Archive for the ‘Missions’ Category

Where Are All the Workers?

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

More than just travelling, I am on a fact finding quest for what types of work God’s people are doing throughout the world.

The ministries I have seen so far are numerous, but they all boil down to one common theme: sharing Christ with others.  Distributing spiritual bread of life.  Some help physically as well, but all try to help spiritually.

Whenever I meet those who appear to have the hand of God working noticeably in their lives, I observe a common theme.  They all ask the same question, “Where are all the workers?”  They might even add, “Where are any workers?”

They say: “We need help!” 

They say: “We could use you to come volunteer with us… for a week, for a month, or even better…. (gasp) three months!”

They say, “If you would, please consider coming a year.”

But I’ve never yet heard anyone ask, “Would you consider coming the rest of your life?”  They already know the answer… very few want to commit long term.

I’ve seen another theme:  Those with the most fruit in their ministries are those who have stayed in one place long term.  If you plant a tree, it takes a while for it to mature where fruit appears.  And it takes longer before bunches of fruit regularly forms.  Maybe years.  I have been struck incredibly by this fact.

I encourage anyone to go and see the need first hand. If you don’t have the money for an expensive short terms missions trip, I would encourage you to travel independently and visit somewhere, it doesn’t have to cost that much. 

I’m compelled by the spiritual need I see. But I’m also compelled by the physical needs I see. Refugees with no home, job, or future. People who are thin and hungry. Destitute widows. Oppressed orphans. Children from the street.

I’ve met all these. To me, each of these issues has a face and a name. Each of these issues has looked me in the eyes and seen me as a source of hope. They all ask (literally), “Nick, when are you coming back?” And I move on.

Their eyes ask, “Would you please help … me?”

100_0132

I am having so many experiences it’s difficult to process them. But if I stop long and reflect, I just want to cry. I don’t even know where that girl currently is in the picture above. Her name is Yahnsomma, last news I heard she was missing.

Bon Bagay! A Missionary Interview

Saturday, September 24th, 2011

“Haiti is known as a missionary graveyard.  The burnout rate here is high.”  I was talking with a long-term missionary about what he found most discouraging working in Haiti over the years. 

He continued, “When the going gets rough, people often bail.  It’s discouraging to see fellow workers beat down and ‘run out of town.’  That shouldn’t happen.  Why does it?  Perhaps one reason is because people frequently come running from something instead of running to something.” 

“Physically this place isn’t that bad to live in,” he added, “there are nice cafes, beautiful beaches, cell phones, and easy access to internet [perhaps a rosier picture than I would paint] but spiritually the only way one can make it here is to have a personally vibrant relationship with the Lord and be relationally plugged in with fellow believers encouraging each other.”  

“There are a lot of people doing good things in Haiti.  Yet it’s so important for us to not forget this: our ministries are not our message.  An orphanage isn’t the message and a feeding program isn’t the message.  The message is Christ.  When we forget that, we become mere social workers.”

I continued the interview by asking how open he felt Haitians were to the message of Christ. 

“Haiti is a very religious place,” he answered.  “The frequency and fervency of Haitian prayer and worship would put a lot of American Christianity to shame.  But while the openness of Haitians to hear the gospel and be taught from the Bible is high, the openness to seriously respond to Christ and put him first in their lives is very low.” 

He added, “This is one reason small group discipleship is so important here.  There are teams who come, hold a rally, and get professions from hundreds if not thousands of people.  But generally these professions leave no lasting inner change.”

I asked how he came to Haiti originally.  “I was led to Haiti,” he responded.  “I don’t claim to be called to Haiti, but I’ve been led here.  A calling isn’t something I’m sure I understand, because for me God has led one step at a time, never placed a calling on my life to just one place.”

“People do frequently ask if I’m concerned about safety living here.  I believe that’s the wrong question to ask.  The real question is whether I’m doing what God wants me to be doing.  Because that will always be the safest place. 

Daniel was safe in the lion’s den and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were safe in the fiery furnace.  Even Stephen was safe in God’s hands while being stoned, and Jesus was safe in God’s hands while hanging on the cross.  So the question isn’t, ‘How safe is it here,’ but, ‘are we doing what God wants us to be doing?’”

I was encouraged by our short visit and glad he got up at 6am to personally meet with me before I headed out to catch my bus to the DR.  That meant a lot!

