Thursday, March 17, 2011

Thinking through STM


STM = Short Term Missions/Missionaries
LTM = Long Term Missions/Missionaries

Below are random (but true) examples:

A.) Team comes to visit.  They go on a walk through the small village they are visiting.  One boy speaks English in the village of hundreds. Everyone migrates to him because he can be communicated with easily. He asks for a bike. One man in the group tells the boy offhandedly that "maybe" he can have a bike. Maybe doesn't have the same meaning in the country the STM is visiting as it does in his home country. STM gets to be the hero and make promises.  For two years the boy asks the LTM why the bike has not arrived.  He does not forget that the white guy said maybe he could have it. The LTM has to field the requests for delivery on the STM promise. (bike can also be replaced with watch, TV, Ipod, trip to beach)

B.)  A bike arrives for one kid in a village of 700 kids.  A well meaning STM sent it because they really love their child they sponsor in the feeding/school program and they want him to have a bike.  The LTM begs the ministry partners in America not to force them to give that bike. The LTM fears the trouble it will cause.  The ministry wants to make the donor of the bike happy.  They say the LTM must give the bike and take photos.  The boy gets the bike.  The donor gets the photos.  The donor is happy.  The boy gets beat up and his bike gets stolen by bigger older boys that are angry that the mission did not give them bikes.  Insisting on giving a gift turned out to be a selfish request.

C.)  A STM group comes in wanting to help build houses.  The LTM suggests they work with Haitians and get their input. The LTM makes many suggestions based on the years in country and the things they have learned about the culture and its building practices. The STM wants to build the house according to their practices and styles of building.  They force their way of building onto the group of Haitians they are building the house for and refuse to believe that the Haitians way of doing it has any merit. They finish the house and take many photos of their good work to go home and show their church proudly.  The following Sunday the group is sharing their photos at church and the Haitians are tearing off the roof of the house and re-doing the way that they prefer.

D.) A STM group focused on medical care come to offer a one-day free clinic. Word gets out that the team will give out peanut butter if you say that you have a child at home that is anemic. Suddenly every child in the village is anemic.

E.) STM group comes in to host a VBS not having any cultural context or awareness.  Gifts are given all week. The kids continue to come to see what gift they will get. Songs are sung and taught in English.  The kids speak Creole. A large number of children are "saved" the group does not know that four other STM groups have come through that year and the kids now know that praying for Jesus to come into your heart equals a congratulatory gift. The group sends out news letters boasting (false) numbers of kids that made a choice for Jesus.

F.)  A STM comes to distribute food. They don't have relationships in the area they are distributing. They don't know what is needed. They don't know who else has worked in that area prior to them. They hand out food for two hours only to realize that there are 300 people that did not get food waiting outside.  Fighting starts between those that got food and those that didn't.  The group is forced to tuck tail and run before they get stuck in the middle of a fight. (Food can be replaced with many other hand-outs.)

These are just a few examples among dozens and dozens. Haiti is close and easy to visit from the USA. More STM trips happen here than any other country in the world. Since the earthquake teams have increased. Every week - all year long - team after team visits Haiti.  Some come to "save" and tell and some come informed and ready to learn and observe. Some come thinking that relationship doesn't matter and they walk around handing out $5 bills and gospel tracts and some come to sit and listen and learn. Some come trying to be aware of what others before and after them will do and others come thinking that what they do matters more to Haiti than any single thing that ever happened here.

A while back we went to a conference where one of the speakers was the author of "When Helping Hurts - How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself".   If you are coming to Haiti or Africa or Asia or Guatemala or Timbuktu we think it is wise to read it.

I don't believe the man who offered the bike ever meant to cause so much trouble for the LTM or the kid.  I don't believe the VBS group meant to pay kids with gifts to become Christians. I am fairly certain that many groups have not considered that they are one of thousands of STM groups that will come to Haiti this year. I don't think groups come here wanting to foster dependency and send a message that Haitians cannot do things for themselves.  Sadly, for many many years we've been doing just this.  Not because we wanted to - but just because we came in with the wrong attitude.

Many people, ourselves included, come with good intentions.  It is important for us to recognize where we have failed and attempt to learn from our mistakes. We need to realize that good intentions are often times not enough and in the end we might do more harm than good.  All of our pride needs to be laid down. Short or long term, we need to be completely open to learning from those that have been here even longer.

A few excerpts from When Helping Hurts:

It is crucial that North American STM teams move beyond ethnocentric thinking that either minimizes cultural differences or immediately assumes that middle to upper class North American cultural norms are always superior to those of other cultures.

By definition, short term missions have only a short time in which to "show profit", to achieve pre-defined goals. This can accentuate our American idols of speed, quantification, compartmentalization, money, achievement, and success. Projects become more important than people. The wells dug. Fifty people converted. Got to give the church back home a good report. Got to prove the time and expense was well worth it. To get the job done (on our time scale), imported technology becomes more important than contextualized methods. Individual drive becomes more important than respect for elders, for old courtesies, for taking time.

Ensure that the "doing" portion of the trip avoids paternalism. Remember, do not do for people what they can do for themselves.

Design the trip to be about "being and "learning" as much as about "doing".

Stay away from the "go-help-and-save-them" message and use a "go as a learner" message. We need no more STM brochure covers with sad, dirty faces of children and the words "Will you die to self and go and serve?" Such a message places too much focus on the sacrifice the STM team is making to change people's lives - a level of change that is simply not realistic in two weeks - and on how helpless the poor people are without the team's help.

Be careful how STM are presented as part of the larger missions movement. Statements such as "If you are serious about missions, then you need to take a short term trip" are common. This is a vast overstatement, as many, many folks serve in missions long term without the short term experience. Furthermore, such messages can give a false impression about what it really takes to do serious missions or community development work.

Make pre-trip learning a requirement, not a suggestion. Simply wanting to go and coming up with the money is not sufficient to qualify somebody to join the team. If people don't want to spend time to learn before they go on the trip are they really going to have a learner's mind-set during the trip? 


Edit to add 3/18/11 - 
The comments on this post are worth reading. 

A friend sent me a link to this article. It is worth the read.

Please know that Troy and I have jacked this up too. On the trip we made to Haiti shortly before moving in 2005 we did an idiot thing that ticked off the LTM. He had a right to be mad at us. The fact is people do things to make themselves feel good.  It feels good to hand a poor guy asking for help $50 but it is not wise.  In that instance Troy and I should have handed the LTM the $50 and let him decide how to disperse and use it because he knew a lot about the man and the situation. 

Edit to add 3/20/11 -
A handful of former and current missionaries wrote to say they agreed this issue is troublesome and needs discussion, yet their board(s) of directors won't allow them to say anything. (For fear of offending or losing support.) 

This is a 1.6 billion dollar a year industry.  If we are blessed enough in North America to spend that kind of money traveling to "help" the poor,  I so want to believe that we'd try to learn more and be sure we are actually helping.   

These are not easy issues and LTMs struggle to figure out the right way to do things too.  It is a learning process. Nobody comes knowing it all. Most of us struggle even years later but we're wanting to make it better. Please don't write off this discussion with a "it isn't Christ-like to criticize" stamp.  Hiding behind bad practices because we're too afraid to speak honestly has hurt enough people. It isn't Christ-like to trample on the poor because we want to do what we want to do. It is time to look hard at our own "church culture" and how we go about missions.  We don't examine this stuff to be critical, we're simply desiring to esteem the people we love in our respective countries and to stop doing hurtful things. 

Related Posts:
Respecting the Poor
A Boat that Needs Rocking
ALLEVIATE 

99 comments:

matt said...

WELL SAID! WELL SAID! Read this book myself this past year and will never approach missions, or ministry in general, the same. I cringe when I think of many past STM teams I have led or been a part of....nothing to do now but learn and keep learning and listen and keep listening. Thank you for being a trusted voice to listen to! Blessings to you.
Elizabeth Schultz

Megan said...

So perfectly said. Emailing this link to everyone on our missions team at my church.

LisaSlater said...

GOOD stuff. I like it when you don't sugarcoat it. People need to hear that they can be pains in the ass even if they don't mean to be.

That said-I've collected some winter coats and boots for Haiti. Where should I send them?

Marcia Erickson said...

amen sista.

xo

Ryan said...

Completely hit me right where I need to be hit. After reading that book, God has continued to work in my life to help me to understand that in leading and partaking in trips, there is a right and a wrong way to do so. That's a scary thought at times.

This just further answers the question I was able to ask so many people at Heartline last week.

Thanks for sharing this.

Mari G said...

Awesome post. WILL.BE.SHARING. Thank you...

stephanie garcia said...

Wow, this is excellent. EXCELLENT. Having grown up on the mission field and seeing what it takes to build relationships, I have often felt cynical of "numbers" in STM reports. I do think there is a wonderful place for STM but this is a reminder that there is so much more to it!

Shonni said...

Great post. I am sharing it with my father who lead stm trips every year and he would completely agree with the article. Thanks for sharing it!

mateovan said...

