Since 2010, God has opened wide a door for effective ministry in the country of Haiti. The opportunities in this country are simply massive, and at the same time, so are the dangers and challenges. Ministering in a cross-cultural context requires sensitivity and skill, and add to that a third-world nation ravaged by one disaster after another, we need wisdom and discipline to avoid the potential mine field of personal disappointment, group entitlement, unintended consequences, unfulfilled intentions, and failed execution.
It is important to hash out a philosophy of mission so that we have a pre-committed plan of working with the same understanding and set of principles so as to avoid confusion and frustration. A properly understood philosophy of mission brings alignment to perceptions, ambitions, and approaches as well as clarity and unity regarding attitudes, perspectives, and personal desires. If the stated philosophy of mission is circumvented (whether intentionally or unintentionally) by team members, the integrity and character of the work we are doing together will be compromised.
Essential to what we do through The Haiti Collective is knowing the answers to the “why?” and “how?” and “so what?” questions. Why do we do what we do? How do we do it? So what if we do it differently? Does it really matter? In other words, a healthy and robust mission will consider all the ramifications of the work God is calling us to do, not simply answering the “what?” question alone.
1. Indigenous Leadership
Leadership and vision takes place both from leaders in Haiti as well as in the United States. We reject both paternalism as well as post-colonial guilt where outside (US) leadership accepts de facto the decisions in the host country. Rather, we believe in true partnership where both sides are giving and receiving, learning and leaning on one another to develop a strategic vision for lasting change in Haiti.
Having said that, no one knows the context and situation better than those in the host country. We believe strongly in indigenous leadership—the field coordinator, local church pastors, and missionaries in Haiti—to give primary direction and understanding to the work taking place day in and day out, week in and week out, year after year. Consequently, the process of planning does not arise out of a blueprint but from a participatory learning process so that the vision is consistent with realities on the ground and not merely theorized in our heads. In other words, we don’t begin with an agenda and see how it can be imported to Haiti; we begin with God’s work among God’s people and see how we can join them in seeing in the invisible kingdom made visible as partners together.
Every church in Haiti is pastored and led by Haitian men trained and discipled in their own context. Both in planning and in practice, we are committed to modeling our commitment to indigenous leadership by encouraging them, empowering them, and helping them, and getting out of the way as much as possible. The same is true for leadership in other areas of ministry, including theological education, business development, and microfinance. Our goal is to see indigenous leadership raised up and take ownership in all areas of life and ministry.
2. Contextualized Mission
We must be careful not to import our cultural norms into our work in cross-cultural missions. Instead, we want to learn the customs, patterns, and ways of living in Haiti so that Haitians can clearly know and understand the gospel without artificial barriers. To overcome these barriers, we want to know our biases and traditions on the one hand, and also seek to understand the cultural beliefs and behaviors of Haitians on the other. Our desire is not to teach them the American way of doing ministry but the biblically faithful way of being the people of God in their culturally-specific society.
As a network, we desire to know the difference between matters that are preferential and matters that are prescriptive according to Scripture. The former we hold with an open hand; the latter we hold with a closed hand. Biblically faithful and missionally fruitful churches in Haiti are not to be chastened by their indigeneity but challenged by normative principles of Scripture. The long-term work of reformation in Haiti begins with local churches who are reformed and always reforming according to the Word of God. That means we value the importance of applying the text of God’s Word to the context of Haitian communities and lives in ways that lasting transformation emerges from well-planted gospel seed in the soil of Haiti.
3. Church-Centered Partnership
We believe the local church is the outpost of the kingdom of God and should be central in kingdom affairs. All of our efforts operate in and through local churches in Haiti. Central to our ambition is to strengthen and build healthy, indigenous churches with solid, biblically qualified leadership. Whether orphan care, micro business, or community development, the work is carried out by the people of God, not an organization or program. The outcomes that drive our work are tied to the promises of God, specifically the promise that Christ will build His church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. Those promises are not given to governments or organizations (like our own) but to God’s people living together as a covenant community under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
Stateside, we seek to build church-centered partnerships for long-term commitment for the good of Haiti. Short-term mission efforts are most effective in a long-term investment, and stateside churches can know, understand, and participate in the work of missions in Haiti in more meaningful and significant ways through this enduring commitment. We are entering into their story, not writing our own. And when we enter their communities, we come not as heroes but as servants, recognizing that what we do over the course of one week must be consistent with what God is doing the other 51 weeks of the year through the church. So we plan, pray, and enter with this understanding, believing that our involvement is ultimately for God’s glory in the church.
4. Equipping, Not Entitlement
The needs and opportunities are massive. The temptation to jump in and want to fix all the problems is real, and often times we do not think about unintended consequences due to neglecting the “How?” question. The biggest unintended consequence is building an entitlement mentality among the people of Haiti through paternalistic practices. Paternalism is doing for others what they can do for themselves. The more we unilaterally jump into a situation and solve third-world problems with first-world money and expertise, third-world citizens will begin to believe their problems could only be solved by first-world people. As a result, entitlement sets in, and nothing is done by Haitians unless it is paid and accomplished by American missionaries.
Instead, our desire is to leverage our gifts, resources, money, and trips to equip and empower Haitians through training and encouragement. We are cheerleaders, not the star players. When we have clothes to give away, we help them start a street-side store to resell them and start jobs. When we have a construction project to build, we provide training for competent men to learn new ways of building according to higher standards and perhaps provide future business opportunities. In all our efforts, we are evaluating the consequence of our investments so as to safeguard our efforts from entitlement mentality and discouraging Haitians from taking ownership of the ministry God has given them. In the end, we want to increase their capacities and diminish their vulnerabilities so that the kind of development they experience comes through change wrought by God through Haitian people—change that includes the way they think and how they live.
The reason we say our goal is to be invisible as possible is because the presence of American missionaries is tantamount to riches and luxury. And any Haitian pastor or leader visibly associated with American missionaries means their people will attach wealth, riches, and luxuries to their own leaders. As you can imagine, the people will sadly hold their people in contempt or skepticism, unjustifiably so, but still nevertheless. Understanding these realties, we want to alleviate any unnecessary difficulties for our indigenous leaders and at the same empower them to lead their churches to change their communities with integrity and passion.
5. Short-Term Mission with Long Term Commitment
The reason we stress church-based partnerships is because we desire short-term missions with a long-term commitment. Some of the work is relief-based and short-term. Other work is mid-term focusing on community development, while others still is long-term focused on reform. Those of us who live outside Haiti are often unconscious of the realities in Haiti unless we see them first-hand. Our efforts are most effective when they fit within an enduring template with long-term commitment whether in Haiti or not.
Realistically speaking, the change Haiti needs may take decades, if not longer. Our approach is to connect gospel labors with the purposes of God for the church in Haiti. Churches who partner through The Haiti Collective are encouraged to consider how God might use them to impact Haiti through generational change one mission trip, one investment, one pastor, one church at a time. These trips are simply the personal manifestation of a year-long relationship that includes more than just trips, but prayers, ongoing correspondence, and ongoing practical support of the church.