Yes, I just got back from Haiti, but no, I wasn’t on a mission trip. It’s hard to explain really, at the travel clinic, the pharmacy, going back through customs, “Oh, are you going on a mission trip?” And I say no, I’m not, and here’s why…
Mission trips have come to carry a lot of baggage, they suggest conversion attempts, building things that people can build themselves, having a white savior complex, bringing Jesus to people, you name it. Generally the idea is that you are on a mission trip to bring or do something to/with a group of people. There are many many problems with this attitude and approach (which other people have spoken to more eloquently than I, please see attached reading list) and for that reason, I do not want the work that we do to instantly be associated with all those things – because all those things is not what our trip was about…
We went with the La Gonave Haiti Partnership (http://lagonavepartners.org) to the island of La Gonave off the coast of mainland Haiti. We were a church group who’s motivation for what we do is building the Kingdom of God, which (when I am being my most optimistic self) I believe is what missions trips are attempting to do, build the Kingdom of God, show Jesus’ love, but here’s where the split begins. We were not “bringing Jesus” to the folks in Haiti. Jesus is already there. First of all, we’re working with the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti, anything we do, should be coming alongside the work of the folks already working and caring there. Side note: The clinics we helped with were run by Haitian doctors and midwives, the church services we attended were not led any differently because we were there. But even if we weren’t working with a church community, the Holy Spirit is already at work, that’s what prevenient grace means, it means we can and should come alongside, but we, personally, don’t “bring Jesus” anywhere.
So what does this kind of trip look like then? It looks like forming relationships, listening, learning. In the same way that when I go over to a friends’ houses, I listen to their struggles, I learn about how their life is going, maybe I have come over to help with something or maybe I will help with something next time, but we don’t consider a visit with a friend to be a waste if we didn’t help them hang up all their pictures. On the other hand, we also don’t treat our friends like they’re incompetent or that we know more about their life and home and how to solve their problems than they do. The same idea goes for making new relationships in other countries.
So what should we call what we’re doing? When I get frustrated I tell people we’re doing development work, and we are. The partnership as a whole does lots of development work from women’s sewing co-ops, to a goat project, to working with the clinic. We are participating in the economic development of the island of La Gonave. But we are more than just a development trip. We are people of faith forming relationships with brothers and sisters who live far from us to further build the Kingdom of God together – we are partners in Kingdom-building — it’s a partnership trip.
It’s a little more awkward to say, I acknowledge that, and true, people won’t instantly know what you’re referring to, but that’s part of the beauty of it. When you are asked what a partnership trip is, you can talk about continued relationship, about community meetings where we hear each others’ stories and also needs and dreams, where we work together and don’t assume that we know the other person’s life story or needs before asking them. There is a reciprocity to partnership, there is mutuality – it’s not perfect, but it is people, fueled by faith, participating in the in-breaking of the Kingdom together.
Why, yes, I did just get back from Haiti – I was visiting with/ working with/ getting to know, our partner community on the island of La Gonave, and I’d love to tell you more about it…
Additional Reading Material –
Friendship at the Margins: Discovering Mutuality in Service and Mission. Christopher L. Heuertz and Christine D. Pohl (Downers Grove: IVP Books, 2010)
Development to a Different Drummer: Anabaptist/Mennonite Experiences and Perspectives. Richard A. Yoder, Calvin W. Redekop, and Vernon Jantzi (PA: Good Books, 2004)