The Purpose of Missions is Not to “Fix” or “Save”
Summer is coming to a close. And the crowded city streets packed by oversized trucks with short-term mission teams in the bed are staring to slow down. Although teams come to Haiti year round, summer is by far our country’s busiest season to host foreigners who come to serve.
And that’s great.
And it’s not.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell.
There’s been a significant amount of open dialogue lately concerning the efficiency of short-term missions. Which is wonderful and much needed. If you’ve followed my blog for a while you know I teeter the fence. I am a product of short-term missions. Years of coming to serve in Haiti for a week or two out of my summers was what cultivated my love for this country and my calling to live here full time. If it weren’t for those visits, I may have never moved to the orphanage. Never have met my oldest two children. Never helped to start Emmaus House.
I’ve also seen a lot of harm done in Haiti by the constant ins and outs of mission teams. A country now rooted in dependency is just the heart of the issue. Teams come and give. Haitians take and wait for the next team to arrive. Over and over again.
One of the greatest advices someone ever gave me concerning short-term missions offended me for quite sometime. As a young college student I didn’t understand the wisdom behind the words and stewed over them for years.
It was the night before our flight to Haiti and my co-leader took time to share his final thoughts to our team before we dispersed to bed.
“I know some of you have been to Haiti before,” he said. “But for most of you, this will be your first time. Regardless, I want you all to remember something.”
Everyone leaned it, certain his words would inspire us all.
“We will get to help a lot of people on this trip,” he continued. “But we will only be here for ten days. The people we meet will be poor when we get there, and they will be poor when we leave. In ten days we will not be able to change that. And that is okay.”
He went on, but I didn’t pay him a bit of attention. I couldn’t. I was too flustered. What does he mean we can’t solve poverty? If we can’t go and fix people’s problems, then what’s the point in going at all?
As you can tell, however, his words stuck with me. Stuck because although I refused to admit it for a long time, deep down I knew he was right.
Haiti is going to be Haiti when we arrive. And Haiti will be Haiti when we leave. There is nothing I can do about that. And that is okay.
Okay because it is not my job to “fix” Haiti.
Okay because it is not my job to “save” people.
Okay because this world is broken and only Jesus can make right of all the wrong.
I remember one time a visitor asked Hunter what it would take to change Haiti. Hunter knew what they were expecting. They wanted a tangible response that could fit into their mission’s budget at church. A project they could commit to. Maybe more orphanages or water wells or schools.
“You want my honest answer?” Hunter probed them.
“Sure,” they replied.
“The only thing that will change Haiti completely will be Christ’s return,” he said honestly.
And that isn’t just true of Haiti. It is truth for the whole world full of problems. Jesus is our only true hope at fixing it all.
Until then, people will be poor when you come and people will be poor when you leave.
So what’s the point?
Where’s the hope?
It is God himself who has made us what we are and given us new lives from Christ Jesus; and long ago he planned that we should spend these lives in helping others. (Ephesians 2: 10, TLB)
The purpose of missions isn’t to “fix” or “save”. The purpose is to use the new lives we have received in Christ Jesus to help others. Helping others responsibly. Guided by wisdom. Full of love. Without hurting. With Jesus as the Savior, not us.
It’s that simple.
And it’s also that complicated.
But so worth it if we learn to do it right.