Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Great Commission and the Role of Short Term Mission

No area of funding Great Commission work is as fraught with peril as when we talk about short-term leadership and host receivers, or long-term missionaries. But before we begin, it is necessary to define the terms so we are all on the same page.

When I use the term Host-Receiver, originally coined by Roger Peterson and Wayne Sneed in their book, “Maximum Impact Short-Term Mission", I am talking about those cross cultural missionaries living in other countries who serve as hosts and receive short-term teams. Typically you know them as long-term missionaries.

Short-term mission [STM] leadership on the other hand are pastors and professionals whose job it is to facilitate effective short-term work around the globe.  In my position as Executive Director of Adventures in Life Ministry, not only do I handle the day to day operation of AIL Ministry, I also spend significant time in the field each year.

Others, at organizations like DELTA Ministries in Vancouver, WA, where my friend Brian Heerwagen works, spend significant time recruiting, training and preparing short-term teams and individuals for their various types of mission work around the globe.

All of these positions need to filled with quality people who are following God’s call on their lives if we are to have consistently effective cross cultural missions work. I believe that anyone who fills these valuable positions, just like a pastor at a local church, deserves a fair salary.

And therein, for many, lies part of the problem.

Many of us on the field, and yes I include myself in that group, would serve for free. Few of us see what we do as a job, because deep down inside, we believe God has called and specially equipped us to be where we are. We cannot stop what we do anymore than a pastor can just walk away from the pulpit.  

But that presents us with some problems as it relates to funding. Let me give you an example.

Friends of mine serve as denominational missionaries in South America.  They are asked, actually expected, to function as host receivers for anyone the denomination decides to send their way on short-term mission.  Skipping past how they must alter their existing ministry schedule, let’s just deal with the finances related to this.

When a team serves with them, they are not allowed to ask that team for additional financial resources beyond what the denomination has predetermined are reasonable expenses.  They are expected to work longer hours, because they must also maintain their current ministries, provide additional materials and do it all, to use a business term, essentially at cost.

Sadly, their case is not the exception to the rule.  I have heard numerous stories of missionaries having to work double time facilitating groups with no extra financial compensation. How many people working in the states would gladly work double shifts for a week with no overtime pay? Yet that is exactly what missionaries are expected to do everyday in the field when STM teams arrive.

Even if those field missionaries are short on raising their financial support, often they are not allowed by their denominations or organizations to appeal directly to the teams the “home office” sends for additional financial support.  

Is it any wonder long-term host receivers who deal with short-term teams, teams that often raise an amount equivalent to 50% of the long-term missionaries annual salary, are frustrated?

Long-term missionaries are expected to raise enough money not only to cover their salary and benefits, but their ministry as well and a chunk of change for the office back home.  All without asking the very people serving alongside them for additional help! 

As someone who has to raise every dime my ministry spends, I can tell you this is no small feat for people who live a significant portion of their lives in another culture.

We need to change this equation now. 

In my opinion, failure to do so now, and to recognize the financial reality of cross cultural Great Commission work will have a long lasting negative effect not just on our current work around the globe. We can expect a greater difficulty in recruiting and keeping future generations of long term missionaries deployed on the field.

So what should we do?

First, we need to accept reality. Short-term mission is here to stay!  As much as many long-term missionaries might wish it away, that is not going to happen. So instead of complaining that STM siphons off valuable funds from effective long-term work, in country host receivers need to reframe their ministries.

Long-term missionaries need to look for ways short-term teams can empower the people they serve to accomplish their ministry goals. Almost every leader I encounter wants to be effective when they serve short-term. In fact, they are begging to know what to do. So let's tell them!  As they are beginning the process of planning their time with you, an effective host receiver needs be honest and let them know how they can support your ministry.

One pastor who has served repeatedly with me in Mexico never fails to check all of his ideas by asking me if what he wants to do will actually be beneficial to my ministry. It is his goal he says to make sure that his short-term teams are actually serving the goals of the long term people he is serving.

Now for some, this is going to be extremely difficult. Many long term missionaries have never thought of, or have never wanted to work alongside short-term teams.  But folks, if short-term mission is not going away, and it isn’t, wouldn’t it be a better strategy to figure out how to use this resource in a way that improves your ministry?

