We have all seen the devastation of hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires, and other events that require recovery efforts from both the government and the private sector. Groups as well as individuals respond to a variety of events to assist in rebuilding, reorganizing, and recovery. People have both ordinary skills or highly qualified in specialized areas. Religious, work, civic and neighborhoods organize groups for trips. There are many positives in such efforts, as well as many negatives. Long-term results of mission trips can be both very helpful as well as very hurtful.
We have been active in disaster response and mission trips for a long time. We have seen the good and the bad. Now, we customize trips to NYC. We are very aware of the negative long term results of mission trips, and we attempt to avoid many of these pitfalls. The October 2017 edition of The Parish Paper touched on several of these long-term issues.
- We need to remember we are entering a place that other people call home. We should be careful of the things we say and do, even in a devastated area. How would you expect someone to act where you live. We should act like partners, and not tourists, gawkers or voyeurs. We should be mindful of taking photos and other recordings.
- We should work to build a positive relationship. Even during short-term trips, relationships can be established. There is a benefit to returning to the same place of the course of time.
- We need to abandon the patron/client model of assistance that has been the prevailing model for years. The “You need help, and I am here to give it” model does not establish positive relationships. The model we use is one of partnerships.
- We should reflect on our experience on a daily basis, at the end of a trip, and after our return.
- We should make sure that the project actually benefits the community. Many times, we place our own solutions on a situation. These situations have negative effects because we don’t take time to understand what is really needed.
- We should immerse ourselves in the culture. The investment of learning about one another is crucial.
- We should have learning goals for the experience.
- We should not have projects that undercuts the economic, political, and/or social realities of the community. So often, we come in and do work that takes away from locals earning a living. We bring in products that undercuts the local producers of the same items.
- We should work through responsible, trusted organizations. In no situations should we self-deploy without asking if we are needed, how we are needed, and what is expected.
We have the potential to make a long term, positive impact, both on the community and on the individuals that make the trip. It can be a life-changing experience for many people. We just have to make sure we are doing what is best for the people impacted. There are always new and existing opportunities. Take a short term, longer-term, or long term trip and make a difference. Lutheran Disaster Response and Moravian Disaster Response are organizations we have worked with and trust. For more information on our customized trips to NYC, go to our Mission Teams page.