Two weeks from this moment I am scheduled to be on a flight from Miami to Port-au-Prince, Haiti. This will be my ninth trip to Haiti which has become a significant part of my life and my ministry. I serve as Children’s Home director for Mountain Faith Mission of Haiti, which in essence allows me the opportunity to work along side our missionaries and serve the students who live full time there.
I don’t do anything specifically on the Haitian side of things but instead have the pleasure of working in the states to help raise funds for the every day functions of MFM. Goals include finding people to support the children’s home by donating monthly and essentially sponsoring an individual student. While the students are taken care of regardless of having a sponsor, the $30 comes in handy for curbing the every day cost. Likewise, my church took on the project to do some children’s home renovations earlier this year to work on bathrooms, shower, and roofing issues.
So trip number nine brings an exciting element to me. My wife is making her first trip with me this time. She has always desired to go, but because of having a teaching degree and always going at the beginning of September we have never set it up for her to go. She wouldn’t be able to miss school at the very start. Ironically, she has yet to actually have a job as school starts due to the awesome teacher job market in our area right now. This year we bit the bullet and are very excited to serve together.
I am enjoying watching the excitement come up in her. Two weeks out and she is already packing. It is fun to watch, but also creates even more excitement in me as well. I am ready for the people who have been wonderful friends to me over the past five years to meet my better half. I am ready for her to fall in love with the students in the children’s home.
So I was thinking of ways to prepare someone to go to Haiti. What should one know ? How do you prepare for a trip to Haiti which finds itself in the news as a dangerous and poverty stricken area?
Here are some thoughts…
1. Know the culture.
All too often it seems that we in America decide to go and visit a nation without being knowledgeable about who they are. Haiti is not St. Louis, Missouri. This goes deeper than knowing that they speak a different language and that there was an earthquake in 2010. Instead, one should be familiar with how the culture lives. For instance, there are conservative people in Haiti. I haven’t figured out if it’s a result of American missionaries in the 1900′s or if it is something see, but the area where we go in Central Haiti is conservative when it comes to Christianity. I had my wedding ring looked at and was told “pa bon,” or “no good.” While I think my wedding ring is fine and dandy, I don’t wear it down there anymore. I want to show them that I respect them, their culture, and their way of life. A friend of mine who goes has tattoos on his arms. This is again not part of the culture of the Christian people we minister to, so he wears long sleeves all week. Likewise, the area we are in, the women wear skirts all the time and the men don’t wear shorts. We live with them in this manner while we are there. This is THEIR culture. In Port-au-Prince, it is different. But when we are with them, we respect their culture and do as they do.
2. Don’t do things to stand out.
I have heard of many people who take missions trips to haiti and other places who fall into the trap of thinking that it is necessary for a giant group of white Americans to wear brightly colored matching t-shirts. You can check out multiple sources of missionaries who discourage this thought process. In the case of Haiti, you already stand out because you are white. This can be compounded by having thirty people wearing neon green shirts. You won’t lose someone…I promise.
Coupled with this is the ideas and concepts that you promote on your t-shirt. I have seen shirts that say stuff about saving Haiti and rebuilding Haiti and whatnot. There’s even a new movement with the slogan “Vacation To Save A Nation.” The way that we talk about things and present ourselves in another culture is sometimes repulsive.
I have stayed at a few guesthouses in PAP during my visits and without fail, when more than one group is there it seems that the two groups continually share stories trying to one up another. “We built 83 houses and fed 4500 people!” While the other group is talking about the 9600 people they gave clean water to.
I don’t want to sound cynical, but what a group does in 7 days in haiti, or wherever, is not bringing total redemption to the nation. Any many times, sometimes it does more harm than good… Keeping our role in perspective, we go quietly, serve humbly, and learn from those who live there…either American or Haitian. We are simply blessed enough to see what God is doing around the world.
3. Have the correct perspectives.
I feel like I touched on this in the previous point, but it’s essential. Perspective in working with a place like Haiti is essential. This is why study is essential before a trip like this. My wife will be reading When Helping Hurts by Brian Fikkert. This book is essential to developing a correct view on how to serve the poor without being detrimental. Is it wrong to send down shoes to a place like Haiti? Probably more than you think. Is it detrimental to go and build a house the way that we want? Venturing to say very much so in this one. My favorite…what about building a water filtration system for the people? Are we willing to do more than just build it and supply it, such as doing education on the upkeep and maintenance of the filter. How can you hit the root problem of the issue? How can you create jobs? This book, as well as Walking With The Poor are essential for Christians to read to help change the perspective we have towards working with places like Haiti.
While it is hard to reduce all of preparing for Haiti to these three areas, I think it is a good place to start. At the risk of sounding cynical, I think the American church is messing up short term missions trips more often than not. I don’t have it figured out on how to do them right, but I am trying and want to do everything that I can to get there.
Tomorrow, I hope to post some inside views of missionaries who have shaped my thinking on the issue. They are in the trenches and looking to improve the way STMs are done.
Have you taken a STM and how would you define one as being successful?