One of my goals when preparing to travel to Cameroon was to learn more about what it meant to be a long-term missionary. What was it like to live with a people group different from your own? What did it mean to stay with a people group long enough to see them fully evolve, to see their hearts soften to the gospel, and to see their community grow in Christ? Obviously, I knew that even my four months in the country wasn’t long enough to see a lot of this stuff and I still was not a long-term missionary. However, I was living with three families all of whom had been in country for over 10 years. Their testament would prove to be quite helpful in forming a picture of the answers to these questions. Even with five weeks left, I have already learned so much about what it means to create long-term change in a country and how people are able to go and generate short-term change.
Lesson #1: Fixing problems in the short-term does NOT generate long-term change. This goes along-the-lines with the familiar saying, “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach him how to fish and you feed him for a life-time.” Despite most of us knowing this saying, we tend to do the opposite. We want to go into someplace and fix all of the “problems”s so WE can feel good about ourselves. Then, we leave, never knowing whether or not our two weeks did anything substantial. However, by teaching the people how to care for themselves, we generate change that is not dependent on our presence. I have found this illustrated well by the way our medical team in Baka land approach medical situations.
The other day, we were out in town when a couple came by with their young child who, as one neighbor told us, “looked as though he was going to die.” Where we are, the sad reality of the situation is that many people have seen enough children die that they know what this looks like. Anyway, since we weren’t there, they were told to come back the following day, which also happened to be a medical day. Around late afternoon the next day, I was meeting with the nurse for prayer time when she shared that the child had not yet showed up. This created a dilemma for her that I think we can all learn a lot from.
She wished she could just go to help the family and give the child the medication or care needed. And technically, she could. The family lived in the village only 3km away; however, if she went there, that doesn’t help the family take care of that child in the future. Within the Baka society, over time there has been a great lack of initiative that has developed. In order to see lasting change for the people, they need (1) Jesus and (2) to understand that there are consequences for their actions (or lack of action). Our medical team is already providing a service that would be unprecedented in most other places. They provide a FREE consultation and will see you without money up-front. Then, if you need medication, you will pay a discounted price for it.
If they could just go door-to-door in the village helping every single sick person for two weeks straight, that would be great. They would probably leave Cameroon after that feeling as though they really did a lot to make a difference, but as soon as they left, the people would be back where they started. Creating lasting change requires making sacrifices and it is not going to be easy, but in the long run, it will be worth it.
Next week read Helping Not Hurting: Lesson 2 and learn how and why short-term service or missions CAN be effective. SPOILER: it has nothing to do with what you are doing!