Here's an example.

My ministry, Adventures in Life is currently working in Oaxaca, Mexico.  Our partners in this area had a desire years ago to provide Christian camp experience to kids from some of the poorest indigenous areas in the state. The hope was that by giving children an opportunity to have a great week in the presence of people living out a joyful faith in Jesus, they would begin to have a positive impression of Jesus and Christianity. This positive experience would then open doors for local pastors and leaders to sit and share the Gospel with families and adults in this vastly underreached area.   

There was one problem.  There were no resources to make this happen, so the dream went unfulfilled. Until we came alongside these leaders, these potential host receivers, and helped make their ministry dream a reality.

Now we have regular teams from the US that come as support staff for this camp. They don’t teach at all, as we prefer that to be done by trusted local leadership. But they can wash dishes, sweep floors, clean dorms, play with and love kids. And they bring the financial resources necessary for a successful camping experience.

AIL Ministry had no plan for this. We never went to our partners and said we’ll do this for you. We simply asked what ministry dreams they had, and we tried to help make them happen, under their leadership.

If you are a long-term missionary serving in some far off land, don't you have long deferred projects that your ministry needs help with? What ministry dreams do you have that are sitting on a shelf because of a lack of resources, both people and financial? Think about this... hard. Because the answer contains the key to continuing to the funding of your ministry and that of future generations.

The second thing we must understand, and this relates directly to my friends in South America, is that cross cultural, ends of the earth ministry is expensive. Sadly, many church leaders, especially when they think about short-term mission, don’t like to hear that. So instead of really thinking about what they are doing, they want to design ministry on the cheap.

Apart from the travel required to get somewhere, there are a myriad of expenses related to hosting a group. Things like lodging, utilities, offerings, transportation and insurance are all part of this. But these are the easy expenses. Every church or group expects to pay these and generally does not struggle with them.

Problems arise however when we get to leadership. Churches and groups that want to design ministry on the cheap do not believe they should have to pay for professional leadership. 

I’ve been told by group leaders many times that they believe paying for on site field leadership is bad stewardship. I’ve also been told that those of us on the field have been gifted specifically by God to live with less. The implication being that while we might deserve more, we should be content with whatever we get.

I believe the future of long-term Great Commission work hinges on this... Unless we can insure that on-field host receivers are fairly compensated and their families adequately cared for financially, we will see a steady downward trend in people following a call to serve overseas.

So, what should we do? That will be the topic of the third and final part of this series.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

4 Steps to Effective Support of Non US Based Churches and Pastors

Let's talk about missionary support.

Not the easy type that includes stuff like prayer and encouragement. We’re talking financial. Money. Dough. Greenbacks. Benjamins. Are you getting the picture?

With many people contemplating year end giving, I wanted to open up the whole discussion of support of both long-term and short-term missions. 

With more and more churches and groups opting to send people directly to the field, as opposed to through denominational systems, the time has come for some frank talk on how we can better fund our Great Commission work.

Rarely it seems does a day go by without some sort of financial appeal making its way into our mailboxes, be they electronic or that old standby in front of the house or on a post.  

But we before we go too far, we need to be honest about something... short-term mission [STM] is here to stay. Any discussion of funding ongoing mission work around the globe that does not deal with this reality cannot seriously address the issues. As such, it forms a central part of my thinking and suggestions.

Here are three areas I believe we need to consider:
  • Direct regular support of national pastors and non US based churches.
  • STM leadership and host receiver support.
  • Goer-guest, short-term [STM] participant support.
Today, we will deal with in country national pastors their churches, their needs, and our ability to offer financial support. 

In my almost 30 years leading and hosting short term teams in Mexico I have been involved with many pastors and leaders across that country. Often these pastors have only one goal in life, to serve God with all of their heart, mind, body, and soul.

The decision to become a pastor in Mexico where I serve, and many other emerging countries around the world, is a decision to struggle financially. It can also be a decision to leave behind family and friends, and lead a life under constant examination by others.

Let’s look at the financial side of this and the impact of short-term mission. 

