Short Term Missions and a Church in Haiti

Guest writer and missionary to Haiti, Shannon Kelley, shares a short term missions experience.

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It’s a typical Sunday.  My family walks over dirt roads about a mile to a little cinder block church.  We are the only non-Haitian’s there.  We sit amongst our friends – people with hard lives that get down on their knees and pray prayers that make Jesus feel palpable in that room.  The kids sit mostly well-mannered in fear of being shushed by some of the elders in the church.  There is no fanfare. We sit in our usual seats. A couple guys bang on handmade instruments to worship.  It is beauty.

Several weeks later I sit within those same walls. This time a group is visiting on a short-term mission trip. Today there are plants and decorations lining the “stage” and the crackling of a mic with a short in it makes it impossible to understand much.  The pastor spent last week’s offering on gas for a little generator to power a mic and keyboard player just for today, for the group.  The handmade instruments I love sit unused in the corner.  The blan (white) pastor leading the team gets up and introduces his team by name, making them parade to the front.

As the service wears on, a few of the moms of the group motion for some kids to come sit with them. They proceed to chat and play with them while, unbeknownst to them, the congregants are praying.  The elders that typically shush the kids shake their heads and don’t say anything because they don’t want to insult the visitors. The kids know this and take full advantage of playing with cameras and phones and other gadgets, being generally disorderly in comparison to the usual way they’re expected they behave.  I sit there and wonder how we would feel if we were sitting in a church in the States and a group of people from another country came in and acted that way.

Church ends and the visitors go on to do their week of serving the community. I watch as the labor they do takes away jobs from the nationals, like construction and painting. The money from their airplane tickets could provide employment for Haitians which in turn feeds families.

Sometimes service from foreign groups can be fruitful and I can see the need for it. They leave the village better off by training pastors, educating Haitians, and supporting the long term missionaries. I wonder, though, if the risk of having a group who might do more damage than good is too great.

I’m struggling with the good of short term missions.  I see the side of it that is good because it shows people a different part of the world and challenges their faith. But are we searching for substance in our lives at the mercy of those we came to help?

I don’t know the answer. Let’s talk. What has your experience been with short-term teams? What methods effectively help all those involved, nationals and foreigners alike?

More on STMs: A Case for Short Term Missions  |  Is the Price Tag Worth It?  | Rice Christians and Fake Conversions

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Shannon Kelley lives in a rural fishing village with her  family on the Southern tip of Haiti where they fight for families. Follow their journey here:
www.shannon-kelley.com/blog

Sexual Abuse on the Mission Field

The instant message to her friend said, “I hate them. They don’t know anything about me.”

Four years earlier we had landed on foreign soil.  The flight that carried us, and our 100 pounds each of luggage, was just short enough to cry the entire way.  We felt strongly we were on the right path, but that did not make it painless. Eager to know, love, and serve we dove in fully committed to the people of our new home.  Each day felt long and overwhelming. There was so much to learn, so much to do.  We wanted to be trusted and loved.  We wanted to trust and love.

“God, protect our children from harm”, we earnestly prayed.

From the very beginning we knew and were told that discouragement would come and it might come in the form of illness or an attack on our family or marriage. We were armed with knowledge about quickly identifying that.

We stayed busy managing multiple programs, building relationships with our neighbors, hosting short-term teams, and raising our family. Our kids thrived. The two oldest excelled in language acquisition and spoke circles around the adults.

I wish I could get away from them,” she typed to her friend.

Just shy of our three-year anniversary abroad, we decided to work with a new organization.  As we learned the language and confronted the cultural issues, we outgrew the stateside leadership and couldn’t convince them our opinions were worth respecting.  With sadness we packed and moved a few hours away to a new area, a new assignment.

After our move our daughter grew more and more angry. She distanced herself from us in ways we didn’t understand. She put walls up and refused to let us into her life.

“She is a teenager, this is normal,” we said.

Even as we said it, it didn’t make sense. We’d always been such a tight-knit and happy family.

Confused, we confronted her.  “Why are you so angry?”

“I’m not.” She lied.

One night we decided enough was enough.  “You’ll stay home from school tomorrow and we WILL talk”, we said. She shrugged; she walked away and slammed her door.

I woke up early that morning.  Angry and hurt, blaming and upset, I went for a run. “God, she hates us for no reason. She is terrible to us. She keeps hurting us. Lord, please tell me how to punish her”, I prayed.

