Thursday, October 21, 2010

Advice for missionaries

This was recently posted to the Corbett Haiti list by a missionary in Haiti, Corrigan Clay, who works with this interesting project / The Apparent Project

I repost it with his permission.

In my experience, the "short term missions team" is no homogenous
species, but a wide variety of people from various demographics with
very unique objectives and strategies for accomplishing those
objectives. In my limited time in Haiti (I've lived here since 2008
with previous visits in 2007), I have seen short term projects that
have destroyed years of labor that had been done by faithful, long
term, in-country missionaries & NGOs, and I have seen projects that
quickly and successfully overcame socio-economic barriers that seem to
have been around for years. There have been teams that come with
minds full of preconceptions about the Haitian people that leave with
the same opinions and self-congratulatory expertise about a culture
whose language they haven't even learned. There have been teams that
have left with more friends than they came with, that have learned
Creole before coming, and have gone home humbled and challenged by the
joy, faith, and hope of their new found Haitian friends. Service
groups are a mixed bag... like a trail mix... their contents are
sometimes sweet, sometimes salty, and occasionally a little rotten.

Our mission ( has shifted over the years,
beginning with the intention to start an orphanage to address the
needs of a special handful of Haiti's "500,000 orphans". After living
in an orphanage for a year we learned the grim truth that the vast
majority of Haiti's so-called "orphans" were actually children with
living parents that loved them but just struggled to provide for their
basic needs. We saw that the cost of one adoption could have provided
enough seed money to start sustainable businesses for ALL of the
parents of the 24 children in the orphanage we worked at.
This gave us pause about the ethics of the adoption/creche industry in
Haiti, and as we sought to obey the Biblical mandate to care for
orphans and widows, we shuddered at the thought that the system of
orphan care so advocated by most Christians was not only not
stewarding resources well to address the orphan crisis, but was likely
causing the abandonment of countless children by creating an orphan

This is why we made a drastic shift towards job creation, home
building and empowerment of Haitian families. Instead of a colonial
paradigm (seize, commodify, consume, and justify) we took on Jesus'
way of doing business: living amongst those we hoped to help, knowing
their stories, affirming their worth, tending to their felt needs,
depending on them as much as they depend on us, and giving out our
power and resources so that they could begin to find some equality.
The effect is a congenial plundering of the colonizers. We play
polite Robin Hood... By selling recycled paper jewelry to North
Americans we are effectively selling Haiti's "fatra" to Americans who
have a "disposable" income. It's working quite well. We continue to
have less supply than demand, and we will likely be situated to
employ many more people very soon.

Long story short, it was a short term team that really kick-started
our artisan program. A few college students from the States came to
teach 3 or 4 women how to make jewelry according to an internationally
marketable standard. This short term initiative has blossomed into a
program that provides employment, education, and housing for more than
50 families who were previously at risk for relinquishing their

We have had other short term projects that have also provided long
term benefits, like the team that built a chicken roost for us that
now provides our artisans and hungry people in our neighborhood with
eggs and some young men with the opportunity to learn sustainable
urban agro-business. Other teams have taught other marketable skills
such as sewing, carpentry, teacher-training, and computer literacy.
These short intensive trainings have provided long term employment in
some cases.

The teams that we have hosted that have been more of a burden are
those that come with more interest in being served than serving, or
who have come with an attitude of superiority. The latter is
especially evident in groups bent on delivering "the Gospel" to a
people "bound in spiritual darkness". These are often groups that have
no Haitian friends, speak no Creole, and have likely never been to
Haiti for an extended period of time. They don't know that many of
our Haitian friends own only one book (Bib La) and they read it quite
often. They don't know that many Haitians worship in their churches
twice a day every day of the week. They often don't know what it is
like to give up food so that their neighbor can eat, or to pray for
somebody's healing long BEFORE calling a doctor. They have never
lived in a country where the president calls for 3 days of prayer,
fasting, and public repentance. They haven't experienced a spiritual
life that is enriched by vivid visions or powerful encounters with
spiritual forces. They haven't stopped to think that when Jesus said
he came to "announce Good News to the Poor" that that may have meant
that the poor might have a better grip of His message than the
over-resourced. They weren't here to hear the echoes of "adore'"
resounding in the hills as Haitians who had just lost homes and family
members thanked Bon Dye for his mercy and confessed their enduing love
for Him.

Haitians, no matter their faith, have lived in an environment and
context much closer to that of the first audience of the Biblical
text. That alone should cause Christian mission groups to come with
an objective of mutual exchange and dialogue or sharing , rather than
an attitude of conquest. Don't get me wrong, If I were a Haitian
citizen, I'd be voting Jesus for president, he's the only worthy
candidate. But he's not American, and his Kingdom comes through the
meek, not through the gregarious flash of 35 Neon T-shirts proclaiming
that Haiti's messianic service team has just arrived to save the day.
A friend of mine saw a group in the airport that had shirts that
said, "Jesus came to earth to save me, We're coming to Haiti to save
you." I can't even write that without a little bit of puke coming up
into my throat. it's that kind of service group that makes me... a
long term Christian missionary and somebody who is eternally thankful
for Jesus coming to save me... embarrassed and nervous. And to those
of you who are Haitians who don't share my faith, it also makes me

As somebody who regularly hosts short term missions teams in our guest
house in Port Au Prince, I hope that more people respond to Mr.
Durban's question. We encourage visiting teams to focus on training
and equipping, providing Haitians lasting employment, and building
intercultural relationships. I share the concern with a previous
poster who noted that many teams are taking away potential jobs from
Haitians (esp.. the thousands of Boss Masons), but I also see a steady
stream of resources into the nation which might not otherwise come.
For example, the house building teams are far more likely to pay for a
home that they are coming to build than to send an equivalent
donation... and they are much more likely to advocate for Haiti after
visiting in person than if they just sent a check to an organization.

The other unfortunate hang up I see is that because of the culture of
corruption (which I observe not only in the elite ruling class, but
amongst the poor as well) there are many people who will not donate
money to an organization without the kind of accountability that only
comes through a personal visit or a hands on project. That is
ultimately why we have such disunity and slowness to act in the
reconstruction effort, with everybody making strong arguments about
who should be in control of reconstruction resources, etc. Until there
is a much higher threshold of trust, I don't think the inefficiency of
outsiders coming with their own projects and agendas will yield to a
more efficient, straight donation of resources.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for re-posting. I would like to see this message get a wider audience.

Anonymous said...

How dare you say that Haitians have no spiritual life. What you mean is that they do not have YOUR spiritual life