“haiti does not have a shortage of construction workers”

a couple nights ago, i sat in the back row as jim noreen, the haiti operations director for praying pelican missions, went through an orientation for a group of about 30 from a church in mississippi. the group was mostly adults, with only a few kids and teenagers (who were there with parents).

this particular church has taken many trips to haiti, and has developed something of a church partnership with a large baptist church in carrefour (through praying pelican). one of the projects that haitian church has told praying pelican they want help on is the construction of another church about a half hour away. so PPM has been bringing teams to that construction project for a year or two (adam mclane lead a group of youth workers on a vision/exploratory trip here earlier this year, and they spent time in mariana at that project).

but as jim was prepping the group for the start of their work the next morning, he said something i’d not heard from a short-term missions organizer before. he said (this is a paraphrase, but pretty close to what he said):

tomorrow we’ll be working on the mariana church, and will be helping pour the concrete columns for the bathroom area of the church. but i want to be clear about something: haiti does not have a shortage of construction workers. and we are not here to replace the work that local construction workers need. so, part of your trip fee was given to the pastor to hire a group of skilled haitian construction workers, who will be completely leading the work tomorrow. we’ll only be extra hands for them to direct. and that means, it’s not a race to get the work done. our goal is not to complete a certain amount tomorrow. our goal is to work alongside the volunteers from the church who will also be there. our goal is relationships.

wow. that really caught my attention. so often when i’ve been on missions trips, our work has been in almost complete isolation from any real interaction with locals. it was almost as if we had our “physical work” (a project of some sort) and our “relational work” (playing with kids at an orphanage, or something similar).

the “don’t worry about the pace, since that’s not the point” approach reminded me very much of my experience visiting zappos.com, and how they measure the success of their customer service phone reps based on how LONG phone calls are, not (in direct opposition to normal customer service metrics) how SHORT phone calls are.

really, what a great perspective. of course, we know that our work as youth ministry people is relational. but there are certain “projects” (construction or otherwise) that don’t seem to fall within the purview of the relational bits of ministry. doesn’t have to be that way, though. and i saw it yesterday, on the work site. cool interactions, permission to play, encouragement to grab a translator and forget the buckets of water, dirt and rocks that our bucket brigade moved for the concrete work.

here are a handful of pics showing that (all taken during the work project):

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9 thoughts on ““haiti does not have a shortage of construction workers””

  1. Incredible insight MarkO… we saw a similar thing when we were living and leading teams of American volunteers just across the border in the Dominican Republic… and we also used trip funds to hire dozens of Haitian construction workers to do the “skilled” work they were highly qualified for (often mixing and pouring cement), and our volunteers focused on relationships, teaching English, and Bible instruction… things they were often highly qualified for.

  2. @eric – The other day I asked PPM about how many Haitian were hired for this week when about 160 Americans came. Conservatively, he thinks about 150. That’s so stinking cool to me.

  3. My college roommate has been a life long missionary to the Philippines, China, Africa, and most recently Alaska. So in other words, I think after 30 years in the field, she has a clue. And she always told me that third world countries were bursting with the resource of sweat equity but what they didn’t have was supplies. She always felt that well meaning churches would make their mission bucks go so much farther if they would bring stuff and just give it to the local people to use to build. She saw it time and time again. Well meaning Americans (usually youth groups) would come in with an agenda to build a house or church. They would bring the stuff, do the whole project, and then have a nice photo op and leave at the end. What they didn’t know was they the church that was built was then referred to as “the Americans church” and it was ONLY opened and used when the Americans would come back. Otherwise, the people felt no connection to it and no ownership of it. I saw the same exact thing in remote northern Canada. A beautiful education building left to utter ruin and decay because the community simply refused to use it.

    Good for PPM and others who get that. And shame on Americans who believe it is the product, not the product that matters.

  4. Just back from a trip to Bolivia where we plastered the inside of houses to prevent the spread of Chagas disease. We worked alongside a local plasterer who fixed all the mess we made. We were told we would suck at plastering but that wasn’t the point. We also got to work alongside some members of the local church who volunteered their time for this project. What an amazing experience! And our contractor – who we communicated with the very few words of Spanish we knew and a lot of sign language – was amazing in what he could do with such limited tools and resources.

  5. I absolutely love this, and the director is completely right. There is a book called “Seeing with Eyes Wide Open” which I highly recommend every church read. It is about the true purpose of mission work, and it even states something very similar to what the director said. My concentration in college was missions so I am so glad to hear that he said what he said.

  6. My church family and my personal family were in Montego Bay Jamiaca last summer and I have to tell you that the relationships that were built in that short period of time have changed our lives. I agree with the previous posts that there is alot of raw talent out there and all they need are the resources to make the projects “their own”. I have to tell you how my relationships grew thru the week. I appointed myself the photographer of our trip. I am a photographer by nature and love recording history–even owed my own busness at one point..anyway the first day we worked I photographed everyone mixing the concrete and paving the front of a community school. Well guilt set in and I decided the next day I would help with the mixing and leveling of the concrete in stead of taking photos…..well one local gentlemen I was working with ask me if I was the one with the camera. I proudly said “Yes I am” his response to me was “well maybe you would be better behind the camera again.” his response still makes me smile when I think of him…..apparently I was not doing a good job for him but his kind words got the point across. I have some of the best shots of those smiling faces looking directly into the camera with a sense of pride that I have never experiences anywhere else. All because of the honesty of one man…he knew where my place was to be…and it was definately not smoothing out their concrete. My place was photographing the locals and recording the memories for all of us as the trip of a lifetime. We are planning on going back again in May and there is a pretty good chance I will be photographing that trip also. Thank you Praying Pelicans for letting each of us share our God given talents in whatever way we are comfortable with.

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