It was my first year as a trip coordinator. 1988 there was a team from Houston that arrived 70 participants strong to build homes in the garbage dump of Reynosa, Mexico. In four days the team would complete 5 houses for the poorest of the poor in the city.
Everything was well done. I had partnered with the social services office of the city to select families. These families were chosen based on economic studies, and crowded living conditions. Five to ten people lived in shacks of cardboard and tin. The Mayor’s office was deeply concerned for the children of these families. We would help once, then move on. Each family was asked to help build their house, and to maintain it for 1 year. After that they would be free to sell it for a better place to live. We saw our home as a temporary solution. Emergency relief.
Instructions clearly stated to group leaders that they were to give nothing away in the community, yet on the last day the team got off their bus and pulled mattresses, bunk bed rails, toys, camp stoves, etc, from underneath the bus! It was like a Macy’s parade through the dump! I was heart broken and wondered what would be the impact for groups that would follow that summer to serve in the same neighborhood.
My concerns were realized when other teams followed our rules for not giving away things. The next set of recipients of homes were angry with Mission Discovery because they didn’t receive the same as the others. Within a week we had created dependency.
Leaders who bring teams with Mission Discovery have been required to attend what we call Pre-Field Orientation. This is a weekend event (or conference call) that prepares teams with essential tools and knowledge for ministering alongside the poor without bringing harm and dependency. Still, there are some leaders who believe the answer to loving is grand gift giving. A simple video from the writers of When Helping Hurts unfolds the worst of short term missions.
Mission Discovery destinations, with the exception of one, are all places that we have been invited by local ministries to join hands with a ministry effort that will continue long after we leave. The one exception is that we purchased a camp in our own county, Sumner County Tennessee, to invest right here where we live in healthy relief work for those in need.
Our hope on a mission trip is that you would know that “you” are enough. You bring with you your journey with Christ, your unique story and that is most valuable. Relationships are developed when stories are exchanged. Thanks to my boss Tim Gibson, at World Servants, who taught me this great lesson. At Mission Discovery we are committed to connecting you relationally with those in need…through story.
Challenge your mission team this year to not give away anything. Partner with a national with a plan that continues after your departure. Open the dialogue with your team how your efforts can avoid creating dependency. Don’t stop going on short term mission trips, but rather be better prepared to be educated by God’s precious people.