Hey guys, I have a friend who has done a lot of research on this, has written a bunch of articles, both academic and geared towards more general readers. I also helped him do a bunch of research in Haiti on what factors go in to making STM work well and what things make them not work so well. Really interesting stuff. I could send you some stuff if you are interested - because you have a good platform for sharing!

Matt

keight dukes said...

this is great. have you had any awesome experiences working alongside STM teams? what was is that made those teams uppers and not downers to what yall are doing?

p.s. i read you always but am going comment wild today. eye of the tiger.

Rodrigo & Amy said...

Awesome. I think the more times I go to Haiti I see this more and more. I feel like I'm always telling people..Wait, slow down, learn from these people. THANK YOU for sharing. I totally agree that that book is awesome! I swear everyone in my church has read it. Thankful to have a missions director that read it & lives by it.

Marla Taviano said...

Powerful post. I'm halfway through When Helping Hurts and devouring it. Thank you!

mbs said...

Amen amen and amen!

A Stone Gatherer said...

Thank you for this post. I have never been on a short term mission trip, even though I have been told I should. My daughter desires to go, so because she is 12 I will most likely go with her. This post has been good for me to read. If I do go to Haiti or anywhere else I just want to be what those people need me to be and get over myself.

Americans are so sanctimonious!

Deb Keller said...

Thank you for this excellent post! I just sent the link to a pastor friend who is planning to take a team to Haiti this summer, and to my 17 year old daughter who wants to be a missionary, as well as to a friend who is in Haiti right now on a STM trip. I have thought of being a STM, but haven't sure I'd do more harm than good....and so for now I pray for those already there.

Norberto and Julie said...

We can absolutely relate to this being LTM in Paraguay. Another great read highly recommended to churches is "Giving Wisely" by Jonathan Martin.

codeman said...

Well said. Is it okay if we use your post for our "Team Handbook"? I think it is perfectly written. :-) --Maria Whittaker

The Momma said...

Thank you! Well said, important truths we all need to hear!!

Sitesx6 said...

I am currently reading WHEN HELPING HURTS (I'm on page 83) It is eye opening.

I've been to Haiti 2x on STM to help with Cholera recently (I'm a RN)....my issue is, I feel going to Haiti to help with a very real need (Cholera) was so important, I mean it is and was a real need, people were dying and would die. So should STM NOT GO...or where is the line? I'm really asking...I really want to know that answer. I don't want to hurt, I want to help.....I'm not sure what that looks like, that is why I'm reading the book.

I love your blog so much. I love seeing Haiti through your eyes. Keep the great posts coming. Thank you for giving me more perspective on this topic, I really want knowledge aboout it.

I don't want it to feel like LTM vs. STM.....a team effort, both in it to serve Jesus and help. We can learn from you, please teach us!!!!

i.am.rooting.for.christian.this.month said...

This reminds me of an article I read in college called "Learner, Trader, Storyteller" and how missionaries need to take time to go through that progression.

Becka said...

Just adding my agreement that the recommended book is a must for Christians wanting to make a dent in poverty.

I work in a small city in the South of Ecuador, slightly difficult to access and in over a year I have not seen one short-term team. I had one inquiry but after explaining to him what he could expect (very few and possibly no salvations, and working along side the church helping the church as they led a project, we never heard from him again) STM need to accept that although their influence is great, it IS limited, the same way we LTM also have a limited influence compared to national missionaries. Knowing our limitations and listening to advice of others goes a long way in building unity between two vastly different cultures.

Nathan said...

Amen times a billion.

yellowgirl said...

a most excellent post. many of our problems, truthfully, in our work here for the past 25 years, has been a result of 'foreigners' coming in all gung ho and being and doing things that are totally inappropriate for the culture. short-term missions teams are actually something that we very seldom allow except as vision-casting learning experience. it's almost like we need to protect our people from the westerners. we are very protective- because this is our culture now too, and we want the WORD to be lived out in sacrificial love, not in pesos thrown around and false salvations. (harsh word, but i mean it) nobody gets 'saved' here...they grow into Christ with deep cultural depth and very slowly. asian and haitian and african culture is so much slower and deeper and relationship-oriented than north-american culture. here we have learned to wait for the growth...to plant the seed, water it, and be patient for the harvest. wish this message could get to all STMS' before they come.

Kathie said...

We were in Haiti from 1988-2006 and I can certainly see from your post that not much has changed when it comes to teams. The only thing that is worse is when the mission leaders, who ought to know better, come in for their annual visit and make promises that they have no intention of keeping. In fact they don't even have to actually promise, just say that something was a good idea and that they'd think about it... that was a promise to our Haitian peoples' ears! Never could get them (the leaders or the people) to understand that. Not much fun always being the bad guy, the one dealing with reality! And people mean well, they just have no idea what happens when they leave!

lizlovesthelord said...

Tara, These EXACT examples have happened to us here! And I love "When helping hurts", unfortunately, desire to help can overwhelm better judgement. Thank you so much for the post! I have to repost on my facebook!

Sailor and Co said...

Totally the things Joey came home saying. His "favorite" was the bright orange "Bringing Jesus to Haiti" t-shirts from a church STM group he saw. He said... "Jesus is already here my friends," Clearly they had good intentions...but how prideful to think WE have to "bring Jesus". Joey said to me that our spiritual poverty in America is far worse than the physical poverty he saw in Haiti. I can't wait until August. I know that God will rock me to the core as I set out to see what He is doing in Haiti. I can't wait to love on the people there.

angela said...

G.) a STM group sets up an art project with a group of orphaned/abandoned children. the craft? macaroni necklaces. the nannies who care for the children day and night ask the LTM, "isn't that good food that people can eat? why are they wearing it on their necks?" the LTM wants to bawl knowing the locals will go home and likely feed their children nothing for dinner while the STMs are uploading their pictures to their laptops.

