[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OO2Bp0LODrk&w=420&h=315]

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. 


[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OO2Bp0LODrk&w=420&h=315]

With this posting I come to the third in the series delving into the vision360 video series entitled “Evangelical Tourism.” Again this week we don’t need to listen very long to find another important topic to address relating to the challenges faced in being zealous to do good but not having sufficient knowledge about how to do good without causing harm.

In the opening statement made by the team leader she explains how the team will be breaking up into various smaller groups and that one of the groups will be “building two homes FOR families.” Unfortunately we don’t know more about the details of how this gets done in this particular case but in my experience this often means that the team has folks volunteering to be involved in construction projects but who may have little if any experience doing this type of work. You can just imagine if someone were building a home in the US and a group was visiting from Guatemala and wanted to help with the construction. What would you, as the eventual homeowner, want them to be doing? If one of the visitors stated he/she had experience in construction you would still want an expert you trust to assess this individuals abilities before giving them the responsibility of working on your roof for instance. So why should it be any different in this case? If we are going to send our son’s and daughters (and in this case also a mom who was spending her first time away from her 18 month old baby) to work cross-culturally shouldn’t they be asked to be involved in something they are gifted and trained to do within the context of what the locals identify is a need they cannot fill themselves? Doing FOR the people something they can do for themselves only creates unhealthy dependency. (see Fikkert’s “When Helping Hurts” and Glenn Schwartz’s work “When Charity Destroys Dignity.”) But it sure makes us feel good. 

These same principles apply to health related missions activities as well. This group does have included in their agenda a time for doing a dental clinic. I’m not sure if they also plan on doing medically related work as well but many such teams do. If in country partnerships have been well developed then there should exist the knowledge, having been imparted to the visiting team by the local partner, as to what health related activities are most needed in the communities to be visited. What cannot be provided locally by local health care providers? And if there are significant deficits in healthcare provision why is that the case and what can the visiting team do to correct those deficiencies? The knowledge gained can then be used to implement the most useful strategy to bring about the changes necessary in country so that local capacity is developed and eventually the team no longer is needed to provide services that the locals should be providing for their own people. This will contribute to a much greater chance for sustainability in any project engaged in between resource rich groups and those who are not yet resource rich.