By Larry Hovis
At the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina General Assembly in March, we collected a mission offering designated for the newly formed Haiti Housing Network. CBF is one of the principal partners in this network, which has the ambitious goal of building 1,000 homes in the Grand Goave community over the next three years.
We asked Dr. Steve Bissette, a family physician and member of Ardmore Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, to issue the challenge and prayer for the offering. Dr. Bissette, husband of CBFNC moderator Donna Bissette, had taken a group of college students to Haiti to perform medical and construction work the previous summer.
During his appeal, Dr. Bissette told the large group that if they contributed enough money to build a house (then estimated to be $3,000 and since revised to $4,000), he would “personally guarantee that Larry Hovis would go on the trip and help build the house!” In the euphoria of the moment, I upped the ante and challenged the assembly to contribute enough funds to build two houses and publicly promised that I would, indeed, make the trip.
Our experience in August included meeting and worshipping with Haitian Baptists, learning from CBF global missions field personnel and partners, administering basic medical treatment and working alongside Haitians in building a rubble house. I emerged from the week hot, tired and sore, but also spiritually renewed. After processing this experience, I’ve drawn three conclusions and want to issue a challenge.
CBF is doing missions right
While the situation in Haiti is very discouraging in many ways, CBF and our primary partner, Conscience International, are functioning with a holistic, sustainable and Christ-centered approach. Our CBF efforts are done with the Haitians, not for them, empowering them ultimately to provide for themselves rather than perpetuating a culture of dependency.
Benefits of short-term mission engagement
While our team no doubt rendered some genuine service to the Haitians we encountered, we were the primary beneficiaries of our trip. We traveled together, experienced a new culture, prayed together, met and worshipped with Christian brothers and sisters who are materially poor but spiritually rich and interacted with our CBF field personnel who have sacrificed greatly to live and serve in a hard place. Our faith was challenged, strengthened and renewed.
Field personnel are more important, not less
It’s tempting for short-term mission volunteers to pat ourselves on the back for taking a week or two every year for a mission trip and call ourselves missionaries. Some churches even question the need for vocational, field-based, full-time missionaries. Their support of such personnel has declined as they devote more and more resources to supporting their members in short-term projects and trips.
But I came back from Haiti more convinced than ever of the necessity of “professional” missionaries. They built the relationships and prepared the way for us to have a meaningful experience. They remain in place long after we are gone. They get to know the people and the culture and ensure that our brief work is done in a way that helps rather than hurts those we purport to serve. Ironically, the more volunteers we send on short-term mission trips, the more vital our field personnel become.
A modest (or is it radical?) proposal
Because of all this, I propose that CBF Christians and churches make the following pledge: “For every dollar we spend to send a team on a short-term mission trip we raise another dollar for the support of the field personnel with whom they work and their colleagues around the globe.”
I estimate our church spent around $15,000 to send 11 persons to Haiti, not including the $6,000 CBFNC gave to the Haiti Housing Network. This money came from a combination of church funds and the personal funds of team members. Under this proposal, we would raise an additional $15,000 to support our CBF field personnel.
If every CBF short-term mission team followed this practice, we would be able to increase the number of our career missionaries and significantly strengthen our mission efforts around the globe.
There was a time in which we outsourced mission engagement to professionals and assumed ordinary Christians had no direct responsibility for global missions. Thankfully, that’s no longer the case. But has the pendulum swung too far in the other direction?
In our time, have we assumed (by our stewardship, if not our words) that because we can travel all over the world we no longer need vocational missionaries? It’s not either/or, but both/and. Our recent trip to Haiti made that very clear — at least to me.