:( i understand. and thank you for saying this so well. we all need to hear it.

~~~~ said...

WOW! Is the first word that comes to mind. I have been wanting to go on a STM and I believe that God placed this on your heart to prepare me. I am sad to say that I would have been the one to promise the bike...and not have the for thought to see what the results of that would be. So...Thank You from the bottom of my heart!♥

T & T Livesay said...

Hi all -

I appreciate your feedback and am surprised by so much agreement. I realize though, that anyone I offended or put on the defense is not saying anything. There is too much agreement here for them to say something. I am going to attempt to further examine this stuff in another post sometime soon. Troy and I (if we were to be totally honest) have been so frustrated by STM groups and amazed at how they don't want to listen when we politely ask them not to do something. (Wow do people get uppity when you tell them not to hand out their gifts.)

We hosted groups for over two years and in that time we believe that way more harm was done by those groups than good. I know some of your reading this were in those groups. Don't take it personally ... but group after group after group handing out candy and gifts is horrible for Haiti. I cringe at how unwise we were to be a part of some of that stuff. (When I post about this again I will tell you totally stupid things we did.) I will not hand out anything to anyone anymore. If there is not a long relationship and if it is not a need that the person requested help with - it is a bad idea. (I am not talking about immediate relief of food and water after the EQ - that was necessary.)

This culture is all about relationship. (Much different than western culture.) Coming here and doing things they are capable of doing for them is not showing love. Coming here and doing things that we do in America/Canada that have zero cultural relevance here is not loving.

The average visitor comes wanting to feel good about doing something to help the poor. They decide before they come what that will look like. Much of the time what they choose is detrimental to the LTM and the Haitian they think they are helping.

willhouse4God said...

I am so glad I read this book as I am preparing to visit Haiti for the first time in April. I am so glad God has convicted me through this book of soooo many things.
I am much more aware of the things I will do, say, bring to give and how it and even I will be perceived.
Thank you!!!!

Rodrigo & Amy said...

This might be a silly example but look at this video of Anthony Bourdains trip to Haiti. The part where he gives out food. Not a "mission trip" by any means but it just shows how you may have good intentions but you need to think long term not short term make yourself happy.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o6gmB-jYd-c

SullivanIndy said...

I agree 100% with the message.. and even picked up and read the book "When helping hurts" when i saw Troy tweet about it.. I agreed with the book as well.. My only concern is as Everytime I see this message conveyed is that if delevered incorreclty may totally push those on the fence of trying to do some good with their lives, back over to the self serving mode.. with all the naysayers and the "Take care of your own, let others take care of them selves attitude" and "we need to fix america first" and then hearing shoot, if i try to go help, even the respectable people who are helping say I shouldn't" You know what i mean.. I have seen it even in these comments where someone sais, so I was planning attending a stm, so now should i not??? I know that is not the message you are delivering, so I guess I am saying I completely agree with the message, but just thank it needs to be delivered carefully.. just my 2 cents..

Stefan said...

Someone recommended the book 'When Charity destroys Dignity' by Glenn Schwartz to me. Has anyone read this book?

Although I have seen very good things happen with STM teams: awareness and 'new ambassadors', I fully agree with you. STM have to be very careful not to destroy or interfere the work of the LTM.

WOLL = Work together, Observe, Listen and Learn is a motto I have used with STM


Els V

kayder1996 said...

I so appreciate this post and the honesty I hear from people who are in the thick of it every day. I have been on 5 short term trips (Romania, Peru, and Haiti). I have bungled things up in ways that I am aware of on at least one of those trips. (And probably more...) And I have really thought about if money spent on short term missions is a good use of money, is it a good use of time, etc? I don't know the answer to that on a broad scale. I can only speak to how short term missions has affected me. I can certainly say that my first trip, to Romania, in between my freshman and sophmore years of college, has impacted my life in incredibly crazy ways. The spiritual part was huge for me. It was God and me, I knew not a single soul on my team, I had never flown, I was so out of my element. I wanted my mom. But I learned so much about the faithfulness of our God, who brought me to a "hard place" and walked alongside me. I also learned how much I am blessed by material possessions and wealth and it was there that God broke my heart for children in orphanage care. I returned home, got married, finished college, started living life, and lived life pretty much the same as before. But there was still that part of what God did in my heart there. Fast forward to my mid twenties and God renewed those thing in my heart. I saw the power of the Word of God to convict hearts in amazing NT ways in Peru, ways I had never seen before. I returned and started praying about a trip to Haiti to serve. My husband and I now have two beautiful Haitian children and a deep connection to their birth country. I talk Haiti (and awareness of global poverty and the need for all people to know Jesus in a personal way) often and believe that our family has connected many people with ways to give financially to people at work for God worldwide, especially in Haiti. I realize that this post is an awful lot about me and not the people who missionaries really are focused on serving and I don't mean to make it about a middle class American. (And I so realize that short term teams can mess it up in a lot of ways.) But I did want to encourage the long term folks that, at least for me, those experiences that long term missionaries have offered to me have changed me for the better and I honestly believe have rippled out to affect many others. When you open your homes, your programs, your arms, you may see mistakes, missteps, arrogance, pushiness, etc.. But for me, that opening up gave me an eternity perspective that I would never have gained before. I've learned so much from conversations like these; thanks for putting it out there. I'm listening and hopefully others are too.

T & T Livesay said...

SullivanIndy -
Thanks for sharing those thoughts. I hear you. You're right, looking past ourselves is huge and for some that progress is monumental. I think STM done right is possible. We're learning that the work BEFORE you get here and the work AFTER you go back to your home is key ... My friend who did research on this in Haiti said this:

"This research looked at three types of groups: groups that came to build something (school, church, houses, etc); groups that came to DO something (medical clinic, VBS, etc) and groups that came to BE with people (discovery tour, cultural exchange kind of thing). The prof did research in three countries: Thailand, Honduras and Haiti. We headed up the Haiti research. So, we interviewed different organizations in Haiti that worked with groups - a really, really small sample. We interviewed community organizations and leaders that received the groups and we interviewed families that hosted visitors in their homes. They also did surveys of former group participants. In a very small nutshell, what they found in their research was that the third type of group above (the learning type) typically remained more committed and engaged in working with, supporting, volunteering, donating, etc then any of the other kinds of groups. You know how people get all fired up right . . . and then you hear nothing, they do nothing, etc. That's pretty typical. But the third kind of group, with effective orientation and debriefing which is another critical component, remained more engaged in the long run."

Kayder1996 -
Thanks for sharing that. We get burned and then we get cynical and crabby. We don't want to be that way but sometimes we are.

We need to hear that it matters. I think we are tying to find a way to have it matter for the visitor/STM without it hurting the people we love in Haiti. That is possible ... we know that. This discussion is good.

Brianna Heldt said...

YES! SO, so true. It's tricky as well when STMs go to orphanages wanting to hold babies--when a more appropriate way to help those babies is to provide regular staff (through helping fund them), or to provide supplies, so the children have consistent caregivers, instead of a revolving door of people they'll never see again. Which contributes to broken attachments and future issues.

Wonderful post. Love your perspective!

Terri in Colorado said...

Short term trips can also do a lot of good, when done with respect for the culture and maintaining appropriate interactions. Like some of the other writers above, short term missions opened my eyes to the conditions for orphans in the developing world in a way just reading about it did not. Without the short term trips, I never would have been inspired to adopt my daughter from a developing country. So there is much long-term good that comes from short term trips that you can not put a price on...sometimes just sending money doesn't do the most good. Terri Urban

ATB said...

Very good post! I know you guys said you don't envy us for the danger of terrorism that we live with, but man, we don't envy you for this difficult issue you deal with (whether you want to or not). Not many churches are endorsing STM trips to Afghanistan, but we have met a couple adventure junkies that thought they were going to do something incredible, that is, until diahrrea hit them.

To me, having STMers come and not listen or not respect the LTMers, is like having the professional worship team in a mega-church overthrown by a hodge-podge of teenagers and their parents, none of whom know how to sing. What I mean is- for every role in ministry, there are basic skills, talent, and experience that needs to be present, otherwise it just hurts everyone's ears. Why would we treat missions any different? I fear that it's because we feel our culture is superior, and we have plenty of money, so we affirm ourselves to go ahead and "do our best", and it will "make a difference" for the poor little brown people.

My harsh words shared, I do want to see the whole church involved in missions (just like worship), but please, rather than kicking the LTMer to the side (or stealing the worship leader's microphone), join in the vast need for prayer support (or sing your heart out among the congregation).

haitian6 said...

WOW!! We have tried and tried to get this across to our mission board. We sent the post to our chairman to show him we are not the only ones with this opinion! It is definitely an issue. Thanks for taking the words right out of our mouths!

T & T Livesay said...

I don't think anyone said they (STM) cannot do good. I think everyone said they often don't - mostly due to lack of preparation and awareness and an inability/unwillingness to trust anyone giving them guidance.

My hope is that STM don't only benefit the STMs -- but also the people they go to see/meet/serve. It has never been in question that STM teams leave feeling fulfilled. Most leave on fire and in love with the place. BUT - The real question is, did they leave those they "helped" feeling good about themselves? Did they leave the Haitian (in this case) feeling respected and empowered?

Both groups should be better at the end of the exchange.

