I don’t claim to know much about missions work. I know nothing about what it’s like to live and sacrifice a comfortable life in the states. When I travel, I’m gone for 10 days and I’m always relieved to get home. I wish I could quit my job and school and volunteer full time. ..Where’s my silver spoon? My gravy train? My sugar daddy?…Jon!? What happened!?!
But I am hopelessly and annoyingly obsessed with it. Ask my friends. Annoyingly.
I’ve always carried my thoughts on my sleeve and it’s made for some pretty interesting conversations. Here are the irritating things people have said to me about my expensive and physically-punishing travel hobby.
1. “Why don’t you help other Americans?”
People say this to me all the time. Whether someone is American, Canadian, Chinese, Haitian, what difference does it make? If I’m in love with Haiti, what’s the problem? If you’re in love with helping homeless, or veterans, or in love with politics or in love with animals, fitness, nature and you’re involved in making life better, why does it matter? Haitians, Chinese, Europeans … EVEN.. Canadians… are just as human as Americans, so what difference does it make where I volunteer my time?
Also… how do you know whether or not I also help Americans?
2. “There are poor Americans too.”
I know this is the same thing, but again, I get this all the time. There are plenty of needs here at home. I agree with that. People are hurting everywhere. If here is where your heart is, great! Do something! I believe God has created us all different, gave us all personal interests, convictions and talents specifically for helping others in unique ways. Whatever you feel a burden for, pursue and love it. Don’t expect everyone to be in love with the same thing and don’t apologize for it.
But, are the needs here really as great as they are there? How many poor here starve to death? How many are adding dirt to their flour to make it go further? How many live on under a dollar a day? How many have to drink dirty unsafe water? Our needs are for improvement. Theirs are for survival.
3. “Short term trips don’t help missionaries/organizations living there, and they’re a waste of money”.
Actually, I agree … sometimes. I read the book When Helping Hurts and it really opened my eyes to problems organizations face with short-term mission groups. However, there are times when organizations need and invite extra hands. If a person plans and prepares for immersing in that culture, and follows the leadership of who they’re going to serve, it’s definitely NOT a waste.
Last Summer a group from my church went to help our friends who run a children’s English camp in Haiti for 400 kids. When we arrived, there were about 15 people in charge. We added about 14 more. Without us, I’m not certain how anything would have gotten done. It’s like running a camp for 400 people out of your kitchen, with no air conditioning and when the power seldom works. I can now make 400 pb& j sandwiches faster than any human alive. We brought food. We repaired a generator and a truck. We taught and sang and loved.
I’ve also gone to Haiti with a friend who is a child therapist. An orphanage asked her to come and help with some of their kids who had experienced a lot of trauma. They needed and valued her expertise to help kids have a healthy mental well-being. Definitely NOT a waste.
4. “How was your vacation?”
Usually this question is met with a look of bewilderment and absolute silence. Let me describe what volunteering is like in Haiti.
Arrive. Hot. Smells. Bug bites. Dehydration. Dirty. Diarrhea. The end.
If you would like to experience Haiti here’s what I suggest. Get the smell of Diesel all over you, sit in a sauna and make 400 pb&j sandwiches.
Of course I’m being sarcastic…sort of. The amazing people I’ve met and worked with in Haiti far out-weigh any heat or sickness. I also work harder, am more exhausted and have more FUN than any vacation I’ve ever had. It’s the most rewarding experience in the world. Seriously.
5. “Good for you going out there and helping those poor people.”
This is said A LOT. It makes me feel weird…it makes me cringe.
1. They obviously have no idea how much fun I’m having.
2. Please, don’t EVER refer to anyone as “those poor people”, it’s condescending. It’s offensive.
3. I’m only there for 10 days. What about families who have chosen to move and live there indefinitely!?
6. “Christians only help other Christians; this is why I don’t support church groups”.
I had a boss that said that to me. I’m not sure which groups she’s researched, but they weren’t any of the ones I’ve served at. The groups I have seen and worked with help people because they love Jesus. They also help PEOPLE, regardless of their beliefs or background. That’s the truth. They WILL share Jesus, through loving and caring for others. I make no apologies for that, but being a Christian is not a prerequisite for receiving love.
7. “I don’t support adoption because you’re stealing that countries future”.
There is so much wrong with this statement I could write a blog just about this. Maybe I will. And although it’s not a statement exactly about missions, since I’ve volunteered at orphanages, it’s included.
All I’m going to say about this TODAY is that there are some bad orphanages in the world and there are many, many good ones. It’s like saying all Muslims are evil because of Muslim terrorists and all Christians are bad because of Westborough Baptists. It’s simply not true. I have met orphans who were abandoned on garbage dumps, unwanted because of HIV, left in cribs for years, or left on the street. I ask you, what kind of future is that? They weren’t given a future. Adoption GAVE them a future. This is a first-world assumption. They assume other countries can take care of their orphans because we have a system to do so here. In third world countries the children are left without education, without love, and often without life.
I’ve started to look at poverty not as lack of things, but lack of opportunities. As Americans (or Canadians), we’ve been given an abundance of opportunities. We should feel a huge responsibility to take advantage of them, so that we can provide opportunities to those who aren’t born with that luxury.
If you’re interested in volunteering either at home or overseas:
1. Make sure the group has asked for or needs you!
2. Make sure the group supports and loves what you love
3. Do your research and make sure the group is creating opportunities for the community
4. Be prepared to work!!
((For video footage of our trips))