5 Ways to Do Mission Work That Will Actually Change the World
How to foster long-term development instead of dependence.
“It’s the thought that counts.” That sentiment helps us feel better when we get someone a gift they really don’t like. It implies that our good intentions are enough. Unfortunately, they are not, especially if we want to see lasting change and global impact.
The world is littered with examples of people who mean well but act foolishly. It’s time to turn a corner and discover what a better path looks like. What follows are five best practices to help us channel our good intentions for global engagement into wise actions that will lead to lasting impact.
1. Long-Term Rather Than Short-Term
God seems to measure time not in minutes or months, but in generations. He’s a God of long-term involvement and impact; most short-term missions projects are not. We want to have an immediate impact and quickly see measurable results, so we tend to focus on projects instead of people and on results rather than relationships. Even with the best of intentions, it’s easy to get caught up in short-term programs when we should pursue long-term partnership.
We want to help, to alleviate suffering, to do something. So we collect shoes, toothbrushes, Bibles, school supplies and more. The desire to help is always genuine; the passion is always high. But do these gifts lead to any long-term change?
Years ago, as a team I was leading were handing out shoes and other supplies, our partners in Kenya proposed a different kind of project. Kenyan students are required to have their own school uniform sweater in order to attend school. That need sparked the opportunity for a local business of a knitting facility that would produce those sweaters locally. If we could provide startup capital, then they could acquire the knitting machines and train local women to knit the sweaters, which would then be sold to create revenue.
Today “Blessed Hands” has their own workspace and storefront where 100 women find employment, making not just sweaters, but dresses, hats and scarves as well. Our prior gifts had a short-term impact; their facility has a long-term one.
2. Do With Rather Than Do For
When you invest in the long-term, you’ll find that doing a project with someone is much better than doing it for someone. It’s the difference between relief (doing for people) and development (doing with people). Over and over again, we step in, take charge and do things for people who are quite capable of doing those very things for themselves. This approach (offering relief when development is needed) hasn’t helped. In fact, it has done quite the opposite.
Doing for people, rather than doing with people, is usually the wrong choice. Granted, there are times when relief (aid) is necessary. In moments of crisis, we should be ready to do whatever we can to help. But we must learn to keep our emotions in check and remember the bigger picture. If we are truly interested in transformation, then we will stop doing for people and start doing with people.
3. Build Capacity Rather Than Create Dependency
When we give to someone in need, we do one of two things. Our gift can build their capacity, making them stronger and healthier, with a greater potential for development and growth. On the other hand, our gift, though heartfelt and sincerely given, can invite them to become dependent on others for their growth, health and development. Our gift can actually keep them stalled in a place of helplessness.
Unfortunately, there are plenty of global examples of gifts and projects that build unhealthy dependency. When we erect buildings, dig wells and start schools with foreign funding, plans, materials and labor, we typically haven’t built the capacity of the national leaders. Rarely do they feel a sense of ownership and healthy pride about those projects, and they’re probably not going to repair or improve them when that become necessary. That’s not a long-term solution. It’s not doing with people. Instead, pursue projects that involve the recipients and build their strength, potential and capacity.
4. Empower Leaders Rather Than Address Needs
Most of us are quick to notice needs. We see how bad things are, the desperate conditions and staggering shortages. The needs are always in your face. The needs scream for attention. They are literally everywhere. And they aren’t going away.
We cannot ignore the needs that people around the globe are facing, but we cannot make the needs themselves our focus either. We’re following Jesus, and He didn’t do either of those things. He came to address all the needs that mankind faces—the spiritual, physical and social needs. The way He did that was remarkable. Instead of focusing on the needs, He focused on leaders. He empowered leaders, and they literally changed the world. We’re called to do the same.
Look for men and women of vision, character and potential. Partner with the people God has strategically placed in needy communities. When you equip local leaders, they will create solutions to the current challenges and the obstacles that lie in the future.
5. Focused Rather Than Scattered
When it comes to global causes, it’s easy to be scattered. It’s trendy to “like” a Facebook page, go to a film screening, or wear a T-shirt. When you do a lot of things, it’s hard to do any of them really well. On the other hand, when you focus on just a few things, you have a better chance of making a deep impact. Focus is much more difficult but much more effective.
Focus your energy and attention on empowering leaders rather than meeting needs. Be intentional about building their capacity and avoid creating unhealthy dependency. Involve those leaders and the people they are leading in their own development, doing with them rather than doing for them. You’ll be shocked at the long-term, sustainable global impact these shifts can produce.
This article was adapted from Walk This Way.