Not trying to put anyone on the defensive. Just wanting everyone to take a look at it from both sides and try to lay down pride. This all comes from a prideful person that needs to do the same. (me)

Leah said...

Thank you for your valued perspective. What would you suggest then for those who want to be involved in missions and help serve these people, but still have to work a full-time job. I am not at a place right now to quit my job and move to another country, yet I feel that I should help these people in a personal way. I know that money is the easiest thing for us Westerners to give, but what other ways can we help besides prayer?

sandwichinwi said...

I think this all gets at the heart of why, when I came back from my trip to India, I felt so terrible and continue to even a year later.

Thank you for the wise and honest words. I've purchased the book and I'm looking forward to delving into it.

(and hear your frustration over the "but *I* was blessed and grew in my faith" argument. Great! But at the expense of the people there?

That was a big thing I struggled with on my trip. Yay. I'll grow and become more. But what have I done for/to the people I came to serve? How has my trip benefited THEM???? Has it at all?)

THANK YOU!

Blessings,
Sandwich

T & T Livesay said...

The main things I'd suggest:

1. Pray
2. Read and prepare. Suggested reading listed below.
3. If you come - Listen openly to those hosting you and don't assume they are jerks because they are not allowing something on your trip.
4. Pray
5. Find someone on the ground you trust and if your heart is prompted, give to support them and their work.

-When Helping Hurts
-When Charity Destroys Dignity
-African Friends and Money Matters
-A Framework for Understanding Poverty


There is a push for everyone to go. I know missions is a hot thing in the church. I get it. I still think there is value in going. At one point I thought everyone should go. (Not on the everyone bandwagon anymore.) I think going can be good if prepared. I don't think the church should talk people into going. I think the Holy Spirit should do that work. Those that come with a great attitude are a blessing to all LTMs.

Sitesx6 said...

This is a fantastic and respectful discussion....I've learned a lot.

I think us STM should come with a "How can I bless you/help you" attitude towards those on the ground...LTM. Do whatever they need you to do, respect their perspective and suggestions and don't take over. Come willing to serve and learn from the LTM, who are in the trenches and know the people and culture and what is best. It should not be a US against THEM....but a "WE" attitude...we do it TOGETHER...as lovers of Christ.

STM (me) mean well and have deep love and desire and intent to do anything to help. I think it always helps to remember, people don't INTEND to do harm, they just need to be educated. I think that is what you are doing here, education and getting the word out, which has been so valuable to me!!! Thanks for the book list too!

Amy said...

Tara: Thank you, thank you for this post! I will still come to Haiti as a STM, and I now know some of what I should/shouldn't do - the cute little napsack I picked up that I was going to put suckers in will not be coming with me - the suckers either. :)

I really appreciate your candidness...if you don't tell us, who will? This information is really common sense, but you are right, everyone wants to feel good about themselves and America has told us that if we give something to someone, we'll get a gold heart! (I'm holding out for platinum, myself.)

Love you!

~Amy in WI

Lynne said...

typically i find your text to be good, even if it isnt what ppl want to hear at times. but this post i find disappointing for some reason. as if is a reprimand to folks trying to do something and they are being measured by an imaginary yard stick. disappointed.

camilla said...

Very well said. I grew up in Haiti, a child of a LTM. I was never able to say what you did so well. It always came out so offensive the way I said it. I appreciate how you sited such great examples of good intentions that brought about unintended consequences.

likeravensandlillies said...

I so appreiciated this post and your perspective. I have felt uneasy with the "Christian Tourism" that is promoted in a lot of high school youth groups under the name of missions. My church is sending our highschool students on a "mission trip" from the Twin Cities to San Francisco this summer. Hmmmm. I think this is an issue that needs to be brought into our churches and seminaries to educate our current and future church leaders about, so that we can better use the resources and also root out what is in our hearts that wants "our own mission experience." I also feel a strong pull to go where the need is great, but I want to be willing to lay that on the altar and instead write a check to an established, engaged missions organization that could put the cost of my airfare to better use. Thanks for this food for my thoughts.

Kate said...

I think it is an issue of authority and submission. I have been on over 25 STM trips to Haiti in the last 10 years all working with the same mission in Haiti. On many of those trips, I led other people on their first trip to Haiti. The people I bring have to agree to submit to my authority on the trip and I must agree to submit to the authority of the mission's director who is an incredible Haitian man of God whose wisdom from the Lord is amazing. We have disagreed at times, it has been messy at times and I know we have made him crazy at times - all while making a lot of mistakes and also learning a lot along the way. God has given the people who live in Haiti and dedicate their lives to the people an authority that anyone who comes to serve with them must respect even if they disagree. STM trips change me for the better every time I go and at the same time, I have been honored to be used by God to encourage and support a home full of girls and a Christian Academy.

May God continually give wisdom and grace to those who work for HIM so we can work together better.

ali said...

i remember you telling the bike story last year, i never forgot it! recently, Yogi's employee, a "four square" church member, told him they were taking a mission trip to haiti, it was 3 weeks ago. i shared the bike story with him. he was glad to hear it and told Yogi he'd share it with the team. the stuff we just dont think about when we are "just wanting to be kind". glad you brought it up again. love you guys.

Hope on the Horizon Youth Services said...

Please read “The Star Fish Story”
By: Loren Eisley
I am a 23 year old Haitian. I am a STM STARFISH.
I feel your message is quite discouraging to STM who simply wish to be the face of Christ in a place where Christ does not exist and to somehow MAKE A DIFFERENCE. Someone is ought to be offended and hurt. LTM & STM you cannot help all in a cultural that is different than their own, even when you think you got it all figured out. Who said LTM missionaries are doing everything right? The disciples came and went as short term missionaries to place that did not know of Christ but somehow someone heard their message and will carry it on. Those who did not believe were offended and hurt but yet a strong message was sent by being the face of Christ (STM). Than again money and materialistic things was not involve. It was just the spiritual message.

The spiritual message should not just be about picking and choosing but it is:
Your work is all about choosing who to help; otherwise you would not be in the village or city you currently in, you would not stop where you at, village to village, here we come. Why not be a LTM in a village where there are no missionaries? There are many places that are need of YOU AND ME. Why be in area where there are hundreds of non-profits? You picked and choose; someone was left out, now they are hurting. LTM or STM, we all do the hurting.

Here is why short term missionaries might hurt those they are trying to help and it’s a simple explanation.

Rene Descartes once said that the human mind is finite and the only thing that is infinite is God. We cannot know things that we have not experience and only God can know things before they happen for he is the creator of all things.

I agree that STM are blind when entering a different cultural different than there own but they all come to learn; not only with their mind but with their heart. For some the learning experience is so heart opening but with closed mind. Their heart allows them for the moment to give by picking and choosing. The mind come to realize they cannot help all but is able to make a difference for at least one; even if the other is left empty handed. If the spiritual message was received, there should not be any complaints of materialistic things. For Christ always blesses up with a gift.

Here is the LTM problem and somehow you have to agree, for I plan to be a LTM but I would rather STM come help me serve with their God given talents that I do not have:

I think the problem that LTM missionaries have with STM is that in order for LTM to stay where they serve they need the STM to stay put to only send their money. MONEY is not the face of Christ but is the face of the world. I think the mere presence of a Christian serving abroad is the good work of God. I do believe STM should be able to see where their money goes. I also think it is ok to just come to a poor nation to feel good about holding a child that never been held. God work should always feel good.

Remember what Matthew 25:40 says!

The child shared his need; STM has the mean and responded.

It is not the STM fault that jealousy is created amongst those that received and those who did not. It is the cultural itself. LTM are supposed to help change the mentality of those they are serving and STM are just testing if LTM stay is feeding the poor spiritually and will know God does not permit jealousy.

My STM adoptive father went to Haiti blind but somehow felt he had to choose one child to help. I am grateful for it. I am Haitian and now I wish to return back with my education and my belief in God to help those that were left behind. I wish to thank my adoptive father for being a STUBBORN STM for helping me out of many, now I will carry what you taught me spiritually.

STM just keep your Heart and Mind open and continue learning how to better serve Christ by simply being the face of Christ. When it comes to knowing everything, it is impossible and you will not be perfect but remember in God’s eye that you wish to do, YOU ARE PERFECTLY FINE.

The Beaver Bunch said...

My husband and I have partnered with Africa Inland Mission to be career missionaries. We leave July 2012. Catch is, neither of us has ever been to Africa.

I'm going, for the 1st time, in April on a STM trip to Guinea-Bissau, west Africa, completely across the continent from where we will be living.

Looking forward to the books you've suggested and I'm approaching my upcoming trip w/ a totally different mind set because of where I know we are headed, and now, because of this post. Thank you.

Beth said...

God's timing is always good!! Tonight has been a marathon reading of your blog (I had the last 2 weeks to catch up on) which is much better than Fri. night TV by the way! I've been praying about a STM with my church to Peru. I went 2 years ago and would love to reconnect with the people I met there but it just hasn't felt right. I haven't got the green light from God about going. When reading your previous post about how much it cost to support Harbour House for a day, week, etc... I thought hmmm, maybe God wants me to support Harbour House instead of taking a trip. After reading this post, I know that I have to spend some time in prayer about that. Am I willing to send a check for the amount I would have used to get to Peru and not have something to tangibly show for it? Am I willing to give knowing that I may never physically see the results this side of heaven? I know this post isn't about raising funds but wanted to share what God has laid on my heart tonight as I've been praying all week, trying to figure out why God would tell me "no" to a missions trip.