Running fast, fueled by anger, I asked again, “God, this is so terrible – what should we do with her?”  The answer came so clearly I checked my ipod to see if I had heard it there.  I asked again. The response stopped me dead in my tracks. “Give her gifts. I love her. Give her gifts.”

Totally bewildered I sprinted home to tell her Dad, “We’re not supposed to punish her. We’re supposed to give her gifts.”

Over the period of the next several hours we ignored every hurtful word hurled and every angry action. We took our daughter to treat her to gifts.  It confused us and it confused her but we spent the day spoiling her.

Late that night she walked up the stairs into our office and handed us a four-page letter.  She asked us to read it immediately.  As I read it hot tears poured down my face.

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s my fault.”

“You warned us, you told us to be careful.”

“It happened many times.”

“I was afraid.”

“I didn’t know how to tell you.”

“I am ashamed.”

“I should have known how to stop it.”

For three years our little girl had been subjected to the crafty and culturally accepted advances of someone we trusted and saw as her friend, an innocent playmate.  It wasn’t until we moved away from it that she could begin to feel the all consuming and confusing mixture of shame and pain over what took place.  She turned her rage inward, she turned it on the people she trusts most to love her.

When they were together it was always within our walls.  She worked on her language skills and he tried his English.  A few nights a week for years the kids played outside near the gate together. Other kids almost always seemed to be right with them. “They are so cute working on language like that,” we thought. Because he was in the same grade as her we had thought of him as her equal.  Yes, he was nine years older than her but he seemed like a child in some ways.

Sobbing together on the floor of our office, I said “This is not your fault.”

“But you told me that someone could try to hurt me.”

“You told me.”

And so it began, the long and grueling process of hurting and healing together.  The HIV rate in our host country demanded tests for her. The emotional damage and deep shame demanded much more.  It continues to demand MUCH more.

As it turned out my warnings were about bad boogie men and not about a friend, not about someone in the same grade in school as her. My warnings didn’t help prepare for the sly way he would move in on her and manipulate her feelings and guilt her into thinking she had chosen it.  He was an adult, and in his culture having sex is his right.

As parents that boarded an airplane filled with faith and a desire to serve God abroad, praying, “God, protect our children from harm” we were devastated. Our Father had not heard us.  We felt He had looked away.  Having entered the mission field aware and on guard we felt so stupid for missing it, for not knowing, for not seeing.

The road has been long. The anger rises up without permission. The grief hits us all at unpredictable times.

Give her gifts, Lord.  We love her.

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Sexual abuse of children is a complicated issue world wide.  In certain cultures it is endemic. Kids being raised in a second or new culture are at an increased risk.  How aware are you of this issue in your culture and what measures do you take to try to protect your children?

(The author of this important true story has chosen to remain anonymous yet may be addressed as ‘Jessica’ in the comments.)

A Case for Short Term Missions (Guest Post: Seth Barnes)

I am a progeny of the short-term missions movement. My life was shaped by trips I took as a teenager to Guatemala and Peru. And here’s the ripple effect: in addition to sending tens of thousands to the field, my family has been profoundly affected. My daughter Estie just left with her college group to Ecuador, my son Seth Jr. has spent a year in Nicaragua, and for the last 17 years, my parents have spent three months doing medical ministry in Kenya.

From www.sethbarnes.comBuilding on that early experience as a teenager, I’ve spent 25 years doing short-term trips and it seems that my blog “Are short-term missions becoming faddish?” has made me something of an “authority.” Over 60,000 people have looked at it since I wrote it a year ago. And the tide of emails in my in-box like the one I just received made me realize that perhaps it’s time for a considered response.

So, be warned, this is gonna get long – hang in there!

A random person recently wrote me saying, “Hey, I am doing a speech opposing short term missions [STMs] today, I was wondering if you have any data or statistics that would work for this?”

I’m afraid my response wasn’t too encouraging: “You may have mis-read my perspective.” I wrote. “I believe your position is unbiblical. Luke 9 and 10 is a clear biblical precedent. My issue is not STMs, but STMs done poorly, which is most of the time these days. If you’re ‘opposing STMs’ then you’re opposing Jesus.”

What’s going on here? Is this a tempest in a teapot, or do we need to trash short-term missions and start over?

