(exerpted from August 2009 Newsletter)
Four or five time a year we lead short-term mission trips, usually lasting between ten days and two weeks. Some of these teams come from churches. Others come from college ministries. And some are made up of a variety of individuals who are connected only by a familiarity with this ministry and a desire to serve their Lord.
We’ve shared about the various projects and ministries they’ve helped with. They have built schools, churches, and houses and done maintenance projects at the orphanage. They’ve carried audio-visual equipment into remote villages so that we can show the Jesus Film, and they’ve taught English to school children. They’ve encouraged Haitian believers with testimonies of God’s faithfulness in their own lives, and they have helped with various clinics and distributions, and much, much more. But I’m not sure we’ve ever shared in one of these letters our real purpose for these trips. Why do we do it?
I’ve been asked on occasion if sending groups of Americans or Canadians more than 3000 miles and dealing with the logistics of in-country transportation, lodging, and food is really the most cost-effective way to get the orphanage painted, to set up the Jesus Film equipment, or to put a roof on a school. I’ve actually asked the question myself. It might cost a team member $2000 to go on a trip. How much Haitian labor can you hire for that? Is this really the most efficient approach to these projects?
If the only concern were for getting a job done, if the end goal were no more than building a church bench or braiding an orphan girl’s hair, then the answer is no, mission teams aren’t cost effective at all. There are many less expensive ways to accomplish these things. But the purpose of these trips is much greater than that.
The purpose statement for Starfish Ministries mission trips, which has been shared with teams from the beginning, is to:
1) Allow God to affect team members’ lives for His purposes.
2) Encourage Haitian brothers and sisters in Christ as we worship and minister with them.
3) Present the gospel of our Lord through Bible School, Jesus Film, and other opportunities.
4) Help to equip Haitian believers for ministry.
5) Work on Starfish Ministries physical projects, helping to build churches, schools, and homes and drilling wells.
6) Nurture our children in the orphanage as we love them, hold them, play with them and share with them.
The first item on that list is first for a reason. The primary purpose for these trips has always focused on what God can do in team members’ lives. And we’ve seen great fruit in this area, beginning with Bernie’s first trip to Haiti with another missions organization, several years before Starfish Ministries began. On that trip in 1992, God moved in his life in ways that affected his spiritual life, his commitment to ministry back home, and eventually led to Starfish Ministries.
Not everyone will be called to a lifelong ministry in Haiti, but every believer is called to ministry – in your church, in your community, in your home, and possibly beyond. We have seen, again and again, God use team members’ experiences to inspire and train them for ministry in the United States and Canada.
For every ministry that teams experience in Haiti, there is an equivalent at home. In Haiti we experience people coming to Jesus as they hear His name for the first time. At home there are many who have heard of Jesus all their lives but have never really understood the pure gospel. In Haiti we meet physical needs of people who are sick and dying for lack of food and clean water. At home we find people struggling in a weak economy to provide for their families. Our hearts break for the Haitian orphan who lacks loving parents. The United States and Canada are filled with children and adults who are starved for compassion and encouragement. We educate children, train leaders, and plant churches in parts of Haiti where no one has even considered such things before. The void in educating, training, and planting in the United States and Canada is much more subtle, but the need is just as important and the ministry just as vital.
Our desire is to see team members return from Haiti with a renewed passion to minister in their communities, to see them take the things God has taught them in Haiti and apply them back at home – and it’s working! So we don’t take teams to Haiti primarily for the work they can accomplish in Haiti, but for the things God can accomplish in their lives.