Also, as I was reading the post, I feel blessed to be in a church where the STM leaders go by what the LTM say. I can think of a few instances where we wanted to help with something and our STM Leader said let me check with the LTM and see if that is the best way we can help with this need. They usually had a better idea how we could help so that’s what we did! I now realize how big a lesson was being modeled for us.

Holly said...

Thank y'all so much for this post...so needed and so important for us all to grow and learn to work together. I am going to start reading through the books y'all reccommended as I am hoping to be able to move to Haiti next winter. It took me a couple trips to Haiti before I finally recognized these mistakes in myself and was able to learn and grow from it. The best compliment I ever got was from one of the LTMs where I was at...I think it was on my third trip, right after the EQ. She said that I made a good volunteer because I went with the flow, served hard, and did whatever I was asked. Sometimes I think serving the LTMs is one of the best things we can do. Because y'all have the longterm relationships with the people and are able to serve them best. What you do is hard, selfless work and STMs need to come alongside you and say "What can we do for you?" and then jump in and help wherever needed. I know that you didn't post this so that more people would focus on serving you...that would never be y'all's intention but I think it's one of the best ways to love like Christ while one is on an STM trip. I've never been on a team trip, I've only ever gone alone so I think it made it easier to reach this mentality because I didn't have to "report" to anyone when I got home. But I would much rather go back to my church and say "We served and loved" than "We built this many houses, saved that many people, and handed out this many tracts." Jesus certainly didn't care about his statistics and numbers.

Sarah said...

Love so many things about this post--including the dialog happening here in the comments, your book list etc. Thanks for taking the time to write this Tara...you are helping many of us be better STMs! I think this identifies a crucial area of growth for North American churches: helping cultivate the 3rd type of team--preparing people well, helping them develop the capacity of 'learner' and processing when they get back. I am thinking differently about this because of your post and wondering how I can help my church approach 'missions' through this 3rd lens. Thanks for sparking these thoughts!

Angela said...

@Lynne: "as if is a reprimand to folks trying to do something and they are being measured by an imaginary yard stick."

We see in the examples listed that as a result of some people's actions, whole communities were encouraged to be even more dependent than they already were (the snacks/peanut butter/gifts); failure to listen to the locals caused them more work and used up more resources when they needed to redo the roofs on their homes; and last but not least, a boy was beaten and robbed.

In John Erskine's 'On the Moral Obligation to Be Intelligent' he says, "But as a race we seem as far as possible from realising that an action can intelligently be called good only if it contributes to a good end; that it is the moral obligation of an intelligent creature to find out as far as possible whether a given action leads to a good or a bad end; and that any system of ethics that excuses him from that obligation is vicious. If I give you poison, meaning to give you wholesome food, I have-to say the least-not done a good act; and unless I intend to throw overboard all pretence to intelligence, I must feel some responsibility for that trifling neglect to find out whether what I gave you was food or poison."

I don't see an imaginary yard stick being used anywhere. People's actions, although they certainly didn't intend it, caused harm. I used to be interested in volunteering at orphanages, and even began saving up to go with an organization where you can arrange to go for as little as a month at a time. Over time, I realized that the last thing kids in orphanages (who already suffer from attachment disorders and abandonment issues) need is for people to wander in and out of their lives, just because volunteering happens to make me feel good. I still want to work in an orphanage, but not until I'm at a point in my life where I can commit to long-term work. I also examine all my charity donations, to make sure the charities I support are committed to helping people attain self-sufficiency. I do this because I don't want to hurt people with kindness.

Sailor and Co said...

Lynne...I wouldn't call the yardstick imaginary. I would venture to guess that the people that live there and devote their lives full time to serving Haiti, would know how to measure the help vs hurt ratio. My husband was there for 10 days and saw it first hand. He said the exact same things. Someone from his own group brought soccer shoes for the children. But, he was brokenhearted by it. Obviously the intention was good, but what about the kids that weren't the 60 that got new shoes? What about the 60 that may get beaten for their shoes? We need to think outside of our "American box". I would for sure listen to the people that know Haiti well. Tara, the things you said...need to be said...thank you for standing up for Haiti and the hearts & livelihood of her people.

Sandra said...

Troy and Tara,
Thank you for your honesty on this topic. Ever since I gave my life to the Lord, I have had a huge heart for missions and serving the poor and orphans. Before I got married I was sure I would be a missionary and marry someone who would go into missions with me. My husband is awesome and I know he is exactly the one God has for me, however we differ a lot on the whole missions thing. I want to pack it all up and do the long term missions life and he would be happy just to give money to different causes and never set foot in another country. I have wrestled over the years with wanting to GO and SERVE and LIVE a missionary life,and thought maybe I could satisfy that part of my heart with STM trips, but after following your blog for the last year and reading the book by the found of Gospel for Asia, my perspective on STM trips has changed a lot. I have begun to question my own motives for going...is it more about me and how a trip would make ME feel or serving and loving the people? would the money spent on a plane ticket be better used for something more lasting? how beneficial is it really for me to waltz into someone's life for a week only to leave again? I am coming to the point where I am ok with it if I never go to another country again and just support from here with finances and prayer. But, my question is this: should those of us who have a heart and a passion for missions and serving the poor just stay home and support from here? What do you think? Because if you can't do the long term missions (maybe because your spouse doesn't want to, or other circumstances) it seems that the short term mission experience really isn't that beneficial other than personal growth and challenge for the person going on the trip. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. Thank you...

Janet said...

I agree with your post. We didn't host many STM teams while in Haiti, but enough to make us wonder if we wanted to continue. One team especially was a challenge. There were several wonderful people on the team and we wondered how they ever got mixed up with some of the others! I had had a miscarriage two days before they arrived and wasn't feeling too great. Some of them didn't want to alter any of their plans for the week. These plans included several trips on bad roads. One of the ladies was miffed when asked to help with cooking and laundry. She came here on vacation (uh...WHAT????) not to do more of the same as she had to do every day at home. The food was not to their liking either. Unfortunately, when we think of this particular team, we tend to think of the bad experiences rather than all the great people who came along. And I observed certain young folks who were able to pull up tears when asking so sincerely for money, "Just need $20so I can take an exam" for 6 different STMs in the same week, and GET IT FROM ALL SIX. If they had all checked with the LTM, they could have "spread the wealth" a little more evenly. I am so glad we also had good ones, or these experiences would have soured us on STM forever.

kayder1996 said...

This conversation is such a good one; I had to stop back and read what was written after I originally posted. It has also made me think about my own desire to go and serve vs. what is necessary. I like the words of one previous poster about wanting to go but then thinking about how that $1000 or $2000 spent on her travel and accomodations could do amazing things at Harbor House. I also decided to do several posts on my blog about short term mission work, my experiences, and my opinion on tips for being an effective short timer, which is shaped by my experiences and the things I hear others saying. I probably wouldn't have posted on this topic but this discussion pushed me in that direction.

Laurel said...

THANK YOU for saying all of this. I know you put your neck on the line sometimes to keep it real, but I want to go on the record as saying I appreciate it.

I have been starting to pull together a service trip for a group at our church, and have contacted both Heartline and the ApParent project for information. I DON'T WANT TO BE A HINDRANCE. I am open to doing ANYTHING that the LTM people want, and will be sure that everyone in the group understands the same. I feel lead to come alongside the LTMs and help in any way possible. If we can't come and not make things worse, I would rather not come at all.

Thank you for ALL of your advice. Those of you on the front line have all of the admiration and respect I have in me.....

cckelch said...

I will be on the ground in Haiti on Tuesday for a week for my first international STM. We have approached the trip in the way you are suggesting - read "When Helping Hurts, respect and follow the "rules" set by the LTM, respect the culture, observe and learn, love abundantly.

We are spending a little bit of time at Heartline. I've been following your blog for some time. I hope to meet you :-)

celina from canada said...

i have not had time to read all comments...but i will!

stm that i know work in jamaican ghettos...go back year after year with teens.....and follow the lead of the same force of nature nun for decades now....and what happens is amazing...........

yes the people in need get helped, sister grace has a work crew at her disposal.....but mostly the TEENS learn....not by converting....not by pushing north american values...but by observing...they become the truly blessed ones in the venture...

Christina said...

Yea! My small group is reading this book! We have certainly been enlightened to our American "quick fix" fixation! We tend to love RELIEF but not so much DEVELOPMENT because relief really does demand less of us in the long run! Currently our group is praying over what the implications of this new understanding will mean for us.

T & T Livesay said...

Sandra said: "But, my question is this: should those of us who have a heart and a passion for missions and serving the poor just stay home and support from here? What do you think?"

Sandra,
We would never presume to have that answer ... it is so personal and I know that some people are for sure led by the Holy Spirit in their desires to serve/love/learn abroad. I think it is between you and God and if you go aware of the pitfalls and aware of the needs and desires of the people you'll be working with it can be a positive thing.

When Helping Hurts says this:
"Americans spent $1,600,000,000 on short term missions in 2006 alone."

Is that a crazy CRAZY number, or what? One year. One billion 600 million dollars. The way we "sell" STM needs to change. It is not an adventure trip. It should not be poverty tourism. It should not be billed as a vacation. There are ways to do STM right. I totally believe there are ... and as stated before it has much to do with preparation and attitude in advance of arrival.

