How Not to Change the World

I would like to make this declaration for anyone willing to read it: Traveling does not equal changing the world. There are a handful of people in the history of all mankind that can legitimately take credit for changing the world. Most of them now have religions dedicated to them or wars on their resume. None of them were short term mission team members. None of them spent a week as a voluntourist in a notoriously poor place. Very few, if any, were from a white middle-class majority. And none of them ever had to declare their status as world changers on a t-shirt.

And we all know how sensitive I am towards bad mission t-shirts. This one that I saw recently broke all of my rules. “World Changers” it said. Some Bible verse was on there. Neon green, orange, and black, colors only appropriate for Halloween costume store employees to wear. And on a squad of short term mission teamers in Haiti. All middle class white Christians. Some of them, even friends of mine, whom I adore. Yet my face has been in my palm ever since seeing their t-shirts. But it’s not the first time that I’ve seen shirts like this on teams coming into the country. Some leaders of this particular group might even read this blog but most of the team was teenagers who probably loved the shirts and they still deserve to be encouraged. I wouldn’t want to crush any dreams.

Because it is a noble dream, to change the world. And far be it from me to ever discourage big dreams. If someone actually has a decent plan of how to change the world, I will be the captain of your cheerleading squad. (I shake a mean pom-pom). But let’s be real about what constitutes “changing the world”. Swooping in to Haiti from a privileged life and spending a week hugging kids and fixing roofs is not changing the world. Making a difference? Sure, I’ll give you that. Having an impact? I can meet you there. A good investment of the funds that it took to do it? Extremely debatable, but there’s still a case to be made for it. But changing the world? Please, spare me. There’s enough sugar in the coffee around here already.

You might as well slip your underwear over your pants and tie a cape around your shoulders.

I am not saying this to discourage short term mission teams. I just want to be clear that changing the world should not be the goal of a short term mission team. Set a goal that you can achieve for crying out loud! And don’t think that just because you’ve seen a different part of the world, that that means that you’ve changed the world itself. Be realistic. Set out to get involved in one community for example. Instead of “World Changers” the t-shirts could say “Awesometown, Haiti Partners” instead. (No, there’s no place in Haiti called “Awesometown” so don’t try to look it up on Google Earth. Although if I ever invent some sort of genius alternative housing solution for Haitians and decide to create an entire community of people with those houses, maybe that’s what I’ll call it.) Or you could just set out to improve the situation of one family who’s struggling. Then you wouldn’t have to declare who you are at all. You could just put a drawing of two horses eating hay and drinking tea on your t-shirt and write “going to hay-tea”. (I might even sign up for the mission team with that t-shirt, as long as it wasn’t neon. I vote navy blue.)

I know that the people back home at the church that sent these mission teams into the world want to think that they’re changing the planet. It makes them feel like the $10 they spent at  the team’s fundraiser supper was well spent because $10 is a pretty small price to pay for changing the world. But that team is going to spend their week abroad, come home all energized and changed themselves, and wake up the next morning to find that the world is still the same as it was before they left. They’ve undoubtedly gone through some personal transformation, and as I said, have probably made a difference in the lives of a few people that they encountered and helped out on their journey but the other 7 billion people on this planet aren’t going to notice.

Maybe I’m just being a cranky old man here. The truth is I’ve been here in Haiti for 6 years and I’ve been responsible for starting and coordinating many community programs that have made a difference in the lives of hundreds of people. But I certainly would never claim to have changed the world. And there are many people in this country, Haitian and foreign, who have lived here much longer and accomplished much more than I have, whom I admire greatly, but I would never say that they’ve changed the world, although they’ve definitely done some extremely important things. But they’ve accomplished those extremely important things by first simply wanting to get involved, taking a simple step into a situation where they might be of service. And can all of us, together, with our combined efforts great and small truly change the world with many steps taken in solidarity? Of course. No one believes that we are interconnected with all of humanity more than me and that every action we make does have effects in ways that we may never see or be able to describe. In this grand philosophical way, yes, we can each change the world and I hope that we can believe that in our hearts while not publicizing it on our clothes or our websites, or in our presentations. We must realize that it takes each one of us through our shared humanity to do so. It is nothing that any one of us can do by simply hopping on a plane and landing in the middle of a bunch of people who are poorer than we are and look very different than we do. If that is the definition of world changing, then we’re trying too hard. We’re much more likely to change the world when we are trying the least. Unknowingly we may set off a chain reaction of kindness and hope with a gesture that seems unremarkable to us that reaches much further than our intentional actions of helping others. And that comes from a state of being, not from a decision of doing.