On the one hand, STMs have become over-the-top faddish when you can now sign up for a “missions cruise,” – I wonder whose “have-your-cake-and eat-it-too” thinking produced that? On the other hand, when you go to a bad restaurant, do you give up on eating food? Many of us attend dull churches, but believe in the concept of church. Everywhere in life there are examples of excellence contrasted with poverty of imagination and execution.

STMs are a necessary part of discipleship. The people who would do away with them are missing a big chunk of Jesus’ pedagogy. Jesus was big on faith – asking us to do a trust-fall with the Father. How else are you going to learn faith if not by being thrust into unfamiliar territory with an overwhelming assignment? You can study diving all you want, but until you jump off that high dive, you don’t know diving.

STMs are also a necessary part of missions. Paul went on a series of STMs and jump-started the long-term mission movement. Usually when planting a long-term work in a community, those planning it are going to begin to establish relationships in a series of forays that culminate in a long-term commitment.

STM teams work – sometimes spectacularly. The uneven results they can produce open the door to criticism. Here are the most prevalent criticisms:

*They cost too much.

*Short-term missionaries can’t do a missionary’s job.

*Short-term missionaries should help the needy people in the U.S. first.

Jesus tells us, “Go into all the world spreading the good news.” The passive approach to faith is an oxymoron – we can’t sit still and practice the kind of risky faith steps that Jesus advocated. Christ sounded a clarion call to battle. Religion for couch potatoes placing a premium on safety or formulas doesn’t sit well with our Lord. We’ve been commanded to get out of the malls and into the streets. The question before the court then is not one of a mandate. The questions are: What we should do with the mandate we’ve been given? And, just how far should short-term missionaries go with their mandate? Are there any limits?

Sometimes, the critics score a bullseye. Mission trips too frequently are costly. By definition they can’t incorporate the follow-up work that only someone with a long-term commitment to a particular mission field can. Often they are overly ambitious, aspiring to pierce the darkness in a place like Romania, when the light may be dimmer next door in Philadelphia.

Other criticisms are more easily countered. Some critics dismiss short-term missionaries out of hand with the comment that “They’re not really missionaries.” To which I say, if being a missionary means something other than sharing the love of Jesus cross-culturally, then it is true, short-term missionaries may not measure up. Yes, often they do have a quick-fix mentality in a world where change may be measured at a glacial rate. However, I suggest that labels are a peripheral issue. Jesus called us all to be missionaries. He sent his disciples out in pairs as the first short-term missionaries (Mark 6:7-13). To judge the validity of the STM movement, we need to dispense with old preconceptions and look at the fruit, not the duration of the term or even the commitment of those involved.

Another criticism in the same vein is that the ministry on a mission trip is more to the short-termer than it is to those to whom they’re ministering. To which I say, “So what?” It’s true that STM leaders may seem more focused on the needs of their group than they are on the ministry they’ve undertaken. Often the changes that occur in their lives are profound. It may frequently be the case that short-term missionaries are the primary beneficiaries of their trip; however, the most successful models of STMs emphasize a partnership in which both participants and nationals benefit equally as they develop relationships with one another.

These kinds of criticisms persist and confusion flourishes when STM leaders embrace questionable models of STMs. Because there are so many flawed models floating around, they inevitably tarnish those models of STMs whose fruit has stood the test of time.

When STM groups come in for criticism, most often it is because they have adopted one or more of the following flawed models of short-term missions. Let’s look at the six worst:

QUESTIONABLE MODELS

1. No Preparation

2. No Prayer

3. No Jerusalem

4. No “Ends of the earth”

5. No Stewardship

6. No Perspective

Some critics see STM groups as being on a kind of philanthropic sightseeing tour. An STM team can be a negative experience for both long-term missionary and participant alike if the team is inadequately prepared and is seen as a necessary inconvenience. The same team can have an incredible impact if they are trained and come to the field with the right attitudes.

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The above article was used with permission from Seth Barnes, President of Adventures.org. Since 1989, they have taken over 100,000 young people overseas on short term missions trips. You can check him out at his blog, SethBarnes.com or on twitter @sethbarnes

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What are your thoughts on Short Term Missions? How have you seen them positively affect people, help your long-term ministry, or impact the culture where you are living?

Long-termers: What do you want short-termers to know before they start their trip? Advice for them?