"Lynne" -
I gave specific examples of hurtful things. (Hurtful to locals - the people we are supposed to be lifting up.) I shared our own personal failures. I acknowledged it is a learning process. I have no idea how you could still be defensive or disappointed. I'm not trying to win a popularity contest anyway, or I wouldn't have posted this in the first place. The number of longer term missionaries that wrote to say "We cannot say that because of reasons X -Y - Z - but we are glad you did - we asked our people to read it and pray about it" and "We left the field because of this problem" proved to me all I needed to know about how big and troublesome this issue has become as STM has exploded. If Americans can spend well over a billion dollars coming to help the poor, it sure would be nice if they could be more certain that they helped. So with you, I will agree to disagree.

Kristen {RAGE against the MINIVAN} said...

I used to think that short-term mission trips were something everyone should do.

Then I started thinking that maybe the conecpt was good, but the method needed tweaking.

Honestly, now . . . I'm not even sure if I support the practice at all The amount of money people spend for a two-week mission trip vs. how that money could be used in practical ways in an impoverished country? Sort of makes my head spin.

Nan said...

I've been reading your blog for several months without comment, but this post drives me to speak up. I had no idea about this side of STM or LTM. I've had this notion of everyone tiptoeing thru the tulips or me sitting on a porch rocking sick babies. I'm glad you stuck out your neck and posted the truth. Without your post, I would have continued in my naivete. I think it is easy to daydream about helping the poor from the comfort of my warm, dry and safe home with a cup of coffee in hand. Thank you for making me think about the real lives of the world's poor. I too had been thinking about a STM trip.

bryan said...

Hi Livesay's

Great post!

I had completely forgotten about that.

We continue to pray for you all and God's work through you in Haiti.

I haven't read "When Helping Hurts" yet but will shortly.

"African Friends and Money Matters", I have read and it is a wonderful book. I recommend it to anyone preparing to serve in Haiti.

Keep up the great work.

Sandra said...

Troy and Tara,

Thank you for responding to my comment. I agree with you that it is between the person considering STM trips and God as to whether they should go on one or not. The thing that I have wrestled with this past year or so, especially after reading books like The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns and Crazy Love by Francis Chan (and of course, very convicting passages of Scripture) is that if we are truly followers of Christ in a passionate, risk taking, pick-up-your-cross-and-follow-Him sort of way then we might actually need to set aside our cushy, American-Christian ways and DO something about the widow, orphans, poor, and oppressed. The opposite message that I seem to be getting at the same time is that unless it is a long term missions committment, its probably not going to be that effective and maybe we ought to just stay home, but support financially those who are already in the different countries (I read the book by the founder of Gospel for Asia and that was his emphasis...that Westerners should basically leave the ministering to the locals and support them financially...basically, let THEM do what is best for THEIR people). So, I sit in my cozy living room, all four walls in tact, running water in my sink and coffee cup in hand, knowing all that I know and asking God "Really? You want me to serve the widow, orphan, poor, and oppressed from here? Is that really picking up my cross and following You?" So that is the thing that I have wrestled with, feeling like I am in a perpetual state of "in the meantime", knowing what I think I should do for the poor, but maybe learning that it is going to be something entirely different than what I have always thought (a missionary life) and looking for ways to serve from here because the STM trip doesn/t make sense to me much anymore...for me personally. Anyway, just some more thoughts on the whole topic. Thanks again for all that you are doing to serve God and his people in Haiti. Blessings!

Lonny said...

The book you made reference to is a must read. Churches sponsoring STM trips need to have pre-trip learning requirements and to require reading this book is a good start.

T & T Livesay said...

Posted on behalf of former LTM Clark McNutt:

(Lived in Haiti 1977-1981 and did work in Africa - Mexico - Japan since then.)

"In conclusion, I am now beginning to oppose short term (as defined by less than 3 weeks) trips for these reasons:

1. They are culturally insensitive, reinforcing the fact that we are rich and therefore somehow blessed.
2. They are at their heart reinforcing colonialism, and not listening to the theological voices that have heard the Gospel for in most cases over 100 years
3. They create huge issues for long term missionaries, which fester into soured relationships as jealousy and envy on the part of the national pastors evolves into a "dump the long term missionary and just support us directly" movement. (cf, Y P Yohannon and Gospel for Asia) This usually creates a class of super pastors- ones whose English and communication skills enable them to live far above the standard of where they minister.
4. They do not prove to raise more money nor long term missionaries as advertised. (A professor at Trinity did the research on this.)
5. There has become a cottage industry of short term missionaries who travel several weeks a year but are supported all year from money raised for ministry. This is an accountability question, and may be okay with proper disclosure, but I have rarely seen any disclosure to this effect. As the article below states, it is a 1.5 billion dollar industry.
6. ST trips are seemingly having an inoculation effect on potential missionaries. Saying that, I believe anyone going long term should do a 2 year short term first, to "ramp up" for a long term commitment.
7. They allow people to "do missions" for 2 weeks out of 52, instead of living missions all year."

Clark

Nate and Brenda said...

I could not agree more. Troy and I were just talking about this a few weeks ago. I have hesitated to post a comment because my thoughts go in so many directions. I have seen so many hard things. One example from this past summer is we saw a group of STM riding in the back of a truck throwing candy out the back like they were at a parade. After the truck went around the corner they did not see the fights that erupted from kids trying to get the candy.
I have STM and LTM experience, and have made mistakes in both roles. The key though, is to learn from those mistakes. That brings me to my point. We should not only scrutinize STM, but in many cases LTM as well. The stories I have heard from our Haitian staff would bring most to tears, the way they were treated by past mission organizations. Too often LTM refuse to live in the same manner as those they are supposed to serve, or elevate themselves as better than the natives, which then sets the same precedent that an ignorant STM can give. Someone mentioned Revolution in World Missions by KP Yohannan. This book changed my life and helped me understand what missions really should look like. If we take the Biblical model for both STM and LTM then the kingdom will advance around us in ways that we can not even imagine.

Dr. Jenny said...

I have read this post and struggle with it deeply I'll admit. The problems are true and there is no way that they can downplayed. No matter what your mission, RESPECT is the key. Whether you are in a neighbor's home or in another country. STM or LTM should realize they are guests and act accordingly. What bothers me is the lean in the post and comments on the bad aspects of STM. Again, let me reinforce I agree with the problems and need for education of those doing STM. But, having truly felt the Lord called me to step up and work in medical mission work in Haiti last year I now sit here feeling like a child being reprimanded for doing silly, pointless work of STM's. I know that I likely have made some "dumb" mistakes in the many trips the Lord lead me on. No doubt. No excuses. I am learning and VERY willing to learn. My approach has been to close my mouth and open my ears, after that I pray, and then finally act. But, had I not started with STM work I seriously doubt that my eyes would've been opened to the reality in Haiti. Would my passion for the Haitian people have ever grown this deep to return again and again if I had just sent the money instead of putting my butt on a plane? In God's perfect plan, I do believe there is a place for STM work in partnership with LTM work. The comments on how this is not anti-STM work are acknowleged but the message over and again contradicts this claim. Even as I wrote that I question this, what is a STM and what is LTM? Really? By what I glean the definition is here, I am a STM worker. I'm sure I come up short, but feel that the Lord's call is to try to strive to serve as long term mission servant. Due to service and calls here at home, I can only be away for 1-2 week increments. Am I less useful b/c of this? As a STM with a LTM heart, I do thank God daily for the awesome privilege to serve Him in such a tangible way. Perhaps a reasonable follow-up post to this could be some example of STM work done right? It concerns me that I heard in the comments and updates of all the LTM workers with concerns about their STM workers and whether they should be there. Wouldn't it be better (and I recognize I have NO expertise) to educate and grow the STM effort into what it could be? Maybe some of the STM workers would become LTM servants? Maybe I'm just totally wrong...

This blog post does properly highlighted a growing and destructive problem and I support that. But, it has also left me feeling villianized. It will prompt serious questions to those LTM workers I try to assist and support both financially and physically. Have I truly missed the mark? My heart aches to say that it wasn't breaking and serving to the complete detriment of those I love in Haiti. Maybe it was...I'll be in deep prayer searching for God's truth in that.
Is a week of showing God's love to a group of orphans better than them having no one loving on them that week? Could it be that some of those short term interactions result in long term relationships and possible families?

All that aside I do respect the experience and service you have given and I will take your critiques to heart to work toward an obedient heart. I lean on this verse as well:
"And we know that to them that love God all things work together for good, even to them that are called according to" Romans 8:28

Humbly,
Jenny Chapman

debbie said...

Tara--I so appreciate the discussion going on about this topic. We have learned a lot in these past years. As it's only possible for us to be STM, while in Haiti, we live and work with the Missionaries of Charity and they have taught us a lot about loving and respecting and helping while we are there. Everyone needs role models like the Sisters or you and those at Heartline and those sharing on here in order to know how best to help. Thank you for opening yourself, your thoughts and feelings, your family and your life to all of us. Bondye beni ou.

T & T Livesay said...

I have re-read all of the comments. I want to sort of reiterate that *we* never said STM cannot be done well. It can. (Others may have said that.)

The entire point of this post was not to pit STM and LTM against one another. The point was to introduce an understanding about what often-times happens between the two groups and then how it affects the people we are all supposedly serving.

We have STM groups coming multiple times a year to work with us. We work hard to make it a positive experience for them while also making sure the decisions made won't hurt the ones God called us to walk along side for this season of our lives.

