Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Unintentional Consequences - Short-Term Missions in the Community

Well, it seems that what started as a post has grown to a series of posts.  I think each of these thoughts about short-term missions has a broad application in a number of situations.  I'll see if I can tie it all together... 

I've been doing some thinking about missions and unintended consequences.  I've never been on an international mission trip, but I would like to someday.  Recently, I've come across some things that have made me very cautious about jumping in without forethought and wisdom.  Doing what feels right might not be what is right..  I want to do the best thing for the people I strive to serve.  I do not want to contribute to their difficulties.

It all started when I came across  this great post by Troy and Tara Livesay in Haiti.  The Livesays are long-term missionaries.  They've been in Haiti for a few years and they understand cultural things that I just never knew or thought about.  Troy tells stories of how it plays out in real life.  The comments are also enlightening.

A short-term missionary has no idea what the cultural dynamics are.  The long-term missionary has a better grasp on who could use money/help/items and how to distribute the goods.  They know the culture, community, and individuals in a way that short-term missionaries just can't know.

I don't want to just feel good about what I'm doing, I want to actually help.

This makes me want to be wise in a different way than I have ever considered.  If I were to organize, plan, or go on a short-term mission trip, I would humbly respect and heavily rely on the long-term missionary to know what's best for the local people.

I don't want to unintentionally make things worse for the very people I am trying to help.  I don't want to detract from the effort that is already being made in the community.  I don't want to make things harder on the families that have packed up their lives to go and pour into the lives of others.

The book  When Helping Hurts was brought up repeatedly in the post and comments.  I had heard of it a few times before and was intrigued by the title.  It will be one of the next books that I read.  I'll let you know what I think of it.  I'm pretty sure it's all about unintentional consequences in our giving.

I know when we were in Guatemala, the need was so great and I was overwhelmed with choosing who to help and how to help them.  I'm sure I did some things that were not helpful and other things that had a significant impact.  (At least, I hope so.)

So what do you think?  Do you have any words of wisdom?

Blessings to you,

1 comment:

Mama Bear said...

I agree with you completely. In fact, there have been times when the people who come in and give a car to a family or build a house for them are actually hurting them by causing a great change in their lives that they are not equipped to handle. I have done missions abroad before, but only in countries where I understand the culture and have some kind of connection there. Keep us updated about the book. Maybe I'll look into it, too!