If we’re actually hoping to change the world, then we need to stop saying that we are doing it, thinking that we’re doing it, trying to do it, and for the love of all things fashionable, stop writing it on t-shirts.

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2 comments

  1. I honestly don’t know where to start in response to this blog. The pure arrogance used by someone whom I have considered a friend to publicly trash what myself and people whom I love have done in the name of our Savior is completely unacceptable. Especially considering nothing was said in person, to our faces, even though there was the chance. No respect was given. This eruption of slander was done in the safety net of Facebook and Blog.com after we were long gone. Since neither my teammates nor I was given the chance to explain, I would like to take the opportunity, for those willing to read this, to shed some light on the assumptions of that blog.
    Before I begin I would like to reflect on 1 Corinthians. Chapter 12 of this stellar book discusses Christ’s body, aka the Church. God never intended for one person to fly solo in ministry. God’s work around the world requires a vast array of intricate parts, all looking and operating in completely different ways. This concept of the body teaches that while your pinky toe is not needed to go on living, it sure makes living easier to have it. ALL members, ALL work is important as long as it is operating with the body. While a person outside of Christ’s body looking on may say, “Hey, why do you keep that pinky toe around? It seems useless and sticks out funny!” We, as parts of the body know that we need that toe, so we not only keep it around, we treasure it as crucial to our overall health. Just like you would not cut off your own toe if another person thought it looked funny, so no one else’s words will cut our team or any other Christ-focused mission team from the body of Christ. This is reinforced in 1 Corinthians 3:6-9 which states,
    “6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. 9 For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.”
    As long as the work is being done for Christ, then who is able to judge the means or the method? No human has the right to judge God’s work. That task is God’s alone. One final reflection of 1 Corinthians is 3:18-22,
    “18 Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”[a]; 20 and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.”[b] 21 So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas[c] or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.”
    Anyone gaining their “wisdom” from the world is a fool in the sight of God. If wearing a Halloween colored shirt while hugging orphans makes me a fool in the sight of a worldly wise man, then I proudly stand here as a Fool in this world! As for the charges of foolishness against myself and others, I will now take my opportunity to share.
    I will begin with the easiest of responses, the neon green color of the shirt. This trip was a youth group trip, and our team consisted of 22 individuals, mostly teenagers, who needed to move through multiple crazy airports together. For safety reasons we wore matching bright green t-shirts so that we stood out in the crowds. Common sense. I also want to point out that the “squad of middle class white Christians” safely and successfully transported supplies from the US, through those crazy airports for the writer of the blog. I hope he can at least appreciate what he has benefited from our trip.
    Second, there was no scripture on the shirt. It said “World Changer-Changing Lives with God’s Love.” The logo and saying depicted was not one we conceitedly selected to display what wonderful things we were doing. It embodied the ministry that we were representing and working for. Please, check the ministry out at http://www.globalcn.us/ and you will find that yes; they are indeed making change in the world. It is humorous to me that the blogger sidetracked in a tangent about a “fictitious town in Haiti called ‘Awesometown.’” This town would consist of a genius housing alternative for the people. The humor is found in the fact that the ministry represented on the t-shirts, GCN, has done just that. Sukup grain bins have developed a fantastic housing alternative that many people have been able to see first-hand at the Spencer fair and various other events. GCN used this housing concept to put up a village in Haiti (aka Awesometown.) Before the blogger jumps all over that I want to make it perfectly clear that the running of that village was left in the hands of Haitians, and it is doing well. After seeing the success of these homes in action, the ministry responded to the need of a mountain village that was wiped out by flooding in Haiti and quickly built a second village up there. Awesometown Part Two. GCN is currently making plans to put up Awesometown Part Three in Haiti. Alongside of that, land is being sought to create Awesometown, Kenya and Awesometown, Peru. Worldwide Awesometowns?! That sounds like a pretty Awesome change. And the truly Awesome part is that fact that the ministry has many facets beyond Awesometowns. This ministry is also growing in leaps and bounds as they continue to cling to God’s word and answer the call to go into the world. Awesome!
