This will be the last of my comments on the first video in this series. There are other themes we could discuss such as the comments made by the group from Buffalo New York who were at least willing to acknowledge that an ulterior motive for some of them in doing short term “missions” trips was to escape the cold during winter. This posting will address an especially important topic which manifests itself at the end of the video (@6:24 minutes).
At this point in the interview with the team leader she is asked what her response would be to some in Honduras who would recommend to her that the team stay home and send money instead. The response is nothing if not astounding, reflecting a deep lack of knowledge on the part of the team as to the attitudes and thinking of those who live daily with the poverty the team is seemingly trying to address. After being asked how she would respond to this question the team leader states “Well I guess the truth of it is I haven’t thought about it a lot because I haven’t had any Honduran’s say that to me.”
One of the biggest challenges we face as outsiders who have zeal to do good for those who are living in poverty is finding where God is already working in that part of the world and then effectively plugging our zeal into the vision already given to the local Church. It is unfortunate in this video series we are not given the opportunity to hear from the Honduran believers that are working with this team. It would certainly have given us a more balanced insight into the workings of this team and how it is perceived by those the team does work with. But the comment I quote above would lead me to believe that the team has found someone in Honduras, likely a pastor in a local church, who they feel comfortable with and who welcomes the team and helps them do what they feel called to do during their brief stay. Most such contacts in underdeveloped countries function from a culture which is completely different when it comes to being frank and open about how they honestly view the work being done for their people. This could get into a lengthy discussion of Geert Hofstede‘s various cultural dimensions (Power distance, individualism vs collectivism, etc) but the reader can explore at a greater depth these important dimensions. Here I’ll just note that it is a huge challenge to find a local group of Christ followers who are willing to honestly tell a foreign group who wants to help their community, what they truly think about the work projects being contemplated.
It requires many long discussions over coffee or lunch or whatever method is most effective for building relationships of trust to come to a point where the local partner feels free enough to honestly express their opinions. I have worked in Central America for ten plus years and still find my local brothers and sisters in Christ find it difficult to say no to some crazy idea we gringo’s have come up with. We must constantly reinforce with them that we want to hear their honest opinions of how things are going in the work (which should be based on their own ideas of what is most needed and most effective) and to give us their opinions on how things might be done better. It is extremely difficult if not impossible to do this using the typical short term missions model employed by the majority of North American churches doing STM’s of all kinds. Doing this right requires the outsider to be an excellent listener, sensitive to cultural differences, patient and perseverant and willing to conform their efforts to the vision God has give to the local body of believers.