Last week I talked about how in the West, when preparing to go do service abroad, we forget that long-term change does not happen by coming in and “fixing” problems in a week or two. I then talked about some of my experiences in Cameroon thus far and how this struggle between long-term and short-term change manifests within our ministry. If you didn’t get a chance to read that post, you can check it out here. Today, I want to go into the second lesson I have learned regarding how to help in the long-term. The interesting part about this lesson is that it actually does touch on short-term service and how that can be effective.
Lesson #2: Short-term service is effective ONLY when relationships are already in place.
Short-term service can be effective when there are already people within the culture we are trying to help. If there are people there who have already established relationships and will continue those relationships way past the time we leave, change can take place. This point came up recently during an orientation talk with some field visitors that would be potentially taking up long-term positions in Cameroon. As our field director talked about how any of the work that could now be implemented was solely because of all the work of people serving before us, I was brought back to my mission’s trip to Mexico (LINK) in Summer 2017.
I had the opportunity to go to Mexico and work with an organization called Doxa to build houses for families in the slums of Tiajuana. I found this to be one of the most impactful short-term missions trips I have ever been on because it felt like we were making a difference. The way Doxa works is that people who want us to build a house for them have to apply. Within the application process, they have to prove that they have a plot of land that we can build on and they also have to show some sort of proof of employment. This shows that the family will be able to maintain the house moving forward. I thought this was so smart because it ensures that the house isn’t just going to fall apart again after we leave.
Beyond that, Doxa has also been working in the same community for almost its entire time. One day, I was working on the roof of the house and I looked out and saw other Doxa houses that had the same bright colors and build. We were impacting this community, not just giving a temporary solution to this one family. Our Doxa representative who was working with us knew so many people in the neighborhood. As we drove through to our worksites people would wave and ask him how he was doing. The specific teams that were coming to Mexico may have been changing, but the project and the presence was ongoing.
It was because of the relationships that had been built through past groups coming and the Doxa workers that we were welcomed into the community and able to be effective.
I want to encourage everyone to find ways to serve and hope that this series does not discourage you. It’s important to do your research when finding organizations to work with to make sure that you’re leaving a lasting impact. It’s about finding ways that your resources and talents will go the furthest. That could mean sponsoring a child through Compassion or partnering with an organization like Doxa for a short-term trip or even committing your life to long-term work with missions like World Team. It’s not just about doing something to help; it’s about being effective in the ways we help.