    I would hope that the blogger would be more open to seeing that while you can’t change the whole world you CAN make change in the world of one person or a group of people and that is indeed world change! He has devoted 6 years of his life to a group of people in Haiti and made some big change in that part of the world. For those he has helped he is a world changer. I came down as a small part to the much bigger ministry that I served under. He has created the work happening around him from scratch with the support of others and experienced this country at its hardest point. Both of these things are truly things that change the world in their own ways. Any of these things done in service to God will not only change the world we know but will advance God’s Kingdom for His glory. So let us pray that all of these actions are done for this purpose.
    As for the people back home, they did not merely toss $10 into a plate for a fundraiser meal. Those that gave blew our $40, 000 goal out of the water within four fundraiser meals! Many gave without even coming to a meal. Another group, on a church retreat earlier this year, received news of a distressed orphanage discovered near the ministry. This group of 40 families, at the drop of a hat, overflowed the offering plate with $5,000! That orphanage continues to receive care and funding from them as their basic human needs were immediately met and they are now meeting any other comfort need that is requested. This congregation also sends team after team after team down to the ministry in Haiti. They have funded and built a school that continues to grow and continues to be supported by their money. Many members and members of various other local churches pay a large chunk of money to fully support all needs of a specific little girl at the consolation center. Not only do they financial care for that girl but they provide individual love and prayer daily. Most have visited their little girl at least once and I know their hearts ache for the day they will see her again. I have seen farmers break down and cry at the site of a letter carried to them from a little Haitian girl, not because they pity her, but because of all she has shown him and the pure love he has for her. Their wallets, prayers, and hearts lay open to serve the people. Some of them do this solely by sacrificing their own comforts and make do with less to give more. If anything in this blog angered me it was the jab at this group of hard working and giving people. I defend them not to pat them on the back and exalt their actions, as they would not want that done. They have a desperate desire to serve God and do his work, whether it means going or writing a check for others to go. Every body needs a hand that writes the check so that the body may continue. It is especially intriguing to me that the blogger has and will continue to ask for those “small donations” in order to continue his work. I know that many of his donations, in the past especially, have come from people in the same community that was just bashed. He also has brought down short term groups to help further his work. It sounds an awful lot like biting the hand that feeds. I understand that some groups or members of groups go down without a Christ-centered mindset and that can create problems. There are people all over the world, U.S. included, doing “good” acts that cause big problems. These situations can be frustrating to see again and again I’m sure, but they can’t be used as a basis to dismiss everyone truly doing good in the world. We must be even more careful not to gauge intention by clothing choice.
    I can only assume that the blogger will read this and once again put his head in his hands. I can only dare guess that I have made myself appear “foolish” in some little way. I will publicly say no more on the issue after this. Any response given by him will be noted and nothing more. I am not looking for an online rumble. I merely wanted the chance to share how Christ is working, despite fashion faux pas. I also want to encourage fellow Christians to look beyond petty issues such as t-shirt colors and fanny packs when supporting ministry. Is your dollar going to further God’s kingdom and gather souls for the great harvest, or is it going to humanitarian efforts that will keep people stylish and comfortable but only until they face God?
    A short term missions team may not be the heart of the body, but they are in no way less important to the overall health of that body. Christ’s work is not defined by Haiti, His work is worldwide, and I am honored that he gave me the chance to be a part of His World Changing work.

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