I am sorry if somehow you read into any statement I personally made -- but repeatedly I shared that it CAN and IS possible for it to be good.
tara

Paul said...

We live in a restricted country which is a popular place for STM's. Orphan work and English camps are the most popular STM's. The English camps tend to be the most popular and can be done very well. It does benefit people here to practice English with a native speaker and it can be a way to build relationships. However, at a camp in our country a group insisted on passing out tracts to the campers. They put them under the pillows of the campers. This, despite repeated warnings from the LTM. It put the LTM in the awkward position of going around, gathering up the tracts. The camp was/is under intense government scrutiny and a move like this could have lost them the whole camp and thus their witness in that part of the country. The pressure for STM's to bring back stories from the time is intense. People want to know their money was well spent.
An orphanage a few hours from us is literally starving children to death. Yet, if you google the name of the orphanage, you will find blogs of people who went there on STM's. They all talk about "lives being changed" and the equipment that they bought the orphanage. Well the equipment is locked up or sold and the children are dying. If they had worked with a local agency, some of this could have been dealt with a little better.
On the flip side, it was a short term trip that got us to serve here long term. Our teenage daughter has been on two short term trip while we have lived here that have literally changed her life. So done well, they can be a valuable part of the overall missions picture.

The Lloyds said...

These are things that need to be said and you said them well. The book is a really good one to read. I've watched many times people giving things to others in Haiti solely to make themselves feel better. Without relationships there is no change.

Thanks for braving the crappy comments to speak truth.

4taiwan said...

haven't read all the responses, but so agree!! I am married to a national missionary here in Taiwan...so I am a LTMer?;p. We work with unwed and single moms.... so we have seen stm that come making things look American and proud of it, but don't realize how much they hurt feelings of nationals. While I understand that STM's feel they are helping, because they haven't researched or really spent the time to understand the culture, so many times, they just burst through trying to make alot of little Americas.....I really appreciated your post and hope to get the book mentioned.

Sharon said...

Excellent, excellent post. Thank you for being willing to say what others are thinking and scared to put out there. We (STMs) certainly don't know what is best, but we so often think that we do.

Bree said...

Troy & Tara, (I'm Kristen Howerton's friend) & I run overseas mission trips for my job & just got back from Haiti 48 hours ago (working with Joy & Kerry Reeves in Montrouis). BTW, Y'all need to be friends with them. You're eerily similar :) Paige & their son Luke need to be friends because it's not very often that I know two 16 year olds living in Haiti with their mom & step dad with a bunch of younger siblings doing mission work. I tried to connect them via facebook, hopefully it worked :)

I just wanted to say PROPS for posting this. My leaders going to 8 different countries this year are reading "When Helping Hurts" as a mandatory part of their training program. We will spend much time discussing it & your scenarios will be helpful tools, so thanks for that. And thanks for your boldness in speaking truth about this - we're trying to change the face of it on this end, take heart in that.

I fell in love with Haiti (which says alot for someone whose been on tons of mission trips & runs them) and am praying to see how God will use me there. We'll see. :)

Keep it up - praying for y'all often.

Bree

Matt said...

Excellent post Tara. This is a discussion that needs to happen wherever short term missions is happening.

I would just add one thing. The use of cameras by short term missionaries has bothered me for awhile now. Many treat their trip like an African safari or a trip to the zoo, snapping pictures of everything they see with no regard to those they're taking pictures of.

I challenge anyone going on a trip in the future to really ask yourself why you're taking a camera, and if the answer doesn't involve benefiting those you're serving, then maybe leave it at home. The missionary's relationship with those they're serving is a delicate one, and it can be hurt by treating people like they're material for a scrapbook or to impress somebody on facebook.

Obviously pictures can in fact be of some benefit, just make sure you're purposeful of your intent and respectful to those you're photographing.

ATB said...

My husband weighed in on this a few days ago and I have been thinking about the subject and decided to offer my two cents as well…We are fairly new to the LTM world, but the struggle between STM and LTM does not take long to rear it’s ugly head. I do believe that STM can be (and at times is) done well, but I also believe that there is definite room for improvement. These are my three main ‘issues’ with SMT’ers…

Tara alluded to it a little in her post….I am not sure people who don’t live and work in another culture – especially in the developing Third World fully understand the stress that is caused by choosing this lifestyle. Even if you have done 5 billion STM trips…when you are there for the long haul and don’t have the option of getting a break in a month or a few weeks…life takes on a different perspective. So, when it is ‘really cool’ for a STM to ‘experience’ the craziness of traffic for instance, the reality is that Troy taking you on that little drive for an hour is actually stressed out by that encounter. When you go home and rave about the craziness of traffic…Troy will have to do that trip over and over each day to take his kids to school, run errands, to do anything…it causes stress. Not all of the stress that LTMer’s experience is bad, some of the experiences are good, but they can still make life stressful. Some of the outcomes of the stress are not necessarily bad in themselves…but they play into a life that may not be so carefree and easygoing. Re-read Tara’s post “Sunday” and think about it from that perspective. Each small thing that may seem ‘cool’ to you adds to the stress of the lives of those that are there for the long haul. Like Tara said, team after team after team of this…and it is a challenge.

Another thing that is hard is when people come in with the ‘know-it-all’ attitude. This was also alluded to…LTMer’s must CONSTANTLY be learning. Each moment of the day is spent learning how to adapt to a new culture, how to be culturally appropriate, how to take care of our kids effectively in a different context, how to show the love of Jesus well, etc. When STM’s come in and do not strive to be learners – it is offensive, quite honestly. When you either seem to think you know everything, or don’t have the respect to ask questions and strive to find out…it can be offensive. People spend years building relationships and growing work…to have people swagger in without consideration for the amount of learning and labor and love that has gone into that is very discouraging. Like Tara and others have said, it isn’t always intentional…but not coming in learning mode is not cool.

Lastly – ALL PEOPLE HAVE DIGNITY. (Read Matt's comment above regarding pictures). For some reason, we Westerners (LTMers can have this inclination as well) seem to think/act/believe that poor people have no dignity. Therefore, it is fine if I take pictures of them and their simple house and their kids with no pants on and dirty faces, and the open sewage system running in front of their door etc…because obviously if they had dignity they wouldn’t live this way, right? When we (STM’s and LTM’s alike) do not treat people with dignity, it is very very bad. STM’s who are not respectful of people; their privacy, their dignity, their ability to help transform their own lives, their place as God’s sacred children, do MUCH MORE harm than good.

This is way too long…If God is really asking you to do STM – to make a difference in the lives of others, and you have peace that it is the best use of your time and money and gifts, etc…then go…in humility and with a learning spirit. Please be respectful to those who are in the trenches day in and day out. Please be respectful of the people you rub shoulders with. Be Jesus to them and strive to see Jesus in them. Sermon over.

Tony Collette said...

Since you have been down the international adoption road ... Wondering if you have anything equally insightful on the does and don'ts of international adoption? Any recommended reading in that regard? I guess this whole string of commentary got me thinking that our potential role as adoptive parents may have many similarities to that of a LTM. And that we will surround ourselves with support (STMs) that may be well intentioned but not fully understand the needs of the kids and our newly expanded family.

Any thoughts or recommended reading would be greatly appreciated.

Tony Collette
Tony.Collette@comcast.net

John & Perla said...

81 comments in 6 days. I'm not even going to try to read them.

Good post. Hardcore. Needed. Too bad I can't link to it. You know, the board and all....

Matt said...

Excellent post! As a LTM in Albania we have seen similar things - even had one STM help a local come to America to finish school in direct opposition to the LTM. That young person went to the US, finished high school, went to college, married and has never returned to her home country except for short visits. I know that there is a place for STM - it has great value when done right. It is just so rare to see it done right. We often have to work harder to minister to the STMs than we do to the locals!

Sara said...

My background is in public health, and I have had the opportunity to do 5 ST trips (2/3 weeks each) in Haiti (as well as other areas where I spoke the language). I have two thoughts on the subject. One, there has been a presumption that LTMs get it right all the time. They don’t. There are people who get it right A LOT (the Livesays for example). And there are a bunch who do not, though that is incredibly rarely discussed (see Travesty in Haiti by Tim Schwartz for more information). In my experiences in Haiti and Zambia, I have been astounded at the self-serving reasons for which SOME serve as LTMS. I do not think blind allegiance (which no one has suggested, but is often an accepted practice) is good for anyone. Even on a mission field, power corrupts and absolutely power corrupts absolutely~John Dalberg-Acton.

Two, I think there is an “addictive high” with STM. People WANT to do something more than sending money, because sending money SEEMS like a cope out. And then, a lot of the aforementioned mistakes ensue. While it can be done well (esp. if the group or individual is COMMITTED to multiple trips to develop relationships in doing the work), it often is not and the resources to make those STM trips could be used by credible organizations on the ground more effectively than the airfare expense of a STM.