So I say, “Bon Bagay!”  (literally, “good things,” but they use it here sometimes as emphasis for an ending…)

Being Overwhelmed With Circumstances

Monday, April 4th, 2011

Normal is what we’re used to.  When things are going worse than normal, we complain.  At least, I complain.  But when faced with those less fortunate, it readjusts our thinking of what normal really is and makes us give pause before complaining.

I took the following two pictures on the same day, March 18th.  One in the morning, one in the afternoon.  Both define "normal," but for different people.  One is downtown Port-au Prince.  The other downtown Miami.

street_in_port-au_prince_haiti

downtown_miami_skyscrapers_tall_buildings

Some of the emotions I felt in Haiti are hard to describe.  Seeing a picture doesn’t capture the feeling.  Like the difference between getting shot at in real life and watching Band of Brothers while downing pop and chips.

When I tell people about Haiti, I give them highlights from my trip, because there isn’t time to recount everything.  But telling the highlights, the quick story, seems to cheapen the feelings somehow. 

Yesterday (Sunday), I spent several hours with a friend who shared with me in depth about a major experience he is currently going through.  This situation was a positive one for him, and he is excited about it, but it has also been an emotional roller coaster.  He told me he’s been overcome with feelings and wept freely in a way he never has before.  His wife, who’s known him for years, has never seen him affected like this.  In fact, we both got choked up as he told me about what all’s going on. 

My friends’ story was inspiring, touching, and I felt privileged to be one of the first people he told.  I won’t say more, because I don’t want to steal his thunder.  But my point is this, I know in the future a lot of people will ask him for his story, and I wonder if it’s going to be hard for him?  Hard to share something so personal over and over in a nonchalant, conversational way?  There are things that take time and a personal context to share.  And maybe some things we don’t even want to share, too personal to share.  Things we would prefer "treasuring in our hearts."

While some are rejoicing (like my friend), others are mourning. 

Yesterday, Emily Milroy wrote a post describing some deep, core-shaking experiences she’s just come through this past month in her visit to Asia.  She was brought face to face with desperate circumstances in an orphanage for mentally handicapped children, and is still reeling.  Honestly, what could be worse than children in abject circumstances, not loved, physically ill, and mentally ill besides?  It’s too much to take in:

I thought it would be Africa where I would hold a child moaning out because they were starving to death, but it was in C****…children living in a place where there is an 86% mortality rate, where [children] get 2 meals a day, and each meal 4 bowls of food to split among 14 children.

Where when you feed them you have to guard the food because the kids that can walk will come up and grab handfuls out of the bowl…where children eat other children’s throw up, poop off the ground, and sleep on a piece of wood with no mattress tangled up with two other children because there is not enough space…

Where their little arms and legs are so skinny and they are so incredibly malnourished you can barely make sense of what is in front of you. Where there are not real diapers but a stretchy string around their waist with a diaper material or just any plastic tucked into it as a diaper.

For the first time in my life struggling to pray for healing over a child… instead please Jesus just take them to be with you because the moaning coming from them because they are hurting is too much….

My teammates had a baby pass away they named Jude and struggled with his death but also knowing now this little one wont suffer starvation. The death of a baby who received no proper funeral service and no mother or father brother or sister to care…  the emotions of watching that happen are just impossible to type out.

…my world was completely changed… my heart completely broken.

I broke down crying sometimes looking at the food I was eating for dinner and the rights I felt that I had to eat whatever I wanted (in not liking the spicy food is what I am talking about) because I thought of those little children. Sure I may not have liked it but it was food and I should be more grateful. So the rest of the month I may not have liked the food in C**** but I never complained again and I was so grateful that God provided it.

The feeling of wanting to help so badly, seeing the forgotten children and people in this place, seeing pain like I have never seen before…not knowing what to think of it all and feeling like I wasn’t doing enough… learning that through it all God is still God. So much of my human thinking needed to be abandoned to not get overwhelmed and run away from things I didn’t understand, things that in a month I could not change. In many ways I had to abandon my past ways of thinking… (source)

Sometimes the breakers of life hit us, and we’re overwhelmed.  The friend I mentioned earlier was overwhelmed, in a good way.  Emily was overwhelmed, in a frightening way.  Both of them cried.  Life was too much to process.  Their emotions couldn’t cope with the circumstances. 

