Confession #72: We Are Handing Them The Line
We at Emmaus House are grateful for the love and support many of you have given to our youth over the years. Those efforts have succeeded in many ways to give our youth hope for a better future. And for that, we are beyond thankful. We invite you, now, to work together with us to create new solutions for our future- solutions that will help us towards a better way of ministry as Jesus did. We long for a ministry where we love, give, (and not give) even when it is difficult, and where the love of the gospel is what we share with them the most.
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Today I decided to take a step back instead of a step forward.
I had a post for the day mostly completed about the various setbacks, developmental delays, dependency issues, and relational difficulties I see in our teens. That way it could be easier for us all to connect the dots as to how we as foreigners can contribute to these issues if not aware, and how we can wisely observe these issues in those we are trying to help and therefore help them better.
I decided to postpone those ideas for tomorrow, however, because I fear as though yesterday’s post may have caused some to question my motive- or perhaps that of Emmaus House.
So today, please allow me the opportunity to sit with you for a while and graciously explain myself, because my last intent through this series was not to offend, harm, or push.
My purpose in writing this series was bathed in much prayer- I want you to know. I chose to write first and foremost because I see the value in being honest in what we are facing with our teens at Emmaus House. I don’t want to sugar coat our issues with them. And I want to get to the heart of the matter. Just like when you go to the doctor, if you only treat the symptoms and never learn the underlying problem then your sickness may never improve. I don’t want that for our teens. I want us (all of us) to understand the underlying problems they are facing so that we all can be a part of their healing process. Not just me and Hunter, our Haitian staff, or our board of directors- but everyone who has been called to be a part of Emmaus House in some big or small way. I want us all to be of one accord.
The three core issues I have reiterated twice in my blog series so far (1. Not coming to be the hero 2. Poverty is not primarily a material problem and 3. Understanding the psyche of an orphan) are issues I do believe the church needs to consider as it serves others oversees. Without healthy deliberation, I do see the consequences at hand.
Jean Johnson said it best in her book We Are Not The Hero: A Missionary’s Guide for Sharing Christ, Not a Culture of Dependency:
Why do we, as North American Christians, give? Assuming that guilt over “having too much” is not part of the equation- and it often is- some of the incentives that motivate us to give are thankfulness, obedience, faith, empathy, compassion, and a sense of responsibility for God’s kingdom on earth and in our communities. Yet our giving, which is compelled by healthy incentives, often undoes those same incentives in the recipients. Our one-way, bountiful giving often diminishes thankfulness, obedience, faith, empathy, compassion, and a sense of responsibility in the lives of those who receive from us. In other words, we may be unintentionally turning much of the world into victims, lifelong recipients who will not make the transition into giving themselves. While we develop our capacity for helping, we destroy their capacity for self- development (135).
I appreciate Johnson’s words for many reasons. Mostly, though, because she acknowledges that we give with good incentives. We give because our heartstrings have been pulled, because we have compassion, and because we want to be obedient to the gospel. Yet giving is not a one-way street. And although we may have good intentions on our end, we may be unintentionally causing those we give to to become a more dependent people.
I asked Gerome once (our right-hand man here at Emmaus House), “If you could give any advice to American teams who come to Haiti to work with your people, what would you say?”
He laughed, “Oh, this is a big question!”
After thinking for a while he made an expression as if a light bulb just went on in his head. “I would say this,” he said as he sat up straight in his chair. “Fellowship is the number one thing we need. If you have a real friend that you fellowship with a lot, then you will want him to be able to catch his own fish. But if you don’t have fellowship with him a lot, you may just offer to catch his fish for him. If you do that, all your friend is going to do is sit on the boat on his butt and do nothing. The more you fish for him, the more he is going to feel as if he can’t do anything for himself. A lot of teams do this. A lot of Americans come to fish for us.”
I have seen this happen over and over again in Haiti. Haiti is full Haitians relying on blans (white people) to fish for them. And we, full of compassion, love, and good intentions fish for them. But at the end of the day, Haiti is left with more dependent people who don’t want to take care of themselves because they know we will do it for them.
And currently, these are the issues we are facing at Emmaus House. Our teens have had people fish for them for so long, that now they don’t know/want/feel as though they should have to fish for themselves. And as teens about to embark on adulthood here in Haiti- a country in which is not abounding in opportunity- they need to quickly learn to stand firmly on their own two feet. But that can only be made possible if we get to the root of their issues, heal from the inside out, coat them in grace, stop giving when it hurts, stop making promises we can’t keep, and hand them over the fishing line.
One rule of thumb I always like to follow comes from one of my favorite books, When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert: Do not do things for people that they can do for themselves. Memorize this, recite it under your breath all day long, and wear it like a garland around your neck. Every time you are engaged in poverty-alleviation ministry, keep this at the forefront for your mind, for it can keep you from doing all sorts of harm (109-110).
We, at Emmaus House, are trying to hang this wisdom around our necks when it comes to the way we run our ministry here in Haiti. We want our teens to grow up and be strong enough to do things for themselves. We want to break the cycle of dependency in which they, like a majority of their culture, have found themselves entrapped in. And because this is such a mighty ambition- asking our teens to be counterculture and all- we need your understanding, your support, and your help.
I invite you to keep reading with me through the rest of the week as I share more about the developmental/psychological struggles of our teens and later my ideas and suggestions for how we can truly be of help without being a contributor to the problem.
- For readings from writers who have put all of this into words MUCH better than my own, please see: