Tag Archives: missions

Volunteer tourism: Help or Hurt?

[My trip diary will continue on Monday. But this blog presents a related topic.]

I heard a NPR news story about volunteer tourism and who it helps most (listen here). If you have gone on, heard about, or given to short-term missions projects, you likely have considered the question of whether it is really worth the expense. Are locals really being helped when huge amounts of cash must be used to fly and house outsiders on their trip. At times I have wavered. Should this 30,000 dollars be better used by giving it to local ministries and letting them hire local workers to do what outsiders might do.

Sometimes this is true. But there are a few things to consider:

1. The money probably wouldn’t be raised without sending the outsiders.

2. Having outsiders come and see provides much encouragement.

3. Developing world-minded outsiders (read Americans) can have significant and ongoing impact.

4. Some trips are better than others (as the news story suggests) in that giving goes to local ministries. On our recent trip we stayed at ministry guesthouses which support those ministries and provide jobs to local people. We paid small businesses for services whenever possible.

No doubt some trips are harmful, especially when they promise but do not deliver or continue to support imbalance of power. But many trips do significant benefit for all involved.


Filed under Africa

How Does God See the World?

My church is running a Sunday School class on missionary activity around the world. 2 weeks ago, the class watched a video about church planting in the countries of Liberia and surrounding countries and this week, I and another couple presented some information about activities in both West (computer training) and East Africa (trauma recovery through scripture engagement).

The leader of the class, Kurt Wood, brought in a map that was drawn by population size rather than geography. He made an off-hand comment that maybe this was a bit closer to how God sees the world, a focus on the people rather than geographical or political boundaries.

What do you think? Check out this link for another example of a population driven map of the world. Which countries are surprisingly large? Small? In Africa, you see that tiny Rwanda is population dense and Nigeria is huge.

I think it is a helpful reminder even if my country of birth is nothing more than a tiny bit of color on top of the USA. There are a number of other population driven maps that can be found on google images.


Filed under Africa, Missional Church

Must Read: Diane Langberg on “Trauma as a Mission Field”

My supervisor, mentor, and colleague, Dr. Diane Langberg has been telling us for some time that “trauma is the mission field of our time.” Recently, however, a few Christian NGO/Missions leaders have heard this line in one of her talks and have become electrified by it. I cited it last week in a board meeting at Biblical as I was trying to make the case that developing postgraduate trauma training at Biblical fits our mission: following Jesus into the world.

But, some of you have not heard her give one of these talks. For you, I point you to the World Reformed Fellowship website so you can read a report she made on June 5 regarding the problem of trauma and the opportunity of the church to have a hand in healing this man-made scourge. Below is an excerpt of that short report. Do go to the WRF link and read it in its entirety. The report is not long but it is powerful and includes a couple of specific comments from two leaders in Africa.

We are the church. That means we are the body of Jesus Christ and He is our Head. In the physical realm, a body that does not follow its head is a sick body. That is also true in the spiritual realm. We are His people and I believe with all my heart He has called us to go out of ourselves and follow Him into the suffering of this world bearing both His character and His Word. And we do go – we send missionaries and the Scriptures; we provide food, clean water, education and jobs for many. And we should. We have rarely, however, seen trauma as a place of service. If we think carefully about the extensive natural disasters in our time such as earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis and combine those victims with the many manmade disasters – the violent inner cities, wars, genocides, trafficking, rapes, and child abuse we would have a staggering number. I believe that if we would stop and look out on suffering humanity we would begin to realize that trauma is perhaps the greatest mission field of the 21st century.


Filed under Abuse, christian counseling, christian psychology, Christianity, Congo, counseling, counseling skills, Diane Langberg, Great Quotes, missional, Missional Church, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Rwanda

Planning to go on an international missions trip? Listen first!

Despite the 15 inches of snow we got last week, I was still able to travel to Lynchburg, VA to film a training session (part of a DVD training series by the AACC) with Dr. Josh Straub. [HT to my neighbor who lent me his snowblower so I could finish the driveway before leaving and also to Amtrak that got me there when the airlines couldn’t].

Josh and I met in Rwanda on our exploratory efforts in Rwanda and has been leading the way in our grant preparations for the 3-5 year pilot study we wish to do (anyone have 2 mill lying around?]

The essence of our training followed this outline. I’ll give a couple of examples but since the AACC wants to sell it I won’t give the whole of it away…

  1. Common mistakes made by well-meaning helpers
    1. Naive mistakes
      1. thinking any help is better than none; or that because you desire to go…you should
      2. Failing to listen to locals as to felt needs and solutions
    2. Planning mistakes
      1. Failing to plan for sustainability
      2. Failing to explore the impact of your help (does it make the helpees more helpless? Unintended consequences?
    3. Prejudicial mistakes
      1. Assuming the locals are the only needy ones; failing to have a humble learning stance
  2. Characteristics of a culturally competent helper
    1. Ability to listen well, test hypotheses, etc.
    2. humble
    3. able to walk in the shoes of another
    4. able to develop culture specific info before and during the trip
    5. Not one to be running from problem past (abuse, faith issues, etc.
  3. Considering a plan of actions
    1. Developing a learning plan. Read from multiple perspectives about the people and area you plan to serve; Use google alerts for current developments
      1. Consider history of being helped (prior attempts). For example, if you are serving people who suffered under colonial rule, how will you be perceived?
      2. Listen for existing strengths, local leadership, signs of health
    2. Go, listen some more….long enough to hear honest reflections; debrief (we had some really good questions here!)
    3. Develop obtainable goals and objectives with consideration of sustainability and hand-off to local leadership
    4. Consider privacy and confidentiality issues of those whose stories you plan to use for further fundraising
  4. Concluding thoughts
    1. One of the things I said at the end was the repetition of some thoughts by Rev. Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil on John 4. Notice that Jesus’ cross cultural trip to Samaria included his becoming vulnerable to a Samaritan woman (asking her for a drink), asking good questions, avoiding getting caught up in a political debate, and ultimately ending up with the woman being empowered to bring her fellow villagers to Jesus. You know you have done well when you seen the people you help becoming empowered to lead their own people.