But I think it’s in these times we gain new perspectives, new appreciation for life, new awareness of God, and new resolve to fight for the future.

The Value of Going on a Short Term Missions Trip vs. Just Sending Money

Monday, March 28th, 2011

Before I went to Haiti I was concerned the money I was spending on the trip might be better spent donating directly to someone.  The expense of short term “missions” trips is a frequent complaint regarding them – and there is no denying cash is needed many places… 

I was only in Haiti one week (!) but by the end was convinced there is much that can only be done in person.  Some things money can’t buy.

For instance…

  • …Giving a hug
  • …Playing with kids
  • …Praying with someone
  • …Saying an encouraging word
  • …Offering our time
  • …Holding an orphan
  • …Showing compassion
  • …Listening
  • …Being there

And this may sound bad, but I believe even the simple act of treating those on the lowest economic rungs (like those in the tent cities and several others I met who were nearly destitute) as equals could help impart a sense of dignity to them?  Often these people feel discarded by society.  And for sure we can identify with our brothers and sisters in the Lord no matter what their socioeconomic class.

We (the well-to-do) tend to define poverty in terms of a lack of material possessions.  However, the poor themselves often define poverty rather in terms of a lack of dignity, or a "poverty of being."  And as a lack of hope that their situation will change or that they have any ability to change it. (referenced from a book I recently read, When Helping Hurts)

Servants Asia put together an article regarding ministry among the extreme poor, particularly ministry that involves moving into their neighborhoods and living among them “incarnationally.”  Below is an excerpt from that article I found very thought provoking, dealing with this issue of the "dignity of our presence."  (also discussed back here on simplefollower)

Incarnational ministry sends a message to the host culture that love is real and that it can be costly. The message of love that can be inferred when we incarnate to a neighborhood is especially important for those we minister among, the last and the least.  Poor people can see that if love is costly, then they, as the target, are worth much. This redemptive message is incredibly important to the poor who so typically suffer the world’s lowest self-esteem and build up enormous emotional scar tissue from being at the bottom.

Time and again our neighbors have told us that they are certain God must love them because we have come from "so far." Others have told us that we are the first Christians they have met that "seemed real," "made sense," or treated them as peers. Our proximity through incarnation can inspire this kind of appreciation and trigger a sense of empowerment.

G. K. Chesterton writes: "No plans or proposals or efficient rearrangements will give back to a broken man his self respect and sense of speaking with an equal. One gesture will do it." 

[Additionally], in choosing to move in with the poor, we more than help raise self-esteem. We validate hope by showing our neighbors we entrust to ourselves the same upside-down gospel we proclaim. In living as poor among the poor, we express with our lives that we believe in God when He declares that those of "humble circumstance" may "glory in their high position" (James 1:9), and that in His economy, He raises the needy "to sit with nobles and inherit a seat of honor." (I Samuel 2:8)

I cannot emphasize this enough.

The message we send to the poor when we do not relocate among them is that their environments are too toxic for good Christians to live in, despite what the Bible says about the blessedness of the poor.  This … can lead them to conclude that the state of their poverty is of graver significance than the state of their souls. 

~Incarnational Ministry Among the Poor

I didn’t relocate to Haiti permanently, but I think there were still ways I was able to say, "This place isn’t too toxic for me."

For example…

  • Sitting down beside someone in the dirt to talk
  • Entering a person’s impoverished home (ragged tent) and allowing them the privilege to treat me as an honored guest
  • Putting my arm around a kid covered in sores, filthy, ill clothed

These things were the least I could do, but I’m wondering if they weren’t also perhaps important things. Things that affect a body on the inside, their dignity versus 1) giving a chair to the person sitting in the dirt or 2) insisting a poor person come to my house or 3) merely handing out a clean tee-shirt.

I’m sure they could all use both, but perhaps the intangibles are what touch the heart.  And these intangibles can’t be sent with a check. 

So my conclusion is this: there is a benefit to going. 

But what is really convicting is how I should be an encouragement wherever I am, at home or abroad.  I guess on a “missions” trip (I don’t like that term) one can feel as if the whole goal is to serve people, so we do more than usual.  But isn’t that what we’re called to do anyways, regularly?

