My friend David Phipps of The Global CHE Network explains it this way... sometimes the situation is so dire, you have no choice but to give someone a fish to keep him alive. It's called relief. But effective relief should always be followed with development. That's called teaching people to fish.
Sadly, because development is painstakingly difficult and time consuming, it has been very hard for short-term mission to be effective in this realm. In our growing Facebook and Twitter culture, anything that requires an attention span of more than a few moments, gets pushed aside for the instant, the quick and the demands of a 140 character lifestyle.
Think of it like this.
A lot of short-term mission has become like the greeter at the church door who asks everyone how they are doing, never hearing anything other than not bad, and certainly not having the time, or skills necessary to do anything if someone was to say, "You know what? Right now my life is falling apart."
One of things that has been pressing hard on my soul the last few years in Oaxaca has been the question of development. How, in a Christian context, can Adventures in Life come alongside people in a way that not only provides relief when necessary, but also development to make that relief long lasting.
What I am talking about here is a way for short-term mission to see long-term impact in the lives of some of the poorest people in Mexico.
Last week I was at a meeting with leaders from about 20 different communities from the mountains around Oaxaca. Places with names like Eloxochitlán, La Raya San Pedro and Llano de Cedro. These are people who work hard to provide for their families and communities in areas where electricity is spotty at best and water, if available is never clean enough to drink.
I listened as a dedicated group of Christian activists with whom I work in Oaxaca shared about opportunities to have clean drinking water and not only to get some fish, but learn how to fish.
We shared about Sawyer Water Filters, answered questions and then moved on to the subject of fish, specifically, tilapia.
Adventures in Life was in the process of setting up a hydroponic garden and tilapia farm the leaders were told. In this "farm" regular people can raise up to 200 tilapia at a time and have tables full of fresh vegetables like lettuce, broccoli and tomatoes.
You could sense the excitement in the room from the leaders of these communities. Many of them returned, at great time and expense, later in the week when we were up and running. Lots of people, they told us, had heard about this, but they had never seen it in practice.
Government leaders, colleges and university representatives from around Oaxaca were showing up at our demonstration farm to see how, not to give people fish, but to teach them to fish. And then came the biggest question... Why? And each time, Pastor Chable was able to explain that we are trying to live out our call to love one another as God has loved us.
Next week I will be in some of those very communities with Pastor Chable. We've been invited to come and speak to the town councils, and to different groups of leaders about what we are doing and how together, people can learn to fish. Few of these people are Christians and most have a pretty jaded view of both the Catholic and Protestant church.
The problem with Christians and development has been that historically we have failed to connect that aid and help to the living Gospel of Jesus. This is the hard word work that us in country missionaries must do. It is our part of the unwritten contract between long and short-term mission.
Short-term missionaries come to help us and support our ministries, oftentimes through development projects and we then take that development and the Gospel message to areas where we have learned to communicate within the local cultures.
It is wholistic Gospel missions work.
Please be praying for AIL Ministry and our efforts with Pastor Chable to do just that in the next few weeks.