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7341: Re:7309 mission teams/missionaries (fwd)

From: Martha VanCise <mvancise@ircc.net>

As someone who has worked with mission teams for over twenty years in the
Western Hemisphere and who lived six years in Haiti and worked with teams
there, I would like to address the issue of "short term teams."

I saw wonderful results and I also saw abuses relating to these teams.
Abuse came from both team members and Haitians.  I found that teams that had
no advance preparation, and who threw on a backpack and went to "do good,"
came back with hair-raising stories to share with their churches and did a
lot of damage to the Haitian people.  On the other side, I saw Haitians who
saw the advantage of befriending these team members and using them as a
source to fund their own upstart churches.  Starting a church or a "feeding
program," is a sure bet to get cash especially if you have a camera. On one
of these "drop in visits," members of one Texas church who had supported a
Haitian pastor for years were shocked to see the pastor lived in a very fine
house, drove a new vehicle. Weeds, however, grew up around the unpainted
church that had a half-dozen people who had apparently been dragged in off
the street to act as parishioners when we appeared. They asked, "Where has
our money gone?"

Out of my deep concern for the abuses that both team members and Haitians
encountered I wrote a book for teams which is distributed world-wide and in
a second printing.  Many major mission organizations and some Christian
colleges are now using this and other books  to correct some of these abuses
and help team members avoid being a promoter of some of these scams. I have
observed and strongly believe that teams that are well prepared in advance -
several study sessions on culture and building relationships, etc. - can be
a benefit.

Among the points I have emphasized is the importance of knowing the
organization : Financial accountability, track record.  The organization's
books should be open to inspection. Organizations that carry the ECFA logo
which means their books are audited and donations can only be used for their
intended purpose.  A second emphasis is on learning rather than teaching
those in the other culture. Too often teams go to do things the American
way.  One team insisted on putting a skylight in a school.  The school
became a green house and the Haitians had to cut banana fronds and cover the
roof. Teams should go with a learning attitude.  The work is not the most
important part of the trip; building relationships is the most important.

And my "pet peeve" is handouts.   I think the greatest abuse of mission
teams has been the encouragement of a "begging society."  I firmly promote a
policy of no handouts - none of this giving in order to get the warm fuzzy
feelings. Get a shoeshine in return for giving cash - sneakers polish up
great even if the polish color is wrong.  If you have stuff to leave like
clothes and toys, give them to the Haitian leader in charge and let that
person distribute according to needs.

On one occasion we helped rebuild a church near Jean Rabel that had been
destroyed by a hurricane.  We emphasized no handouts. All day long both
Haitians and North Americans worked side by side.  At night everyone in the
community gathered around our little camp fire and we had singing duels.
Those were nights rich in cultural exchange.  On the last day, "love" for
these new friends overruled our set policy and team members began peeling
off T-shirts, watches, hats and passing them out.  These team members went
away with lots of warm fuzzy feelings. When the next team arrived the local
people had no interest in working.  They immediately began putting in bids
for certain T-shirts, watches, hats, etc.

I also believe that team members should make sure - ahead of time that what
is brought is what the Haitian people need and want. Some massive handouts
have undercut the industry of small business people such as tailors in a
community.  As a missionary, I am concerned about these abuses too and I
know many other missionaries are too.  The problem often is that a small
group of people come in and decide they know what the people need, then dash
off to meet that need. If you will take a hard look at the well-established
and financially responsible organizations in Haiti you will find that they
are more interested in enabling and the people to provide income than in
hand outs.

As a final note: I think the missionaries and team members should be cut a
little slack on these criticisms. The majority are operating out of an
attitude of love and self sacrifice - in fact one of the problems is that
their emotional involvement with the Haitians and their needs often override
their common sense and pragmatic approach to providing genuine assistance.
We in the missionary community are on a constant learning curve and as we
recognize errors we do try to correct these. In spite of all the mistakes we
make, I am proud to drive across Haiti and even sail to Ile A Vache and
point out schools that our teams helped the local people build.  Instead of
children crammed together on planks in a tunnel that had mud running through
it and rain leaking through the frond roof, these children have a concrete
floor, a metal roof, and desks.  Many receive meals through a daily feeding

Martha VanCise
If you have any interest in my book, it can be ordered on Amazon or Barnes &
Noble by putting in my name as author.