I’m going to wrap this up with a quote from my friend Will Miller who is serving in the Philippines:

I had no idea how much my presence meant to Sully until we talked a little after.  You see, one thing that I’ve learned is that 90% of the ministry out here is just showing up and being social with the people.  Just the fact that I’m willing to come and eat rice and fish with my hands in a shack with dirt floors means a lot to these people. They take pride in the fact that they can host a "real life American".

~ Day 294 — Sully

Perhaps the most precious gift we can give anyone is our time. 

Agree?  Any other examples come to mind of how this plays out in our everyday lives?

Tent City Story–Why So Much Disparity in Wealth?

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

Kid_Holding_Haiti_Piece_of_Paper_in_Hand

I’m learning a short "missions" trip can really spin you around.  One day you’re marching along in everyday life and then – wham, you’re transported to another world.  A world where people don’t have the same privileges I do.  Where water and electricity are sporadic.  Where food and clean water are not a given.  Where medical care is sketchy.  A world that is very uncertain and dangerous.  And a world that is dirty, many places looked more like a dump than home. 

But in this new world one thing was the same: people.  Regular people.  People just like me.  People going through their normal routines.  Routines more raw, more earthy.  In Haiti there is less veneer than the US of an ordered, controlled life.  I think this causes them to think more about spiritual matters.  Life is precarious there.

Then, before you know it, bam, you’re transported back to the "real" world.  Back to never ending miles of smooth blacktop.  Back to Learjet.  Back to standing in a hanger full of high-end business jets.  What, how could this be?  Back to convenient food, clean water, and modern conveniences.  Even simple things look different.  Clean carpet instead of gravel and concrete.  When I walked back in my modest apartment it was like walking into a 5 star hotel.  Then there’s the whole hot shower with pressure thing.  On a campout I once went over a week without a shower.  But that’s a little different than a city of millions where probably very few have experienced a pressurized hot shower in their entire lives.  Not that they don’t stay clean, they do.  I was impressed by everyone’s personal hygiene.  But the method for washing is often more like a bucket poured over the head.  And that water pulled up from a cistern by hand.

Front_Room_of_my_Apartment

How can such disparate existences coexist in the same world?

After we arrived in Port-au Prince, we were bussed to the location we stayed at in Carrefour, a suburb of 400,000.  Everywhere we went during the week we walked.  Then the last day we were again bussed back. 

But I want to talk about the tent cities.

On the initial drive across Port-au Prince I remember seeing a large tent city.  In fact, there are still hundreds of thousands of people living in tents. 

Tent City Outside the Airport

When I saw this first tent city, it was easy to think maybe it wasn’t that bad living there.  I mean, I like camping, I like tents.  Maybe it’s not really that bad, maybe they’re used to it.

Then, one day we walked to a small tent city.  Perhaps 50 tents.  And I got to see firsthand how they live.

Tent_City_Aerial_in_Carrefour

I walked through it and talked to people.  I asked them what their struggles were.  They invited me into their tents.  Not high-end tents like North Face, Eureka, or even Coleman.  They were just tarps stretched over stick frames that had been lashed together with bits of string and old bungees. 

I saw how they lived.  The dirt floors.  The sweltering heat inside that would cause sweat to start dripping off my face and soak my shirt.  The mattress lying on the floor.  The tarps were aging in the sun, I’m sure they will leak when the rainy season comes.  And everything will turn to mud then too.  The people without good clothes.  One lady told me she couldn’t go to church because she didn’t have good enough clothes. 

Tent_City_2

Another lady was sitting in the dirt outside her dwelling.  I asked her if she had any prayer requests, and she told me she was miserable.  She asked if I would pray for her in her misery.  My heart really went out to her, and I wished there was more that I could do besides pray.  But, perhaps that was the greatest thing I could do. My faith is weaker than I would like, I’m afraid.

  So I prayed, and I quoted Matthew 11:28 in my prayer, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."  When I finished, she raised her hands and I took one, and she uttered a doxology of sorts.  When she finished my translator told me she was thanking us for being there, and for praying, and that while we prayed she felt a peace come upon her.  Then she stood up with tears in her eyes and gave us each a hug.  Crazy.

