I told you when I got back from Haiti that I wanted to take some time to process my thoughts. I’ve done that and now I’m ready to share some of my reflections on the trip. This probably isn’t going to be the most insightful post you’ll ever read, but these are the things I’ve learned from my very short time in Haiti.
We Are Extremely Blessed
Traveling to one of the poorest countries in the world is sure to open your eyes. Yes, I knew before I left that even poor Americans are extremely wealthy and blessed compared to the rest of the world. Yes, I had read about living conditions in Haiti and other third-world countries. But until you go and see it for yourself, you can’t truly comprehend just how blessed we really are. I still don’t fully understand it because I was only there for a little over a week.
We have so much that we take for granted every day. Smooth roads to drive on (and cars to drive), solid homes to live in, and access to high quality medical care are all major blessings that we hardly consider day to day. We complain when there’s a pothole on our street, but even the worst roads in America are better than some of the best roads in a third-world country. The streets in Haitian cities and towns are littered with trash (and I mean lots of trash) because there’s no garbage collection. Yeah, there might be a city dump – but it’s too far outside the city for most people to worry about taking their trash out there. Our streets are clean and we have numerous affordable options for getting rid of our garbage.
We complain about our government and politicians, but it’s ten times better in America than in many other countries. We have our scandals and self-dealings, but the level of corruption in the Haitian government would bog down America’s legal system.
We have public schools for everyone to attend at no cost (aside from taxes, of course). School in Haiti can cost $200-300/month (US dollars), but the average income in Haiti is $250/year (US dollars). Get an education in the US and you can probably find a decent job. In Haiti, it doesn’t matter if you have a great education – if you don’t know someone in the company (a family member or very good friend), you’re not going to get a job. Period.
If you can’t afford food in America, you can qualify for food stamps and you’ll be able to eat and feed your family. In Haiti, there’s no such thing. We have breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In Haiti, mealtime is whenever you earn enough money to buy food. For most people, that means they get to eat once a day – if they’re lucky.
I don’t say these things to make you (or myself) feel guilty. I’m saying them because we need to realize just how blessed we are. Even the worst day for a poor American is far better than what most people in Haiti can even dream about. We need to see how rich we are and appreciate it. We need to see that we have been given so much. And then we need to open our hearts in generosity to share with those who have so little.
Short-term Missions Help You More than They Help Those You Go to Serve
Our team renovated a building that used to be a hospital. It was run down, filled with trash, completely unsanitary, and had no electricity or working plumbing. We brought it back to an operable condition, but did we (our efforts) have a long-term impact? Probably not. Yes, it helped. Yes, it was needed. But we would be fooling ourselves and full of pride if we thought we made a big difference in the one week we spent there.
Other people on our team cared for the sick, cleaned their wounds, and put on fresh bandages. They cared for people who had no advocates. They tried their hardest to provide the best medical care they could with the limited skills and supplies they had. The work they did was great, but who will do the work tomorrow? Next week? Next month? Next year?
I’m not trying to trivialize the work that we did. I know we helped many Haitians while we were there, and I know God will continue to work through the efforts we gave during that week. I’m just saying that it takes much more than a renovated hospital, clean bandages, a new home, or any other number of short-term mission projects to make a lasting change in a community or culture. The truth is that we did more for ourselves on this mission trip than we did for the people of Haiti.
Short-term missions give you a chance to learn a little about life in other countries and cultures. They’re an opportunity for you to learn how blessed you truly are. They will help you become more aware of other people’s struggles. And I pray they’ll move you to compassion and generosity. But usually, you did not make a huge difference in the community. You were not an enormous blessing to the people. They were a blessing to you, and they made a difference in your life.
Short-term Missions & Money Are Not the Solution
While I knew it before I left, this trip reinforced the idea that short-term mission trips and money are not the solution that the world’s poor need. They help, but they’re only temporary. There are so many cultural barriers (including language) to overcome that you can’t be extremely effective in just one week, one month, or even one year. Money is needed, but it can’t fix people’s hearts.
Haiti doesn’t need food for a day. Haiti needs ways to grow its own food. Haiti doesn’t need American doctors and nurses for two weeks. Haiti needs to train its own doctors and nurses. Development is key – not short-term solutions. My discussions with Haitians reinforced this idea and showed me that long-term missionaries and programs are needed much more than quick fixes. Those quick fixes (and short-term missions) are useful and needed, but they’re not the solution to all problems.
If You’re Going on a Short-term Mission Trip, Try to Learn the Language Before You Leave
Finally, my last reflection is just a tip for anyone who’s going on a short-term mission trip to a foreign country. Try to learn the language before you go. I tried to learn some Haitian Creole before I left, and it helped me form some deep connections with Haitians I met there.
Learning the local language shows the people that you care enough about them that you took time to learn how to communicate with them. I know that the Haitians I spoke to loved that I was trying to learn their language and they were happy to help teach me. I still don’t know very much Kreyòl (that’s how they’d spell it), but they thought I knew tons just because I was willing to learn.
That’s not a huge insight. I’m sure you thought of it before you started preparing for your trip. But I want to strongly encourage you to make an effort to learn their language and not to be afraid of sounding stupid when you try to speak it. Be humble and friendly, and I’m sure they’ll be excited to help you learn more.
I’m sure there are other things I could mention, but those were my main thoughts. If you have a question I didn’t answer or maybe something that would be good for me (or anyone else) to consider, please let me know in the comments!