5 Lessons From Honduras on Short-Term Missions
August 6, 2012
Updated April 10, 2018
8 comments 7072 views
In late July I had the opportunity to visit Honduras for an evaluation of World Renew’s church to church partnership program, which often includes work teams. What did I learn?
Honduras gets a LOT of short-term missions (STM) teams, as the planes full of gringos wearing matching t-shirts attests. It’s also the home of Kurt Ver Beek, Director of Calvin’s Honduras Program and well-known researcher of the effectiveness of STMs. I’ve read most of the literature; now, I had the opportunity to hear from the community itself how they felt about the North Americans coming to serve them.
Specifically, we interviewed members of two communities — Los Charcos and El Coyolar. We also interviewed Diakonia Nacional staff, World Renew-Honduras staff, and CRWM staff who have interactions with the volunteers. Out of all that interviewing, some common themes began to emerge.
God is already here. On the airplane, I overheard someone with a southern accent say, “This is my first time flying. I’m going to bring the Word of God to the poor people in the mountains.” I winced. I knew of several Christian Reformed Churches that had been planted by World Missions, and according to the World Factbook, 97% of the population is Roman Catholic; 3% Protestant. So yes, there is work to do, but it’s not as though there is no church. (Note: I'm told these figures are out of date, that it's more like 50/50).
YOU are the community’s service project. I was slightly amused when I realized that just as youth groups plan ahead and pray about ministering to the Hondurans, the community prepares diligently to minister to the North Americans! They are trained on how to prepare food so that you do not get sick. They learn how to make pancakes. They decide amongst themselves who is suitable for hosting you in their homes. They begin praying for travel safety months ahead of the visit. They instruct their children not to steal any items they find laying around. They instruct the men to be respectful of the young women, even if they wear inappropriate attire (such as shorts) or go outside at night unaccompanied (which the North Americans don’t seem to realize is a huge no-no).
They recognize your sacrifice. They know about your fundraisers, how hard it is to raise money and travel so far from home. They are grateful, and recognize that you come with a servant heart. In fact, it inspires them to help others in their community who are less fortunate, after you leave.
It’s not about the projects. Yes, they appreciate the piles, floors, and latrines. But when asked the question whether the North Americans should just send money, there was widespread agreement that no, it would not have the same effect. There’s something about working side by side that helps the community come together. They said it’s like having an extended family. With this in mind, they also wanted the groups to know that it’s OK if the project isn’t completely finished when it’s time to leave. Better to spend time on relationships than spend all your time working, missing the point and occasionally alienating the local masons because of demanding “North American” working hours.
Take the long view. Both groups expressed feeling shy at first, about the condition of their homes and wondering how they would be able to understand their guests. but every year “they become more like family.”
My overall impression, then, was overwhelmingly positive. I smiled at the Canadian hockey sticks kept at the house across from the church, about stories of learning how to make pancakes, and the time one of the groups went swimming in the river (despite being warned not to) and got sick. Yes, there were some stories of disrespectful behavior on the part of the North Americans. Yes, there were some issues of dependency that were brought to our attention. But after interviewing the community, and seeing firsthand how relationships can re-invigorate the North American church, I would wholeheartedly encourage short-term missions trips — with the caveat that they keep the above five points in mind.
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Thanks for the encouraging words, Wendy. The Carpenteros have been blessed to labour alongside Honduran brothers and sisters for the past 10 years, and the friendships we have established are truly gifts from God. We can't lay claim to the swimming in the river incident, and I am best not to mention the two team members who were washing up at the 'pila in the field' -- but we interrupted by the cows who came to drink ;-) And, in a shameless plug for our Honduran friends in rural Olancho, individuals and churches interested in high quality, Direct Trade coffee grown by farmers - many of whom are members of the Honduran CRC - please email [email protected] and we'll pass along the details.
Finally, excellent staff like Irene, Ana and their team at CRWRC-Honduras deserve credit also for the tireless work they put in to prepare teams, communities, and look beyond the trip for ways that North Americans and Hondurans can build relationships that go much deeper than the short time that a team is in the community.
God is doing amazing things in Honduras. His Spirit is transforming communities. Christ's love is evident in so many ways. He doesn't need us to accomplish what He is doing there, but He blesses us by allowing us to catch glimpses of His love in action.
Wow. What a wonderful boost for short-term missions. We also appreciate the kind words--and we do know the group that went swimming! And we know we have much to learn about how best to work alongside "our" community in Honduras. God is good and we will continue to ask him to be in charge of this relationship and the development plan of the community. He works before we come and after we leave; we are delighted that he also chooses to work through us and in us while we are there!
Our thanks also go out to Ana and Dilia and Arturo for their hard work and encouragement; they have been a great blessing to us. May God's will be done in His kingdom in Honduras!
Thanks Wendy for a great article. It suggests that, if done right, STM can be a real blessing on both sides of the divide. Regarding the stats on Christianity in Honduras, Operation World has quite a different picture from the World Factbook. It shows 97% Christians: 80% Roman Catholic and 19% Protestant including some doubly affiliated.
I wonder how the Factbook arrives at its data vs Operation World? I just double checked the sites and you are right, they provide different statistics.
The facts depends on who reports them, and some of them are out of date. The Rom Cath church reports what they have on membership rolls. But according to Wikipedia, a self-identified affiliation reported in 2007 that 47% are rom Cath, 38% are evangelical protestant, and 14% are other.
When the piece on Honduras started off with what to me were figures on religion that were so far off and out of date, I wondered what else of facts and perceptions might be skewed as well. But then, I'm an inveterate doubter about the "effectiveness" of STMs. On balance, it sounds to me as though Honduras - at least as relates to CRC folk - is well above average on that score. And I don't doubt that Kurt and company have a lot to do with that, with awareness raising on both ends of the exchange. Lets keep the dialogue going, and the debriefings Stateside for many months afterward. PS I'm wondering how many of the participants to Honduras of the last several years are aware of the serious situation presented to the leaders and staff of the Association for a More Just Society .... look them up.
My sense is the vast majority if not all of the N.A. teams serving in Honduras are aware of the situation faced by ASJ/AJS, and are aware that Dionisio's killers have been released even though they were each sentenced to 20 years. We definitely need to keep these matters in our constant prayers.
But it is not just human rights/justice advocates who face daily dangers in Honduras.....the message below arrived a few hours ago, and knowing that many who read this will know Arturo Colindres, please keep him and other DN workers in your prayers.
Arturo called this morning asking for you to excuse him because he won't be able to send a picture of all the coffee farmers; it seems like violence is also reaching El Carrizal, a few months ago the former mayor of Santa Maria del Real (he is originally from El Carrizal) was murder, this has bring a family and now a community feud between del Real and Carrizal because a relative of the victim returned from the US looking for vengeance and establish himself in Carrizal. Claudio and others recommended Arturo not to come because he is danger just by living in Santa Maria, they warned him they could take him as a spy. One of the (coffee) producer Glenda Mejia is the sister of the victim; so Arturo is trying for all of them to meet him in Guacoca but is not sure when it will be.
we need to pray for our friends in El Carrizal so that none of them become victims.
Thanks for sharing that, Ken. Arturo will be in my prayers. And, look for a guest post in a couple of weeks from ASJ/AJS about what it's like to do ministry in Honduras, the country with the highest murder rate in the world.
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