Filed under christian counseling, Christianity, Missional Church

When our attempts to love our neighbor actually increase harm

Christians from time immemorial place great value in bring the “cup of cold water” mercy to those in need. Contrary to the human tendency to care first for self, Christians are called to take up their cross and follow Christ to love their neighbor as theirself.  At this point in the summer, American Christians are going in droves for short and longer missions trips to their near and far neighbors. My own church has groups in Guatemala, London, North Philly, and several other regions in Africa. Sometimes the project is physical and other times the project is relational and spiritual.

But have you thought about some of the potential dangers in going to our far neighbors? Here’s some potential problems:

1. The wrong help. People who go on missions trips have a high desire to serve and help the other. But if the group going does not fully understand the problem, need, and solution to the problem, it could lead the locals to try dangerous solutions or discourage them from trying since previous group activities weren’t helpful. We need to do our homework first rather than assume we know what they need.  

2. Stereotyping. The helper and helpee tend to play particular roles. One active with power, the other passive and waiting. Even when the helpee knows they need to be active they can become passive because they haven’t been allowed to be part of the decision-making process. Or, the helpee can become suspicious that the primary reason for the outsider is for their own benefit. They can add up the massive amounts of money spent on flying folks there and putting them up and imagine that that sum of money might be better spent if it were just sent without people.

Don’t mistake my raising these two problems as my opinion that we shouldn’t go on foreign missions trips. My life was changed on a summer missions trip in 1983. Lord willing, I hope to be going to Rwanda next May to explore the current needs of that country in regards to the genocide trauma. But, if we aren’t careful we do more damage than good. Our good intentions are not enough. We must learn as much as possible about the life and needs of the other (from their point of view!) and recognize that we do not yet know enough to help without that learning. Further, we must find locals who have dreams and desires for healing that can carry it out and can benefit from what we can offer. Otherwise, it may be better not to go than to go and raise hopes or offer superficial help that only serves to harden hearts from needed help.


Filed under Christianity, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, Missional Church

Teen Missions Int’l feature in Christianity Today

The print version of February’s Christianity Today arrived at my home. In it is a short story about Teen Missions International(TMI) based in Merritt Island, FL.  I can’t find the article on the web yet, but here’s why I enjoyed seeing the pictures and reading the short story:

24 years ago (1983) I reluctantly agreed with my parents to register for a TMI summer missions team. I would be giving up the summer between my junior and senior years in high-school to go with a group of teens somewhere in the world in order to do construction and evangelism. Why didn’t I want to go? I wouldn’t be able to train for the fall cross-country season and I was intent on being the #2 runner on the team (#1 was impossible since he was the New England regional champ). So, I set limits. I would go only if I got my first choice: Austria. Not sure why that was my first choice having never been to Europe. I would only go if the money I raised came in without me having to do much asking, since I hated sales. Well, I got my first choice and the money “magically” appeared within very short order. So I had to go.

I know that some have significant doubts about the value of short-term missions trips. Is it worth the cost? Who really benefits? And while the concerns are not without merit, I am fully persuaded that the summer of 1983 changed the course of my life. No, I wasn’t on the road to drugs and alcohol. But, the faith of my parents really hadn’t become mine. But by the end, I had begun to mature in my faith and committed myself to some sort of full-time Christian service.

So, what is this TMI, you might be asking. Youth and adults join teams at Merritt Island, FL. You live in tents for 2 weeks in a true bootcamp environment. The water smells like rotten eggs. There are chiggers and mosquitoes. Daily, you do bible study, learn construction skills (e.g., laying brick, mixing cement, digging footers), and train as a team on a serious obstacle course. No phones, no ipods. You wash in a bucket and you flush with a bucket. You wear work-boots all the time. Then after 2 weeks of work and bonding, you gather your army bags and travel with your team to your part of the world for the rest of the summer to do whatever your team intended to do. My team traveled to Austria by plane and train. We were to begin construction of a building for a ministry to addicts (if memory serves). We had all sorts of trouble with the site (mud slides) but accomplished building some of the base structure. We did some evangelism. But the largest construction was to our souls. I went from knowing about Christ to knowing Christ. When you are out of your comfort zone and away from family, you have the opportunity to consider your life, your values, and are primed to hear from the Lord.

There are a million great stories and experiences (e.g., riding the train across Germany at night only sitting on a jump seat, being accosted by a hoodlum in the train station, staying up all night to shoot scenes in a film called, “Blood, Sweat, and Cheers”, bathing in a ice cold stream and using pit toilets in the woods). I won’t bore you with them but they were life shaping. You cannot easily live the same once you see the world from the perspective of another. You cannot easily live the same when you expose yourself to the larger Kingdom of God.

I still have one friend from that summer who drops by this site.  Maybe Don will give his take on the time. Oh, I came back weighing about 25 lbs less due to a food shortage on the team and because of the muscle loss, I was fourth on the x-country team. Disappointing but in the scope of things, not important.

If you ever have the opportunity to send a youth to this (or go as an adult), take the chance. It will change your life.


Filed under missional, stories