Rather than telling you some of the stories from our volunteer trips, I’m going to give you a top 10 list. So, here, in random order, are the top 10 things that I’ve learned from volunteer trips to Haiti……
Number 10 – Haiti is not the United States. During our first trip to GLA, I spent 3 hours helping John rewire “Big Red” (one of their trucks). If we had been in the United States, a quick trip to the auto parts store and it would have taken 20 minutes to fix. But in Haiti, it would have been a 3 hour trip to the hardware store with absolutely no guarantee they’d have the part.
Number 9 – It’s not about me. Repeat that – it’s not about me. A trip to Haiti is not about you. It’s not about what you want, it’s not about what you feel, it’s not about what your plans are. It’s not about you.
Number 8 – You are not bringing Jesus to Haiti. Jesus was there long before you came and he’ll be there a long time after you leave. So don’t wear shirts that say, “Bringing Jesus to Haiti.”
Number 7 – Schedules in Haiti are not the same as schedules in the United States. In Haiti, long term is supper time tomorrow. So, don’t expect to know what you’re going to be doing Tuesday, August 4, 2014 when it’s still November of 2013.
Number 6 – Being friendly – it is considered rude in Haiti to not greet everyone you see. Whether you are coming in a room, they are coming in, walking down the road, it’s important to say Hello, establish eye contact and validate their worth.
Number 5 – It’s a marathon not a sprint. When you come to Haiti for 10 days, you’re prepared to work 12 to 15 hours a day, including the weekends. Guess what, the staff can’t do that – because if they did, they’d be working 12 to 15 hours a day 6 days a week (or more) and that would make burnout even more of a problem than it already is.
Number 4 – As a mission trip member, your biggest work starts when you get home. Don’t just go back to normal life, but tell people, not what you did, but where you saw God. Become an advocate for the organization, become an advocate for the people they serve. Become a prayer partner for them.
Number 3 – The biggest question you should ask while you’re on a trip is not, “What are we going to do?” The biggest question should be, “Where and how did you see God at work?”
Number 2 – Since you are not from Haiti, you don’t understand the culture. So don’t do anything other than talk to the locals without clearing it with your organization first. I’ve heard of many instances where a lack of the cultural understanding has taken generosity that is misplaced and has left the recipients and the long term missionaries in worse condition than they had been before.
Number 1 – Invite others to “come along” on your journey. Share about it before you go, ask them to help you with supplies and costs, share with them when you get back – make them feel like they are part of your team. It will build your team, it will make them feel valued and it will expand the opportunities for people to see God at work.
Number 0 – Be flexible and be grateful. Show the long term staff that you’re there to make their lives easier and to make them feel appreciated. You are not there to be a guest, you’re there to be the supporting hands and feet of Christ to those who serve and those who need to be served.
Does this mean I’m against short term trips? Absolutely not. But I do believe that it is crucially important and very difficult to do short term mission trips well. They take a lot of training, a lot of explaining, a lot of leading and a lot of follow up for them to be a success.