Fall is upon us! I have been in denial, sounding quite a bit like many of the summer-cravers around this part of the country. We left for Ecuador in late August, full of the summery warm weather in our hearts. Ecuador did not let us down in the weather department either. We had a bit of warm, tropical rains but they were more refreshing than gloomy. Somewhere between leaving Quito and landing in Portland, the Fall switch was flipped. I have dug in my heels and clung to my summer idea for a couple of weeks now but who am I kidding? School has started, rain is falling and the crisp Autumn air greets me every morning. Don't get me wrong. I love Fall. It may just be my favorite time of the year. I love all things Autumn like scarves, colorful leaves, spiced baking, and the "chai tea weather." So even though on some level my internal calendar says there must be a few weeks of summer left, I will embrace what surrounds me.
Yesterday I made some caramel apple muffins, (soon to be on my cooking blog) and today I snapped a few final pictures of the girls playing on the deck. We don't get much use of the back yard during the rainy months, so these may be it for a while. Just to go along with our seasonal theme, it started to rain as we played. The girls giggled and tried to eat the rain drops and I said to myself, ready or not.....here comes the rain!
Karalee wanted us to take a picture like "mom and dad do" =)
Well it has been almost a week since we have returned from our 10 days in Ecuador. It has taken me a while to put into words an accurate summary of our trip. Everyone we see, text, Facebook or talk to on the phone asks us about our trip. The question, always the same, sounds something like, "What did you do while you were there? Did you finish your project?"
Nolan and I have been on a combined total of 19 short-term mission trips all over the map. For every other trip we've been on, this question has had an easy answer. "We built a house, we led a camp, we assembled a church, we remodeled the bathroom..." Each trip left us feeling very full, knowing that we had completed a "mission" of providing a service for the area we visited. However, after returning from a week with Steve Saint, hearing his heart and perspective on missions, we return with a new perspective. This changed perspective compels us to share with other North Americans, that we need to be careful.
North Americans (myself definitely included) like to be productive. We measure success by our accomplishments and by the amount of things we can check off of a list. If you are like me, you add "make a list" to your check list so that you can feel productive in checking something off right away. =) Unfortunately, we take this mindset with us on the mission field. We approach our trip with a task in mind and often isolate ourselves from the community we are trying to reach. We accomplish our goal, with our team by our side and hand over the set of keys at the end of the week. Somehow, this makes us feel that we've made a difference for good. We've given people something we think they need and in our opinion will make their lives better.We have approached it with our world view, our culture and our priorities as the guide.
One story Steve shared with us went something like this....A missions organization took a team to a small town in another country. They wanted to bless them with generosity in hopes of showing them the love of Christ. They took their team and built a house for the most destitute person they met. At the end of the week, I imagine they went home feeling pretty good about themselves. They had spent their break getting their hands dirty, bonding as a team, seeing how "poor" others were and coming back with a dissolving memory of poverty in light of their blessings. What they didn't know, was that the town they were trying to reach was disgusted by this "act of kindness." The team had built a house for the laziest man in the community. The man who had taken no initiative to provide for himself. This man now had the best house in town. The people came together and burned it down.
We often approach missions with the "what will this trip do for us" mentality. It will bond our youth group. It will show this 30 something person what they have to be grateful for. It will spur this 50 year old to donate more of his business profits to a missions organization. What we don't realize is that we are often using these trips to benefit ourselves with a complete disregard for the long term affect that our "outreach" has on the visited community.
Giving freely of our time and resources to these impoverished communities makes us feel good. We somehow feel like we are reducing our "selfish-imprint' in life. The growing trend is to just send our money to help. In our support letter, I sited this quote. “Give a man a fish and you have fed him a meal. Teach him to fish and you have fed him for a life-time. Teach him how to make fishing tackle and boats so he can teach others, and everyone in the village will be fed.” The people of the world want to be taught and inspired to do things themselves. It would go along way if we partnered with the communities we visited, working alongside them rather than doing everything for them. In Steve's Book, The Great Omission, he sights some brief reasons why giving without connection or personal investment really does hurt the greater goal. The following is one example.
-Personal Devaluation: If people are always given things, they begin to expect the things, thereby negating personal dreams or aspirations of climbing out of their current condition. Always being on the receiving end encourages believers to see themselves as incompetent, unable to learn even if they did decide they wanted to.
Don't get me wrong. This doesn't mean to stop donating to your mission fund at church or never giving to another short term trip again. I am only asking you to look at the goal and heart of missions as we see it. We are called to go and make disciples AS WE GO. Steve likens it to a relay race. We should go with the gospel, and teach them about the word of God. It is then our job to pass them the baton so that they can reach their communities and lead their churches. "Missions is the scaffolding that helps build the local church. It is temporary and should never be cemented in place." (p.168, The Great Omission.) Over the course of this trip, the following mission method was shared with us.
KNOW God yourself. GO to where He needs to be preached. SHOW them how to follow God. BLOW: Leave to start the process again in another place.
"The objective of missions is to plant an indigenous church that is self-propagating, self-governing, and self-supporting. The most spiritually critical thing we can do is help with the part that is most lacking. If they need jobs, [help them] start a business; don't build them a church or a seminary building." (p. 165, The Great Omission.)
It is safe to say that Nolan and I now have a new passion/desire to reflect on the motive and product behind both short-term and long-term missions. We want to make sure that we are not training people to think that they are inferior because they lack the fancy tools and huge teams that come and do their work in a fraction of a time. We don't want to stifle their growth by conditioning them to believe that they should wait for the "professionals" of North America to come and [teach, disciple, build, evangelize] better than they can.
So, how was our trip? It revolutionized the way we look at missions. We helped the people of Shell, Ecuador in building a project. We partnered with them on the job site, letting them lead us. We learned their names. We came alongside of them and their vision to provide jobs and training for their own people. We built relationships and fellowshipped with their local church. We made them feel valued and equipped to do the job that God has given them as a church. We loved them. And in that, we were successful!