Here’s a picture of what being a church leader or pastor that might look like in another country. You decide whether it rings true to you or not.

A perspective pastor begins by sharing the Gospel to his family, friends, and people who live nearby. Soon he has a small group of 10 – 15 people gathering weekly for a time of worship and bible study. As the weeks go by, this newly organized group continues to grow and quickly multiplies to between 20 – 30 adults.

Through various means, a US church connects through short-term ministry and the two leadership teams dream about future ministry. At some point during the relationship, the US church expresses a desire to help support this fledgling ministry.

When the US group returns home, their leadership makes the case to the home church family that there is a vital Kingdom interest in helping this new church and their pastor financially.

Up to this point, every thing is good. However, this is where many US churches, all with good intentions, go off track. Because with big hearts, we respond without any guidelines. Guidelines that can make the difference between just throwing money at a problem, and being part of the solution to a very real issue.

Here are some guidelines that I believe can make a difference for you, your church or mission board, and that national church, or pastor you want to support.

1. Be generous. Give enough to make a difference. If your objective is to support a pastor or a church, make sure what you give can do the job. Often a US church decides on a token gift of $100.00 a month, without regard to whether this amount will actually be a help, or a hindrance.

Let me explain. 

A gift that only does part of the job leaves the church, and the pastor, in a place of constant need. With scant resources, it is nearly impossible to stay afloat. This leaves the pastor, or ministry without a real ability to move ahead. This leads to the frequent letters or e-mails sharing about a new urgent need. When you don’t make enough money to care for your family, or pay your bills, there are always new urgent needs.

Support and all its synonyms, words like undergird, bear, carry and hold up suggest something much more.  Perhaps a gift of $500.00 a month is a more realistic amount in light of local living expenses and church expectations. Think about that for a moment.

Would you spend $500.00 a month on a ministry in your own church if you knew that ministry would be serving between 20 – 30 people each week, many of them new believers? If the answer is yes, why not a Kingdom ministry elsewhere that also is making that kind of difference? The bottom line for me is this... if your desire is to support a local church, ministry or pastor, give enough to do the job.

Then whatever amount you can give, you will feel better about it if… 

2. You only give money to an established church. By established, I mean a church with a leadership team that makes the decisions, a level even a small mission church can reach. This ensures that there is accountability within the local body and that the members of the local church body you are supporting are aware of all outside support of the local ministry. 

A corollary within this, to protect both the pastor and his family from charges of abusing his position for financial gain, is that the treasurer of the church should not be related to the pastor or his family.  Now this can be a big hurdle in small churches, but you should hold firm on this, as it helps ensure accountability.

3. Do not designate your funds. Or, to put it another way, trust local leadership. This can be hard for US churches, but I believe it is vitally important. Let the local church leadership make the decision on where to spend the money. As people who are there 365 days a year, they know, better than us, where the needs are greatest. 

Years ago I was helping a church in Ensenada build their worship center.  A church that was not serving through Adventures in Life came to do some work. They had explained to their home congregation that they were going to pour a floor, even though at that point in the construction, we did not need a floor.

I tried as hard as I could to explain to them that it would be better to not pour the floor and allow us to use the funds as local leadership saw fit on another part of the project. They politely explained that their church had given money for a floor, not some other part of the church we were building and it would be dishonest and deceitful to their people to not use the money for a floor. Even if it that floor was not in the best interest of the local church.

On their last day the leader apologized to me explaining that he needed pictures of his group working on a floor.

If we trust a local church, and her leaders enough to serve along side their ministries, we should trust them enough to make good decisions with the resources God has provided, through us.

You will be amazed at what this simple step will do for your ministry partnership.

4. Have a clearly agreed upon exit plan. In the late 1980’s I was involved in a new church plant here is Las Vegas. As a small group there was no way we could support a pastor. So our denomination agreed to support us for a period of five years, with that support declining by 20% each year.

That was such a blessing for us. Their support told us they believed in what we were trying to do, but it also told us that at some point, we had to be self supporting.

Open ended outside support of national churches is the kind of support that encourages dependence. It does not lead to stronger church bodies and in fact tells the local members that they themselves do not have to sacrificially support their ongoing ministries.