Another lady was widowed with three sons.  Her youngest was fifteen, and he was lying on a cot in their tent.  This boy was emaciated, nothing but a skeleton, like you see in National Geographic.  Obviously he was suffering from some type of wasting disease.  His face was like a skull.  His arms like pencils, his legs tiny sticks.  But he was a tall kid; how was he still alive?  I squatted down next to him, put my hand on his shoulder, held his hand.  His other hand spasmodically swatting flies. Prayed for him.  What more could I do?  He needed medical attention, but they didn’t have money.  Was told he had once seen a doctor, received an injection, but got worse instead of better.  The mother was very concerned.  She was not a Christian.

Real people.  No, they do not enjoy the scorching heat in their tents.   They don’t want to be homeless.  They wish something would change.  They feel trapped.  They are squatters, the land owner putting pressure on them to move.  They all asked prayer for a permanent place to stay.

Tent_City_3

I talked to a number of women who were widows with young children.  One woman’s husband had died in the earthquake.  Another woman’s husband was in the hospital from a motorbike accident.  Yet another woman had a one-month old baby who was sick.  The mother did not have food and was hungry (and consequently, the baby was too as the mother wasn’t producing milk). It was so sad to see her infant quite ill.  We gave her what we had, a few granola bars.  I felt like a heel for not being able to help her more. Then later, on our walk back I remembered there was a bag of trail mix in my backpack I’d forgot about and felt horrible for not giving her that as well.

Just thinking about all this makes we wonder if it was real, if my memory isn’t playing tricks on me.  But then I remember my translator, Watson, and the concern on his face.  He is a pastor, a local Haitian, has a theology degree, and translates as a side job though he told me he considers translating for Missions Teams a ministry as much as a job (he doesn’t get paid much).  I have a lot of resepct for Watson, he’s a courageous guy.  And Watson was particularly concerned about the woman with the young baby who was sick and hungry.  He told me that surely these people had great need. 

When I expressed a desire to come back with more food he agreed that was a good idea and suggested we come back sooner than later.  He even recommended we come back the next morning, because some of these people were hungry now

DSC01093

That night I felt guilty eating supper, knowing that a few minutes walk from me people were hungry.

We did get back, but it was two days later.  We came with 10 daypacks full of food.  We were warned to be very discrete in giving the food away and only when we were inside of someone’s tent.  If people got wind we were handing out free stuff a riot could start.  Even our translators were a little uneasy about our how things would turn out.  They warned our group several times how important it was to be secretive.

10 Donated Food Bundles

But all went well, and we were able to distribute the ten packages of food to ten very needy tents.  But it was a drop in the bucket – the need was so overwhelming.  We were only at one small tent city.  And we only helped several there.  But they appreciated it. 

Not all our team went around visiting.  Some played with the kids in the vacant lot next door.  We had several folks on our team who were simply amazing with kids. I envied them.

Tent_City_3_Playing_Soccer

The several tents I gave food to were occupied by believing women.  I told them we were one in Christ, in the same family, and they were my sisters  (the men that did live there in the tent city were mostly out working as we came during midday, but many were widows too). And this small gift was as from the Lord.  I reminded them of how God in His scriptures has revealed the special place He has in his heart for widows and orphans, to provide for them. 

  • "He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing." (Deuteronomy 10:18)
  • "A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling." (Psalm 68:5) 

And while reassuring these believing widows with that hope, I myself was hoping to death God was watching over them, because they needed more than our backpacks of food.  It was pretty moving though how appreciative they were: hugging us, and teary.

Driving by the tent city near the airport was one thing (shocking enough), yet rubbing shoulders with the occupants and seeing their need up close was quite another.  I felt privileged to be, in a very small way, the hands and feet of the Lord that day.  These verses came to mind:

  • "So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith." (Gal 6:10) 
  • “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:15-17)
  • “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…” (James 1:27)

But my tent city experiences brought up hard questions.  What was going to happen to these people next week?  What about when the rainy season hits and everything turns to mud?  Where would they go when the landowner kicks them out? Where was God in all this?  Why are so many people in Haiti in such intractable poverty?  I don’t know. 

But I was glad God did use us in a small way.  And I felt like being there was somehow important too.  I’ve sent money overseas before, but there’s something profound about looking in a persons eyes who is in a desperate situation and encouraging them to keep trusting God.  It affects you.

  • "The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble." (Psalm 9:9)
  • "But the needy will not always be forgotten, nor the hope of the afflicted ever perish." (Psalm 9:18)