Because I was there in Haiti doing my own work with existing organizations, I had the opportunity to meet several STM groups. One really sticks with me. It was a church who had come every year for years, the leader had been coming for between 20-30 years. The leader still spoke no Creole (not even basic pleasantries). I asked him why with his long-term involvement in Haiti he hadn’t learned any creole. He told me “his son made over 100k, and had paid for the bus and driver they use on every trip, and with that kind of money he did not HAVE to learn Creole.” This same leader heard that Cite Soleil in PAP was poor, and decided to take the group there on a field trip there to pass out food in the streets. He was advised against it, but did it anyway. And, this leader was then SHOCKED when fighting and violence broke out, loaded his group back on the bus, and distributed NONE of the food they set out to distribute. I cried… a lot. I was familiar with a couple of good organizations in Cite Soleil who would now have a much harder time forming relationships with people there. Finally, having come from a place in the continental US that was very far from Haiti, the leader told me it was over 3000 a person to come on the STM, and there were 15 people there. This did not including in country expenses bc this group ate in restaurants. The purpose of their trip was to paint a school. $45,000 to paint a school in Haiti themselves, though several individuals admitted to paying local men to paint to more difficult parts for them. I asked him why the group had not considered sending the money to their organization instead and employing the local population to paint and complete many other projects with the money. The leader said they WANTED to go to Haiti and do the work themselves. While it was their time, their resources, and their decision, I could not help but fixate on the good that $45,000 would have done in country if spent responsibly.

I think, as so many people stated, really REALLY pray about how God wants you to proceed. In the body of Christ, there is room for a whole lotta service, and if God calls you to make a donation and you make it, you are serving Him and your purpose in Him. If God calls you to go and paint a school in Haiti and you go, you are serving Him and your purpose in Him. And while it is REALLY HARD sometimes for everyone, try to ascertain what he is calling YOU to do, and don’t get pulled in to wanting someone else’s “better” calling. And always ask God how to best steward your resources, sometimes it is through a donation and sometimes it is through a STM.

T & T Livesay said...

Thank you Sara. I loved your input. I never intended for the post to be perceived as STM vs. LTM -- I more intended for us *all* to think about the things we do and why we do them and to realize that sometimes our choices have long lasting hurtful effects on people we say we love. I was really careful to admit that we have made mistakes and openly admit to those and want to learn from them.

There are indeed LTMs that daily make me feel very sad as they do things that are not loving or empowering at all. Praying for all of it and asking for His mercy and peace in the midst of troubles.

Enjoying the dialogue and thankful for all of your voices.

mamie said...

Hmmmm...I just tried to leave a long comment...not sure what happened.

I am a LTM worker in Colombia, South America working with human rights and displaced people through a partnership between the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Iglesia Presbiteriana de Colombia. One of the things we do is work with STM groups from the United States, and I was wondering if I might be able to use part or all of this post in a packet I am putting together for people coming down.

One of the things I have found is that most folks do not do adequate preparation for their time here, but much of that is because they do not know how. I would be grateful to be able to include some of your thoughts, with due credit of course, if you give me permission.

I am glad to have run across your blog, and I am grateful for the work you all are doing in Haiti. I pray God continues to work through you and in you.

Peace,
Mamie

Chris said...

Wow, wow, wow. I have spent a good 45 minutes reading this entire thing. Many, many of the posts I was looking for a "like" button.

I think I have more questions than anything. I am married to a Haitian, and live in the US. We are (or maybe were) planning on taking a team to Haiti this summer. I have to admit that I wonder if this will still happen. We are going for 1 week to work. I have no idea on what, and honestly it doesn't matter to me. Or, at least it didn't until I read this. Is going for only a week to help in a feeding program, do a 3 day VBS and painting really the best use of the money?

I don't think this is a STM vs. LTM as I truly believe each has a place. But I do wonder if STM is really worth the resoures? I know for example that our cost ($1,000) each. WOuld send 3 kids to school for the year, would feed a family for a significant amount of time, could supply the feeding program with a lot of food, could pay for medical treatment, and the list goes on.

I am feeling very torn at the moment as our team is not going with any special skills (like medical). Would the Haitians be better off if we sent the money there and they were hired to do the painting themselves?

Is it even possible with all the resources you listed to truly prepare a team for STM in only a few months?

Hmmmmmmm.

Canis said...

Guys, all the things I wanted to say are said by some of you. I am Haitian and have been on the other side. I have worked with STM and LTM for 8 years. I have seen the blessings for both parties. All you have to do is pray about what God wants you to do. If you go as a STM, you might spend money that could help do something better in Haiti, but it could also be a bigger investment to the kingdom you won't know until later. You all have good intentions, use them wisely.

Lisa L said...

Thank you for the thoughtful post and discussion. This is a topic I have thought about a fair bit myself.

For those who've said something along the lines of "but I feel called to help the poor!" might I suggest that if you take a short drive in your own town/city, you will encounter many poor, hurt, and broken people you could come alongside and bless. And then take the $995 you've saved ($1000 airfare minus $5 gas money) and use it to support a respected ministry (locally or abroad).

I wonder if the appeal of STM (versus local ministry) is the appeal of DoingGood without the ongoing heartbreak, sacrifice, and frustration involved with seeing the setbacks and slow progress encountered in real relationships, and real lives.

katiejo04 said...

I am indifferent about your post. In May of 2010, I went to Haiti on a STM trip. I felt strongly called by God to go. I, however, did not go with a team. I went by myself. It was by far the "scariest" thing I have ever done. I left my husband and 3 very young children at home for 2 weeks to follow God's calling. This was my very first trip out of the country. One of my very first experiences in Haiti was the boys outside the airport begging for "just $1 M'am, please." I will never forget how much that broke my heart. But, I also knew that giving them a dollar would be a terrible thing to do. I knew this 1. because I had done a lot of research before I went to Haiti. and 2. because the organization I stayed at during my trip was sure to provide adequate information to me in preparation for my trip.

Do I feel like I made an impact on the country of Haiti? No, not really. I hope that at least 1 person felt the love that I came with.

Do I feel like Haiti made an impact on me? Absolutely, without a doubt.

I took gifts with me for the children in the orphanage where I volunteered. I gave the gifts to the ladies in charge of the kids. Did I do a bad thing? I don't feel like I did.

I do see your point. I understand completely. But, I feel like you left out the good things about STM. I believe that STM lead to LTM. Maybe I am wrong. But I know that after my "short" (which seemed like a lot longer being away from my kids) trip, if God presented me the opportunity/challenge to be a LTM, my husband and I would prayerfully consider it. Before my trip, I don't know if the same would be true.

katiejo04 said...

I would also like to add...

Now, because of my STM trip, I financially support the organization that I volunteered at on a monthly basis. Something that, more than likely, would not have happened had I not gone.

T & T Livesay said...

This post stirred up something ...

We're not sure how anyone decided that there was anything to be "against" in the post. The post was meant to get us all thinking about the ways we do STMissions. It was meant to push ourselves to examine our motives and actions. We pointed out the ways in which we have failed personally in this area. No reason to be defensive here. We never once indicated that STM should be banished. We did learn that one organization blogged and "is against this post by the Livesays" - which is just totally odd since the post was anecdotal and the main point of the post was to think before you act and to come on your trip prepared and willing to learn.I don't know how anyone can be against that .... but I digress.

David Beck said...

Hi Livesays!

I'm glad you have spoken out. It seems like the tension in the relationship between LTMs and STMs can be like the elephant in the room. You just pointed it out. Now we can talk.

I also like your balanced view. STMs can be done well. And they are important for the body of Christ in multiple ways.

I'm glad you referenced When Helping Hurts -- surely one of the most important missions books in the last several decades.

As one who has ongoing involvement in Haiti and was a very recent STM leader to Haiti (it was good to see you, Troy!), we work hard to emphasize a few fundamental points: (a) let's think of ourselves not as the saviors of Haiti but as "co-laborers for a better Haiti"; (b) there are some things we do really well and some things Haitians do really well -- let's make sure we listen and learn from the Haitians; (c) let's do all things to support the work of the LTM (Child Hope Intl); (d) let's die to ourselves and not seek to do things for our own glory or out of our own emotions; (e) let's be humble and work within the systems that are functioning for the people who actually live in Haiti; (f) it's great to do projects and build things, but let's never forget that the kingdom of God is primarily relational -- let's love people in Jesus' name and practice the "ministry of presence."

Getting to go to Haiti a few times has changed my life, my ministry, and my family. Thank God for STMs!

Peace,
David Beck
Sanctuary Covenant Church, Sacramento
Child Hope International, Port-au-Prince

Nick said...

I wrote a review on When Helping Hurts awhile back. Next week I'll be taking my second STM trip to Haiti. Not bringing a ton of stuff to give out... though the pastor I'm working with said there was a need for French Bibles so I'm bringing several of those.

Catalina said...

Thank you for this blog post. I am thankful that a friend just forwarded it to me as I had not read your blog previously, but look forward to reading more. I live and work in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic and run an organization called Project Esperanza. I have had similar experiences and learned similar lessons. E made me cry, speaking of children learning to accept Jesus in order/in exchange to receive things I actually wrote two blog posts on my blog about the same topic but some guidelines of what we have found are the most productive long term and short term efforts and ways to avoid the problems you point out here. The links to those are http://caitlinmchale.blogspot.com/2010/05/responsible-short-term-foreign-presence.html & http://caitlinmchale.blogspot.com/2010/05/responsible-long-term-foreign-presence.html. I'll share this post with others for discussion because it's a great critique and way to enter into dialogue about these things. Thank you and many blessings to you all and your beautiful family.

R. Baker said...

So true, I have been involved in STM's for the past 20 yrs, in Eastern Europe and East Africa and have witnessed this many times over. I regularly lead Bible College missions and one thing I try to instill in the students is; 1, Make no promise 2, do not even give the slightest hint of help. 3,
one packet or sweets will not go between 1000 children, once one is given the queue grows, 4 if you do not want to be bombarded with requests for gifts after you return home do not give telephone number or e-mail. I have seen a lot of hurt through not obeying these 4 principles.
Rev Robert Baker Gospellife International. UK

Missy at Its Almost Naptime said...

Tara - I'm curious if you think that ST medical missions are in a different category than the standard painting/VBS STMs? What are the downsides there, and are they fewer?