One thing that we see far too much of here in Haiti (and hear the same reports from missionaries/humanitarians in other parts of the world) is generous gift handouts from mission teams.

You may think I am being mean or oppressive when I say this, but it needs to stop. Now. The only person who is being oppressive in this situation, is the one handing out gifts.

Let me paint a picture for you:

You’re on a mission trip to Haiti. It is your first, or maybe your tenth. You go to a place where there a number of teenagers who tell you the story of their poverty. It truly is sad that their father died last year, and their mother cannot find work. It is certainly unjust that they eat once a day or even once every couple of days. Your heart is breaking over the fact that 5 or 6 people live in a tiny one-room house. (And it is right for you to feel that way.) This teen touches your heart and you decide to keep in touch – maybe on Facebook or What’s App. They tell you how they need money for school, and you send it. They tell you their family hasn’t eaten in days and you send more money. They tell you they need a phone, so you send a nice newish smartphone.

You think you’re helping. But you’re not.

Sure, their stories are real and they are sad. We don’t have to see these things where we’re from. It pains you to know a kid is eating every other day.

BUT sometimes …

when you send money for school, they spend it on food.
when you send money for food, they spend it gambling.
when you send a smartphone, they watch pornography or even sell it for cash.
when others see this person keeps getting nice gifts, they get robbed – even killed.

And all the while, there is a group of missionaries or locals on the ground mentoring these kids, teaching them, even employing them! And through their relationships, these kids are learning that earning the money to buy a cell phone (sure it isn’t fancy like yours) has so much more dignity than getting it from some foreigner. They’re learning that building relationships is more meaningful than pretending to care about someone so they’ll give you something. They’re learning the value of their education, because they’re being held accountable for going to school and doing their homework.

And I’m not just talking about teenagers, here – that was merely an example. This applies to orphanages and adults, and communities.

When you show up, on your white horse with shining armor, you strip these people of all those things: dignity, respect, relationship, accountability. And not only that, but you also jeopardize the programs or ministries that are working so hard to walk alongside these people and give a hand UP instead of a hand OUT. And when you leave, they’re the ones who have to pick up the pieces of what was broken and start all over again.

Mission trips don’t have to do harm. They can be amazing for all parties! But, the best thing you can do when going on a trip, is to see how you can help support what’s already taking place in the country. Because you? You’re just there for a week or a few days, maybe even a month. But there are people who live alongside the people you want to help as well, and these people are in the trenches day in and day out. They build relationships and have deeper understanding of the people and the culture. Look to them, consult with them, ask them how you can come alongside them to be a true HELP while you’re there.

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