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):