A clear, agreed upon exit plan will help you avoid hard feelings in the future, and give the local church the time it needs to build a strong financial base.

Let me give a final note on your exit plan. 

There will be times when circumstances change. The global economic downturn of 2008 is a perfect example. That will demand that everyone involved be somewhat flexible. But please understand this. Those working on the field, and receiving outside support, have few, if any options to replace a sudden withdrawal of support.

If your church finds it necessary to eliminate, or substantially altar an agreed upon support amount, or plan, I believe you need to give that mission church at least one year notice to avoid a potential catastrophic situation.

So there you have it. 

Four guidelines that can help you become a better steward of the resources God has given you or your church when it comes to direct regular support of national churches and pastors.

Be generous, give to an established church, do not designate your funds, and have an exit plan.

Next up... STM Leadership and Host-Receiver Support

[This is a reworking of a previous post I wrote last year. It was well read and I thought I would update both this post and the original series... dave]

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Pharmacy Thursday for the AIL Cyber Week Celebration

Each year AIL Ministry facilitates three medical clinics in Oaxaca. We serve the Central Valley, Eloxochitlán in the Sierra Mazateca and Puerto Escondido.

By far our biggest cost is our pharmacy, known to many as one of the best in all of Oaxaca.

A tax deductible gift of $500.00 helps sponsor our pharmacy and can literally change a life. Imagine not being able to get the medicine you need for your baby or someone else in your family. At our pharmacy, everyone gets the medicine they need, free of cost. This is a huge benefit to some of the poorest people in all of Mexico.

Please consider how you and your family can help and if you want to be part of Pharmacy Thursday, you can give through our website here, or use the button on the right!

Adventures in Life Ministry
A 501(c)3 non profit organization
Federal Tax ID 95-4434963 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

It's Water Wednesday this Cyber Monday Week

This year Flint, Michigan was caught up in storm of epic proportions as their city water source was switched and every single resident of that city was literally poisoned with lead.  City, state and federal agencies are working to fix this self inflicted wound for the people there.

But imagine contaminated water was just life. That city would not be called Flint, it would be called Mexico.

We work in some of the poorest areas of Mexico, primarily in the state of Oaxaca. Clean water is a daily problem for people there as many have little or no ability to buy clean drinkable water. Whether it is lack of money, or lack of access, the result is the same.

Parents and kids are not getting the water they need because they can't. Plain and simple.

But you can help. A donation of $100.00 will give a family in Oaxaca a water filter that will give them a lifetime of clean drinking water. These filters are so good they can literally take water from a local river, filter it and then drink it.

Check out this video and then help us celebrate Cyber Week here at Adventures in Life by donating $100.00 here through our website or by using the donate button on the right!

Adventures in Life, a 501(c)3 non profit corporation
Federal Tax ID 95-4434963

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

It's Giving Turkey Tuesday at Adventures in Life

As part of our focus this Cyber Week, we are giving some specific ways people can support our ministry. Today is Giving Turkey Tuesday at Adventures in Life.

A gift of $250.00 will get us 12 turkeys that will help feed the kids that come to our camps in Oaxaca each summer. And we are not talking about those puny 15 pound turkeys we have in the stores here in the US.

We buy our turkeys as babies, feed and take care of them for 4 months and then when it is time for camp, they top out at about 25 kilos. That's over 50 pounds of wonderful non GMO organic turkey. All for just $250.00.

Here's the link to our website, or hit the donate button to the right, where you can give towards those turkeys, or even become a regular supporter of Adventures in Life Ministry!

As usual, since Adventures in Life is a US non profit 501(c)3, your donations are tax deductible in accordance with IRS regulations.

Our Federal Tax ID is 95-4434963

Thursday, November 17, 2016

A Missiological Response to the 2016 US Elections...

“Your job is now much more difficult.”

I was at a national gathering of mission leaders from North America and the speaker was sharing what he was hearing from pastors and leaders across the Middle East after the US led invasion of Iraq. Because of our actions he said, Christians were in for an increase in persecution and the credibility of US missionaries was being called into question.


