only a short time in which to “show profit”, to achieve pre-defined goals. This can accentuate our American idols of speed, quantification, compartmentalization, money, achievement, and success. Projects become more important than people. The wells dug. Fifty people converted. Got to give the church back home a good report. Got to prove the time and expense was well worth it. To get the job done (on our time scale), imported technology becomes more important than contextualized methods. Individual drive becomes more important than respect for elders, for old courtesies, for taking time.
Ensure that the “doing” portion of the trip avoids paternalism. Remember, do not do for people what they can do for themselves.
Design the trip to be about “being and “learning” as much as about “doing”.
Stay away from the “go-help-and-save-them” message and use a “go as a learner” message. We need no more STM brochure covers with sad, dirty faces of children and the words “Will you die to self and go and serve?” Such a message places too much focus on the sacrifice the STM team is making to change people’s lives – a level of change that is simply not realistic in two weeks – and on how helpless the poor people are without the team’s help.
Be careful how STM are presented as part of the larger missions movement. Statements such as “If you are serious about missions, then you need to take a short term trip” are common. This is a vast overstatement, as many, many folks serve in missions long term without the short term experience. Furthermore, such messages can give a false impression about what it really takes to do serious missions or community development work.

Make pre-trip learning a requirement, not a suggestion. Simply wanting to go and coming up with the money is not sufficient to qualify somebody to join the team. If people don’t want to spend time to learn before they go on the trip are they really going to have a learner’s mind-set during the trip?

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About Leslie

I'm Leslie. Wife. Mother. Missionary. In the day to day my husband and I are responsible for running Clean Water for Haiti, a humanitarian mission that builds and distributes water filters to Haitian families. Living in Haiti full time provides lots of stories, and as I tell my husband, our grandkids probably won't believe most of them. Maybe writing them down will give me some credibility.

4 thoughts on “Liked This Too!

  1. This is a really great post, and so easily transferable to other parts of the world. Even a relatively wealthy “developing” country in Eastern Europe, like the one I work in. Our “STM” problems usually come from Congressional delegations, who look around, see a relatively high-functioning but not quite ideally run society, and think if they snap their fingers and earmark some money, it will instantaneously turn into a democracy.

    That’s just not how it works; and so many well-meaning people completely disregard/do not bother to educate themselves about the history, social context, and experiences of the place where they are attempting to work. This is a grave mistake, and when it involves money and ill-informed action, very counterproductive for sustainable development.

  2. Agreed that people should learn before saving but how long is the learning period, does it ever end? When does helping (maybe even saving) begin? If you are in Haiti a decade or 4 decades, will there ever be meaningful change?

    I could leave my comfortable life and travel less than 10 miles to see people who need help, lots of it. Probably I will never know enough to help them the way they want help but I might be able to see changes in thinking, attitude, applications that they need to make if their lives are to improve.

    True, one can’t buy conversion or love with peanut butter and bikes but the people who committed those acts were not insincere, they were stupid. I follow Haiti’s earthquake recovery news and it is depressing. Japan may well restore their country from their worst disaster before Haiti does.

    What is required in Haiti? What needs to change so that people like you and Livesays can say, job well done, and move on?

    • All very good questions and there are no easy answers. People ask us when our job will be done. We don’t know. It would be wonderful to see Haitian homes have clean water that doesn’t have to come from a concrete box, but what does it take to get there? Haiti’s problems are so complex that when you remove one layer there are so many more beneath it, like an onion. I often say that it took generations to get here, it will take generations to move beyond it.

      I think the Livesays intentions, and mine with reposting their blog post, was to say that we need to look at our approach to missions in North America, and in fact this is what is stated in When Helping Hurts. It’s not meant to discourage people from doing short term missions by any means, but rather to challenge people to think about the what and whys of how they do things. In my personal experience I have seen that “missions trips” are more of a benefit to those that go on them simply because it provides them with an opportunity to have their world view challenged. If that’s the case, then we should invite people to come with that intention and call it what it is. It doesn’t mean they can’t do something productive while here, but more often than not they are simply in a learning phase.

      You asked how long the learning period is. A lot of “lifer” missionaries that we know here (I’m talking 10 years or more) say the longer they are here the less they know. I think meaningful change is happening all the time. We’ve seen the work of Clean Water for Haiti give about 1.5% of Haiti’s population clean water in their homes, and that’s not counting the work of the other organizations we train. I would say that’s significant. But, there is a big difference between being on the ground day in and day out and having to learn all the hard things of a culture, and simply visiting for a couple of weeks.

  3. I am married to a Haitian man living here in the states. We have two beautiful children, and I can tell you first hand the impact you are having on these people is immense. Whether or not you know it right now, you are helping people that will benefit from this for their entire lifetime. I am hoping once our children are older we will be able to go and visit as a family, since my husband still has family living in the country.
    As an aside, my husband calls our two children the same as you call Olivia. And they certiantly are cyclones!!! :) Much luck to you both, and please keep doing what you are doing. You are helping more than you may know.
    God Bless!

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