When the opportunity to visit Gens De Nantes, Haiti for a second time was presented to me, I felt an odd combination of thrill and hesitation. Since my first visit in 2013, I have learned much about the history of missions and specifically the outcomes of short term mission work throughout the world.
I have learned that, while the intention of a short term mission trip is to help others, quick, fly-in, projects often create bigger problems than they solve. I have learned that our healthy, God given desire to help can quickly get mixed up with our unhealthy desire to be in charge, to have the answers, and to ensure our project is ‘successful’ and will present well on our social media feed. I have learned that a paternal posture of, “We can fix things, we know better” does much more harm than good for those we are serving with.
Knowing all this left me wondering, how could I travel to a developing nation and ensure our mission participation is not driven by our motivation, our desired outcome, or what we think we can do for those who live there?
Importantly, this trip was not project-oriented. Our focus was to document and celebrate the work already being done by our Haitian sisters and brothers. To explore together the resources that already exist in Haiti that our partners can leverage. To listen well to our friends’ hopes and plans for the future of GDN, and partner with them where we are invited and able to do so.
One highlight for me happened in the guest house one morning after breakfast, with our Haitian translators and some Canadian team members. As we lingered in the dining room, we discussed the very issues I had been struggling with; the sometimes ugly side of Church history —colonialism, racism, sexism—typical after-breakfast conversation! It was so meaningful to me that we were able to discuss these difficult topics openly, sharing our hopes for the future of the church, learning how our various backgrounds shaped our perspectives.
It was inspiring to hear Hernso talk about the future of the agriculture program for his students. It was moving to see Dr. Emmanuel become so animated when advocating for his patients. It was thrilling to see how Herlynda has become such an accomplished professional and leader in our partnership. God has placed them in their region for specific purposes that we are not meant to fulfill, but instead to come alongside to encourage and strengthen. (Acts 17:26-27)
The words of Jesus in Matthew 28:19 are often used in the context of missions, to “go and make disciples of all nations”. In the case of our friends in Gens de Nantes, they ALREADY ARE disciples of Christ. The Spirit is there, the work is being done. It is a privilege to be invited to participate in what is already happening in Gens de Nantes. We have much to learn from each other as we follow Jesus together.
During the retreat, Dr. Emmanuel mentioned that it was funny our team came all the way from Canada to remind him of the resources already available in Gens de Nantes. For me, it took a trip all the way to Haiti to see what is in my own backyard, too. At the retreat we discussed some of the struggles that GDN faces—the lack of clean water, the need for young people to travel and live away from home to attend high school and the risks that go along with that. It sounded familiar. Our own communities in Manitoba, particularly First Nations, face many of these exact issues. Some indigenous communities have been under boil-water advisories for decades. Many lack proper infrastructure. Most have limited access to high school education and must travel to Winnipeg, living away from their families and communities, similar to the young people in GDN. How might God lead us to work together with the local church in these communities?
It was a privilege to see what has been accomplished by our partners since my first trip in 2013. The difference between then and now was striking, thanks to the hard work of our Haitian friends. The clinic was bustling thanks to the dedicated staff; the agriculture space on the AEM Guesthouse Property was being prepared and education was already ongoing thanks to Hernso and the workers who built the enclosure; the schoolyard & retaining wall looked fantastic, with room for the children to play and a very healthy mango tree! Our financial contribution to our partnership has certainly been well utilized.
In all cases where we desire to help, we need to defer to the local people, who know the society, culture and resources of their area the best, and facilitate and advocate where we are able and invited to do so. This is mission today: freedom, agency, and recognizing the capability of our partners in Jesus to minister to those around them, pooling our collective resources, and participating together as we are invited to have input.
- “When Helping Hurts” by Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert (available on Audible and Christian Audio)