Reflections on My Short-term Mission Trip to Haiti

February 12, 2010 — 10 Comments

       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.

Any Questions?

       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!



Corey is currently pursuing a Master of Arts degree in religion. While he enjoys learning and writing about Christianity, another one of his new passions is writing about personal finances in order to help others make wise decisions with their money.

10 responses to Reflections on My Short-term Mission Trip to Haiti

  1. Paul,
    Ever since I knew you had gone on this trip, I have been anxious to read your reflections. That first section about being extremely blessed was really well done. You told of the stark living conditions without causing us to feel guilt for living in a great country. I appreciate our nation more after reading that section.

    I have been on many short term missions, and while I agree that these are not the solution, we have found that working with permanent missionaries consistently over several years can make a difference.

    I am glad that you took the time to learn a bit of the language. I know very little Spanish, but the little I do know is appreciated by the locals (sometimes they roll their eyes and laugh). But at least they know that I am trying to honor their culture.

    Keep an eye out for Craig and Jeri Ford’s new ebook, a handbook for short term missions. It is not complete yet, but should be soon. You probably already know this, but Craig is the guy behind Money Help For Christians blog. He and his wife are full time missionaries in Papua New Guinea.

    Thanks again for the post.
    .-= Joe Plemon´s last blog ..Which is More Godly: Poverty or Riches? =-.

  2. Thanks so much for your encouraging comment, Joe! I’m glad you liked the first section. It sounds like it did what I wanted it to do. It’s just amazing how much we take for granted. We have nothing to complain about if we actually look at how blessed we are.

    I hope it didn’t sound like I was discouraging short-term mission trips. They are a great tool and will help open our eyes and hearts. But we must be careful not to think too highly of ourselves or the work we do on those trips. It’s just important to have the right mindset going in, while you’re there, and coming home.

    I’m looking forward to Craig & Jeri’s ebook. He’s going to be sending me a copy to review. It sounds like it will be very helpful! I’m excited because my wife’s cousin is going on a short-term mission trip to Haiti in the summer, so it might be a useful resource for her group. Thanks again for your comments!

  3. Paul – I am interested in planning a trip for next year to Haiti – would like to ask you some questions if you have time? Please email me at the above address.
    Thank you!

  4. Thanks for your comment, Karen! I’ll send you a note shortly.

  5. My husband and daughter will be traveling to Haiti in July 2011. This will be a senior missions trip. Have any pointers that you would share?

  6. Thanks for your question, Kay! Other than what I shared in this article, I can recommend Craig Ford’s “Short Term Missions Handbook” which I wrote about in “Preparing for a Short Term Mission Trip?“. My best tip is to listen carefully to the advice you get from the hosts as they’re most familiar with the situation. You’ll make the trip better for them if you can help them out by following their rules and guidelines. Other than that, a lot of prayer and seeking God will go a long way!

  7. Andrea Pierre May 12, 2011 at 11:10 AM

    Hi Paul,

    I found your site by doing a google search. Your review has been helpful. I will be traveling to Haiti in a week for a short mission trip and was wondering if you have any tips or advice in general.

  8. Hi, Andrea. I guess my general tip would be to just be friendly and talk with people. Try to learn a little Haitian Creole if you can before you leave. If not, try to learn while you’re there. Haitian people are very happy to help you learn some Creole (especially if you’ll help them learn English!). :) This is a good way to at least get a connection going with someone.

    I’m not sure what type of tips you’re looking for though. If you could be a bit more specific I might have some ideas. Also, it’s been over a year since I was in Haiti so I’m not 100% up-to-date on how things are going there. Blessings!

  9. I’ve been asked to go on a two week trip there, I’m 21, amd I’m really worried about the violence and crime situation after reading another article about it, I’d lover for you to e mail me and tell me more about it!!!!

  10. Hi, Whitney! I haven’t been back since I was there in 2010, but I can say that we never felt in danger while we were there. We were a little nervous, but there was nothing to fear. I can’t say what it’s like right now though. I’d recommend trying to get in contact with someone who is in the area where you’re going. Also, if you’re working with a group that has a base already there, it’s highly unlikely they would ask you to come if it’s really dangerous.

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