|Visiting with some children in Uganda|
Each year we receive fundraising requests from multiple young people wanting to go on a summer mission's trip. And they want us to help pay for it.
Typically they're trying to raise $3,000-$5,000, and they're traveling somewhere in the third-world. They're going on the World Race or serving at an orphanage, teaching a Vacation Bible School or building a facility. Absolutely, 100% worthy things.
BUT ... (and please hear me when I say this--I mean this genuinely and with grace), sometimes I question whether it's really helping these young people when we front the bill for their world-travel, short-term mission experience.
Hand ups v. hand outs, right? Why is it acceptable for us to give hand-outs for short-term missions trips, but adamantly discouraged by ministry organizations to the poor in the third-world? Don't the principle reasons against hand-outs apply across the board?
In When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself, we learn that "material poverty alleviation involves more than ensuring that people have sufficient material things; rather, it involves the much harder task of empowering people to earn sufficient material things through their own labor, for in doing so we move people closer to being what God created them to be. Second, work is an act of worship. When people seek to fulfill their calllings by glorifying God in their work, praising Him for their gifts and abilities, and seeing both their efforts and its products as an offering to Him, then work is an act of worship to God."
Could these realities be true for short-termers as well?
No doubt the student's church or college has asked them to hit up friends and family to help pay for their trip. These kids are listening to the guidance and mentorship of others. It's just 'the way' we Christians fundraise. But is it best?
I would rather, in a heartbeat any day, donate to a student's mission trip by hiring them to work for me (around the house, with my children, mowing our lawns, pruning my 27 rose bushes, washing windows, wiping down the doors and walls of little fingerprints, painting, etc). Because when he works for what he wants, he's more invested. And the missional experience becomes about more than the 7 days he's in Africa. It involves the trying and testing the faith, months of hard work and persistence, and the blessing of worshipping God by working.
We must consider that the process for raising money for the trip is just as important as the actual trip itself. "Who pays, and what they pay for matters. This is a learning experience, not a trip to save the world. Learners are more likely to value their training if they are paying for a portion of it. Participating in a few hours in a fundraiser is probably not a large enough sacrifice for people to have a sufficient stake in their educational experience." (When Helping Hurts, 178)
What would happen if a student, so desiring to go on a mission's trip to Kenya, works part time for 16 weeks (an entire semester), doing odd jobs in his spare time, saving every penny, forgoing the movies and In-and-Out so that he can go on the trip? He's now invested his physical energy, his time; he's sacrificed wants, and done it for months, not just a few days. Does the investment he makes on the front end make the actual trip itself more anticipated? What character traits has he learned, and what kind of faith building has he experienced because he persevered?
Let's say the student, challenged to raise HALF of the money on his own efforts, creates a flier about the services he can provide. But through that flier he only gets responses from five people, earning $300. What will he do now? He's in a predicament, and he still needs to earn thousands of dollars. Does he then send out letters to 200 people asking for donations? Perhaps his parents can sit down with him and coach him through other ways he can earn his way. He makes a list of ideas, he strategizes, and he gets on the offensive by cold-calling. He goes door to door asking if he can walk dogs and mow lawns. He calls up people in his church offering housecleaning and babysitting. He works a whole Saturday shredding paper in a law office. He has a garage sale, bake sale, and two car washes. He trudges blanket to umbrella to beach chair on Memorial Weekend at the beach, pulling a hefty ice chest selling bottled water at $1 a pop. This is hard work, but it's good for him. He makes another $1,000.
He decides to sell a few possessions on craigslist. His skateboard and gently used baseball bat, a few XBox games. He chooses to eat whatever he can find in the fridge rather than eating a bean and cheese burrito. He begins looking at what he owns and sifting through things he doesn't need because everything has a monetary value. He earns another $500 selling what he doesn't need, and saves another $200 because he stopped spending frivolously.
And if, after 16 weeks of working extremely hard, sacrificing, devoting, selling what he doesn't need and offering his services to any employer who would hire--if he still needs money then, you say, as a parent, "I see how much you want this and how hard you've worked. I want to chip in and help you because I believe in you." Or he then sends out a fundraising letter to friends, sharing all he did on his own merit, how much money he raised personally, asking them to push him over the finish line.
After he sends out the fundraising letter comes the prayer. Because he needs the generosity of others to make it possible. He experiences the humility of asking for help--how pride-swallowing and difficult it can be to accept help from friends (rather than expect it). And gratitude flows when money pours in.
Now we have a man more prepared than ever for real 'missions work.' He's grown in character, determination, and faith; he's learned skills and practiced humility; he's grown in his manhood--learning how to provide for himself (and probably grown in confidence too). And when he boards that flight to Kenya, he leaves prepared to inherit the blessings of a short-term experience.
"Development is a lifelong process, not a two week product." (168) The author is referring to in-country sustainable development, but this truth applies to the development of people too. We must look more carefully at the process of character development denied our students when they are instructed to lead their fundraising efforts by asking for a hand-out.