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Short term missions: relief or development?

August 25, 2018

 A major road in the Garifuna village of San Juan.
 

Shepherd's Heart has begun organizing a mission trip to Honduras June 1-8, 2019. We will be working with the Garifuna people who live in the small villages of San Juan and Nuevo San Juan. As we serve alongside local pastors and believers in Christ our mission will be two-fold: Encourage and disciple the local church and help to complete work projects in the church and feeding programs with which we partner.

"That trip sounds good but... isn't short-term missions just a glorified vacation!?" If planned and executed well, short-term mission trips can produce tremendous positive - and permanent - results. "Yeah, o.k.", you may think, "Maybe. But how?"

Let's assume for the sake of this short blog post that you are part of a church with a desire to help a people-group outside of your church walls, or further, outside of your state, or stretching even further, outside of your country. Any short-term mission trip must begin by asking a simple question: Relief or Development?

So what's the difference?

 

Relief is the initial response to a crisis such as a natural disaster. Development follows relief and is focused on long-term, measurable improvements. Unfortunately, many mission groups ignore this fundamental difference.

Let me go ahead and answer: Our trip will be focused on development rather than relief. Our mission work is grounded on the belief that development is not done TO people or FOR people but WITH people. We do not want to throw a quick band-aid on the poverty that is suffocating the Garifuna villages in Honduras. Remember, "the goal is not to produce houses or other material goods but to pursue a process of walking with the materially poor so that they are better stewards of their lives and communities, including their own material needs”. (Corbett & Fikkert, 2009)

There are a few work projects and a two or three-day church conference we hope to direct while we are there. These projects and teachings will take place under the supervision of local church leadership. We will allow the indigenous workers to take the lead on, for example, decisions made concerning materials, project scope and construction techniques. And we will not be working while local talent watches from the sidelines. Our desire is to empower our Garifuna brothers and sisters not overwhelm them by demanding our methods and time tables be followed to the letter.

Our role as "the outsider" in this approach is not to do something to or for the economically poor individual and community but instead, and this is paramount, we want to seek solutions together with them. This is what development is all about. This will ensure that the local church body thrives long after we have left and will maintain our positive future engagement with the Garifuna community.

Finding armies of people to volunteer one week per year to paint dilapidated houses is easy. Finding people to love the poor, day in and day out, who live in those houses is extremely difficult. (Corbett & Fikkert, 2009)

Believe me, I'm not trying to be critical of any mission trip you may have been a part of before. My wife and I have been involved in short-term missions for over 20 years and we are just scratching the surface of their potential. But understanding what turns a short-term mission trip from a glorified vacation to a mighty force advancing the Kingdom of God is mission-critical.

And finally, our strategy is a highly relational, time intensive approach. There are not always clear measures of success or of the "return on the investment" - a popular phrase in the United States. Development is fundamentally a messy process that ultimately depends on the reconciling work of Jesus Christ (Col. 1:19–20) and the power of the Holy Spirit. (Corbett & Fikkert, 2009)

That's a lot to take in but if that resonates with you and you would like to a part of our mission team to Honduras, let us know. We'd love to have you join us! Meanwhile, if you'd like to get a head start on preparing your heart for service I recommend the book When Helping Hurts (How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor...and Yourself) by Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert.

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