Last week, I started to ruminate on the challenges associated with mission work, specifically about how even when we have the best intentions as missionaries, the way we choose to spend our time, interact with others or even just our perspective going into mission work can get in the way of giving the best we have and fail to bring about the transformative change we had hoped for.
My class with me on the front steps of CASB. This picture was taken for Elon Day (March 8), Elon University's (my alma mater) day of annual giving. International alumni were asked to take pictures with the Elon banner in their respective countries. My students were super excited to be in this photo with me, but I think they may have thought they needed papers in their hands, too! You can see some of them are holding the homework assignment I had given them just a few minutes ago :)
Then I began to wonder if I had been going about my own mission work in the right way. Had I really helped the community I’m in? Is my teaching doing anything for my students?Are the new projects I’m getting involved in here going to bring about positive changes to the institutions I’m working with? Have I really done enough?
Hiking from Labadie Village to the Temple of the Sun
Wanting to get some more guidance in these questions, I turned to a couple of articles on mission work online that honestly explored my worries. Both pieces suggest what may be the most common root cause of fruitless mission work, which is that it is often too focused on the missionary and not enough on the community they are working in. In order for mission work to be successful, there needs to be a balance of concern for both the missionary’s experience and the community’s experience with the missionary. This symbiotic relationship between the missionary and their community leads to positive relationship, which then leads to transformation within a community and and works to transform the the missionary’s understanding of the community and the individuals in it.
Grove of trees on our hike to Temple of the Sun and climbing some serious rocks to get to Belly Beach
“Success” can of course be measured in many different ways. It is from positive relationships between the missionary and the community that concrete change is possible. If a religious leader in the community and a missionary take time to form a positive relationship, for example, they may end up working together to combine their abilities and perspectives to start a new program for youth or build a new worship space.
A former swimming pool at an abandoned hotel with a stage, complete with the muses of comedy and tragedy at the Temple of the Sun. Kind of a bizarre place. We thought it seemed like the perfect setting for a crime novel.
Sometimes, though, I would argue success can stop at relationship and create changes that, though perhaps not tangible, create a kinder, more supportive environment that lifts people up in the community and gives them the loving base to lead their lives with courage and hope.
Hiking to the caves in the nearby farming community of Dondon, Haiti. Many of the caves contain markings from as far back as 15th century Spanish colonialism in Hispaniola and were the places of worship for the indigenous Taino people of Caribbean.
Thinking about these challenges both helped to reassure and motivate me. It reassured me that my work in Haiti is of value, even when I feel like concrete changes aren’t happening. When I feel like I’m failing at teaching or when projects are moving slowly, I know that what I can at least control is my relationships with those I work with, including members of the Episcopal Church community in Haiti and fellow missionaries.
Inside view of "La Voute Minguet" cave. The website of Cormier Plage Beach Resort says, "La Voute Minguet, named for a French naturalist André Minguet, is a cave used by (Taino's)...Here in a vast cathedral-like sanctuary the chieftains met for the celebration of the summer equinox. According the legend, the first man, Louquo, appeared from a great natural chimney at one end after falling from heaven. In like manner, according to ancient beliefs...the Sun and the Moon came forth, to illuminate the world. This cavern is about 150 feet in depth..."
Even if those relationships don’t seem to lead to anything that can be quantified or that is physically evident, I know that through the building of those relationships, God is doing His work to transform on both sides. Exploration into this topic has also motivated me to continue striving to to be as productive as I can be every day, to take advantage of the opportunity to converse with others and put my best effort into everything I’m hoping to accomplish as a missionary, whether that is to strengthen my relationships here, finish a project or become a better teacher.
My class looking thrilled about reflexive pronouns!
To read a new Episcopal News Service article on all of the exciting changes happening at CASB, click on the link below: