Since I’ve done several short-term missions trips — and become aware of the possible negatives involved (re: “When Helping Hurts”), I’ve struggled to come to terms with how much the church should focus on short term mission vs. giving money to the native Christians already on the ground in a country.
I had a conversation with my aunt and uncle about this and they even told me about an American organization that exists solely to get support to people in various countries around the world that already live in the places we might otherwise have gone. I think that organization is wonderful.
When it comes to Congo and my team, I believe we all made a longer term commitment that will “help” and not “hurt” while sometimes teams come and go to a country and then never go back or keep in touch with the people they met there.
That all being said, there’s something I’ve never articulated about all the trips I’ve taken that stood out to me in the book I just finished, “Radical.”
When you go to a different country to help out in some way, the people are over-the-top so glad to see you. Money is money but someone’s actual presence in war-torn country or in a place that needs help is priceless.
In “Radical,” the author shares a story about a trip he took to Sudan. He received some criticism for spending the money to go when he supposedly could have just sent $3,000 over there and it would have gone a lot further.
He then tells the story of talking with a Sudanese man while he was there. The man told him all about his life of war, suffering and persecution — as well as the many supplies and groups who had helped in the past years. Then the man said to the author:
“Even in light of all these things that people have given us, do you want to know how you can tell who a true brother is?”
I leaned forward and asked, “How?”
He responded, “A true brother comes to be with you in your time of need.” Then he looked at me in the eye and said, “David, you are a true brother. Thank you for coming to be with us.”
Tears welled up in my eyes as the reality of the gospel hit home with me in an entirely new way. I was immediately reminded that when God chose to bring salvation to you and me, he did not send gold or silver, cash or check. He sent himself — the Son. I was convicted for even considering that I should give money instead of actually coming to Sudan. How will I ever show the gospel to the world if all I send is my money? Was I really so shallow as to think that my money is the answer to all the needs in the world?”
After reading that section of the book, my heart was warmed. Yes, that’s it! That’s what draws me back. Every time I have gone somewhere, those that we meet are so overjoyed to meet perfect strangers (I’m ALWAYS amazed at how lovingly I am welcomed) and they are always insistent that we come back.
I remember my first experience overseas, when I was in Venezuela as a young teen. We went to a church there and though I did not understand the sermon, I immediately felt like I was in the presence of love and of family because no matter where you go in the world, God’s family is my family. A Christian in Venezuela or Afghanistan or Mongolia is my brother or sister in Christ. The realization of that and experience of it in reality is pretty cool.
It’s hard to explain how touched people are, but they ARE. It matters. Being there matters. Your touch, your face, your words, matter. I still believe it’s extremely important to abide by the “When Helping Hurts” philosophy but I want it to be known how much presence matters.
Even though I didn’t necessarily change the world while I was in Congo, I KNOW being WITH this kids instead of just sending money MATTERED.
So that’s it, it’s all I’ve got. So, I hope next time you see someone raising money or crusading for something like this, you’ll keep this in mind. And maybe think about going yourself.