Tag: perceptions

Missions and Partners

From the very first time I spoke with Yvan Pierre about International Christian Development Missions, he talked about “partnering with ICDM.” I thought I understood his idea until I began working more closely with him in the mission. Having just returned from eight days in Bayonnais, I think I am finally understanding what Yvan really means. On this most recent trip, I got to sit down and talk with Yvan about his history and the vision God gave him. To see the way God used Yvan and spoke to him through the years is itself a wonderful experience. However, the things that come through almost every sentence he shared with me are the names of people who “partnered” with him and made the present mission possible. What was special about this narrative was the fact that this was not so much about partners and supporters here in the USA, but about the people of Haiti who helped him, guided him as he planned and worked, and opened doors when they needed to be opened. Yvan even spoke of the many people he had met across Haiti who helped him accomplish what God had called him to do in Bayonnais.

I even got to meet one of these early partners, Francois! This distinguished man was one of the first if not the first person to whom Yvan shared his dream and vision. Because of the influence God had given Francois in the community, the Institute Henri Christophe, our primary school, was able to open its doors to the children of Bayonnais. Francois himself has a wonderful testimony of how God led him to faith. As we sat and he shared his story with me, hos humility and graciousness were clear. He was so amazed at all God had done through the years without bragging the least about how God had used him, Francois, to make it all happen.

We also had a big visiting team there the first few days. Business men and women, housewives, and even some teen ladies. There partnership was profound both in terms of the contribution they made to our projects but also what they experienced on this trip. But they also became my friend!

What I learned from all this is that missions is not about one person or group traveling to another country and doing something for or to others. Rather, real missions is about building relationships with people and working together to bring to life a vision that is bigger than all of us could imagine. When we get to know people and when we see in them the gifts and calling of God, we can then work with them in creative and powerful ways. Partnership means relationship, and Christian missions must first of all be relational!

Adventure Continues

On September 23, I will again be traveling to Bayonnais, Haiti. This trip was originally scheduled for earlier this month but was cancelled by Hurricane Irma. This is an unusual trip for me because I do not know what all I am going to be doing. Some of the people I was supposed to meet are not available now because of my altered schedule. Other efforts have been delayed and may be impossible this time. Someone asked me this morning, “then why are you going?” Because I need to go!

Only a portion of short term missions is about the nation and people we are visiting. Certainly that is the main motive and reason for going. However, Haiti does things to me and in me that can happen no where else! These include physical, mental, and spiritual changes.

Physically, I am more active in Haiti. That may not seem like much to some, but for me it is both challenging and healthy. Being on my feet, in the heat, and without the need to sit behind this computer all day, I actually lose weight when I am there (in spite of Marie Claude’s awesome cooking!). I get exercise and breath fresh air. This in itself is small, but is certainly an asset to me.

Mentally, my visits to Haiti clear my mind. Forced to leave behind the worries and anxieties of life here, not to mention the mere pace of life in the US, I am able to focus more on what is important in my mind and thoughts. I am free to think about my family, my work, my friends, and all the tasks to which I am too close when I am stateside. Haiti gives me mental perspective, inspiration, and opens my mind to imagine and create new possibilities.

Spiritually, Haiti simply transforms me! I feel closer to God, more excited about what God is doing, and less distracted in my prayers. Living more simply in Haiti allows me more time with God alone, even while I am engaging others more actively. My devotions seem sweeter, my prayers more effective, and my soul is refreshed and made whole when I visit my second country!

Yes, my main goal is to work with Haitians to educate, equip, and empower them. However, I always feel like I get as much from them as they receive from me! Haiti, from the Taino word, ayiti, which means “mountainous place,” is for me a place of rest!

Putting the “GO” in the Great Commission

Putting the “GO” in the Great Commission

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?

Mission, Ministry, and Open Eyes

Mission, Ministry, and Open Eyes

This past April marked seven years since my first trip to Haiti. As I have reflected on my journeys to Haiti, one of the biggest changes I have noticed has been in my own perceptions. This seems to be the story of my professional life, but maybe that is OK. Having our perceptions changed and our assumptions challenged is the only way we can grow spiritually, mentally, and even emotionally. So here are some things I used to believe and the things that changed my mind.

First, I grew up in a pretty middle-class, working family in the USA. Nothing wrong with this, but the heritage of our Puritan ancestors still shapes our perceptions of wealth and poverty. We tend to think that if you work hard, you will get ahead. But another belief consequent of this is that if people are not getting ahead, they must not be working. I will admit that much of my view of those in poverty was shaped, at least unconsciously, by this belief. Believing that poverty is due to laziness or a lack of effort was the first belief that was challenged when I visited Haiti.

What are the facts? Well, if you belief Haiti is poor because her people are lazy or unmotivated, you are in for a surprise. People in Haiti work hard and for much longer hours than we are used to in the US. I have heard and seen women up at 3-3:30 in the morning getting ready and going to market. They load baskets and buckets in their head that weigh 40-50 pounds and then walk miles to the market in order to sell what they have, but what they need, and then turn around and head back home in the late evening. When we poured the first floor ceiling on the Center for Hope, we watched some of the local men mix concrete by hand on a sheet of plywood and carry five-gallon buckets up a ladder to complete the pour. No trucks or mixers, just hard work in a near tropical sun from sunup that morning until after dark that night. When we were taking breaks to catch our breath, they kept right on working! See this level of motivation and hard work, I had to change my mind about what caused poverty! It is not a lac k of hard work!

Second, I expected Haiti to be an ugly country. Although there are places that are dusty and unclean by American standards, the country is actually VERY beautiful! From green and blue vistas of the Caribbean ocean to the mountains that give Haiti her name, there is scenic beauty everywhere. But more than simple seeing beauty, I found the hearts and minds of the Haitian people to be beautiful as well! They are proud of their country and though they are painfully aware of what is missing in their nation, they want you to see it for yourself and know them as people. Every time I go I awake to the view of rich green mountains and the noise of people heading out to start their day. The smells of cooking fires as women start morning meals. And above all the sounds of the children gathering for school. Smiles, laughter, singing, and the glorious scents of the blooming flowers and trees!

Finally, I believed that Haitians were very different from me. There are some unique differences, but not the ones I imagined and nothing that should keep us separated! Haitians and Americans have both fought down a European power to gain their independence so we have a common heritage of liberty and independence. That alone was, and remains, a revelation to me! You see, we fought off the British while we were a prosperous collection of colonies who were well-education and already well-armed for our own defense. The Haitians fought off French rule as slaves with no education and few of the typical weapons their oppressors possessed. This battle for liberty continues in Haiti as they seek the recognition and equality of their neighbors. However, the pride they feel in their heritage is as strong as our own and should be celebrated with them!

What am I trying to say? Don’t go with preconceived ideas about what Haiti is and what you can do for them. Go instead with open eyes and be ready to experience a nation and a people who will astound you with their strength and beauty! Be willing to listen to them, walk with them, and see for yourself that they do not need you to do anything FOR them, but they would live to do everything WITH you!