Having made trips to China, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and now Haiti, I am often asked, “Do these short term trips really accomplish anything?” Or I am asked, “It costs so much for you to take a team to Haiti (or wherever). Why not just raise the money you raise and then send that to Haiti?” I want to try and answer these two questions because I think they actually miss the point about why we do this.
First of all, yes, these trips do accomplish a great deal. The team that Tony Geinotta takes from Cape May county in New Jersey have made seven trips and are scheduled to be there again this coming October. Each time they complete a measurable task in terms of building. On my last trip with them in 2012, we completed the framework for the forms that allowed the next team to pour the entire ceiling for the first floor of the Center of Hope. This is how the teams work: One group may dig and pour only the foundations; The next assembles the walls using concrete block. Another team like ours, sets the forms and the last team pours the ceiling, which then becomes the floor for the next level. Some might protest that it would be cheaper to just send the money and pay Haitians to do the work! This is true, but it would not accomplish the full task of these teams.
You see, the goal is not just to build a building or clear new farm land or even teach pastors and church leaders (something I usually do). This is only a part of the task and often not even the most important one. On all of these trips, we work right alongside Haitians. We get to know them, share some meals with them, even laugh and play with them (I learned on my first visit not to challenge the Haitians to a Dominoes tournament!). A team traveling to Bayonnais, where ICDM has their main campus, is likely to meet and play games with students from Institute Henri Christophe. We will meet and sometimes even help the teachers there. Our cooks are all Haitian as well. What happens by the end of one of these trips is that we have made friends with many of the Haitians. When the team returns home their vision of the world is changed because they now see these people as real, as human, and as friends. Although their attitude on the first trip may be, “I am going to do something for Haiti,” after their first trip it usually becomes, “I am going to do something with Haitians!” This may seem like a subtle difference in attitude, but it is an important difference. Now that they know these people, the reasons behind their work all change. Even the reasons for fund-raising will change. I remember the first trip with Tony’s team, we saw fund raising as primarily to pay for our trip. After that first trip, fund-raising was more about what was going to be done and who we were going to help on our next trip. The actual going leads to people coming home like the disciples after Jesus sent them out: Praising God and proclaiming, ‘even the demons obey our word.’ This goal of making friends and partners in Haiti is easily more important then the work we actually accomplish, although both are the result. However, there is still another reason to go.
When I took this team from New Jersey, there were numerous complaints by church leaders. Some thought we should be working directly on a United Methodist project and ICDM holds no denominational affiliation. Others felt that our fund raising would diminish the money given for current mission projects of the church. Still others thought that we needed to work at home before we went overseas to do missions. Here is why I still say we should go: 1) ICDM does not hold a denominational affiliation and this has given them the ability to work across many denominational and theological boundaries. In fact it allows them to work with (that “with” word again) other mission organizations and churches with far more flexibility and influence; 2) Instead of diminishing church funding for missions, this group actually increased the giving for missions supported by the church. This happened two ways. First, the persons who had gone on the trip found themselves more sensitive to and responsive to mission needs, whether local or overseas. Second, the group shifted their fund-raising to the community rather then from the church and then tithed all they raised to the church’s mission fund; 3) When Jesus said “go” it was to the whole world. Whether you read the Great Commission as found in Matthew 28:18-20 or Acts 1:4-8, the command is to go to the whole world, not in some sequential steps (home first, then the nations next door, and then the ends of the earth), but rather to Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and the ends of the earth, all at the same time.
In conclusion, I think every leader, particularly every pastor, should go on at least one foreign mission trip. We need to see the world through a wider lens and make friends with those whom we would help. My first trip to Haiti changed the direction of my life. Once I saw these people as God’s children, abused by their neighbors, ignored by the world, and yet joyful in their existence, I could not accept the idea that I could do nothing. So I keep going and taking new people with me. They come back transformed and as often as not lead transformation in their church back home. So who will go? Will you?