Because of the near total approval of the evangelical church for the actions of the Bush Administration in the aftermath of 9/11. The attacks on Afghanistan were understood by many in the world, but the escalation of violence in the Middle East to include Iraq was not. The speaker was not passing judgement on what we were doing. He was simply stating the facts as he understood them from his travels in the field.

Those were hard words for many in that audience to hear back then. 

I’ve thought a lot about those words the last few days as I have reflected on the recent elections here in the US. I hope our job has become just more difficult. Because more difficult is way better than next to impossible.

The numbers are stunning. 81% of white evangelical voters chose Donald Trump. As that sinks in, take a moment to read how Yolanda Pierce put it in her recent article at Religion Dispatches…
Last week I watched as 81 percent of [voting] white evangelicals and born-again Christians voted for someone who, on tape, mocked a journalist with disabilities, and who, also on tape, lied about mocking that journalist. 
I watched as 81 percent of [voting] white evangelicals and born-again Christians voted for someone who admitted to sexually assaulting women and gleefully affirming that he would face no consequences for doing so. 
I watched as 81 percent of [voting] white evangelicals and born-again Christians dismissed his affairs, adultery, multiple marriages, participation in porn subculture, refusals to release his tax returns, failure to donate to charities to which he promised money, mockery of his own supporters (including their wives and parents), participation in racist lies about President Obama, stereotyping of African Americans, Mexican Americans and Muslims–and still voted for him. 
I watched as 81 percent of [voting] white evangelicals and born-again Christians voted for someone who lies about even the most trivial things. 
I watched as 81 percent of [voting] white evangelicals and born-again Christians voted for someone who in his acceptance speech did not mention “God.” Not one time. Not even to thank God for his victory or to suggest that “God bless America.”
People can disagree with who Pierce chose to support in our election, but about the above facts, there can be no disagreement. 

Sadly, 81% is only part of the story. Younger voters, those under 45, broke overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton. And there in lies my worry that in fact, our job, that of heralding the Good News of Jesus is going to be much more difficult. 

By and large the Gen X'ers, Millennials, and the Nones are multicultural, multiracial, diverse groups of people who are not as troubled by gay friends and relationships as are their parents. The evangelical church is already struggling to bridge a growing culture gap with these generations. I fear our near monolithic support of Donald Trump in the election past will only exacerbate this trend.

Perhaps my biggest concern is in the area of character. For many, it was the one area evangelicals could point to that set us apart. Here’s what longtime evangelical heavyweight James Dobson, Founder of Focus on the Family wrote on the importance of character in the middle of the Monica Lewinsky scandal during the administration of Bill Clinton…
…character DOES matter. You can’t run a family, let alone a country, without it. How foolish to believe that a person who lacks honesty and moral integrity is qualified to lead a nation and the world! 
At any given time, 40 percent of the nation’s children list the President of the United States as the person they most admire. What are they learning from Mr. Clinton [or in this case, Mr. Trump]? What have we taught our boys about respecting women? What have our little girls learned about men? How can we estimate the impact of this scandal [or this election] on future generations?    
James Dobson was right then and his words are right now. And yet, 81% of white evangelical Christians decided to vote for a man who clearly lacks the values they and Dobson used to believe were central to morality, good character and a strong Christian faith.

I am a missiologist. Here’s what that means… “someone who studies religious (typically Christian) missions and their methods and purposes.” In a practical sense, it means I think a lot about how to reach people for Christ, both here in the US, and in my case, in Mexico.

Here is my conclusion and fear.

I believe the White Evangelical Christian Church in America has forever tarnished her reputation among the culturally, ethnically diverse people that soon will make up the majority of the American people. 

Our excusal of how Donald Trump ran his campaign, his repeated mocking of people, dismissals of longtime Christian principles and repeated racially insensitive and misogynistic statements has, in the eyes of many, called into question our values and character. How, people have rightly asked, could we support someone so outwardly opposed to the values we expect from our children and believe are central to our faith?

Simply put, we look like the hypocrites we are, not because we did not support Hillary Clinton in this election, but because we supported Donald Trump.

And now because of that, I fear our job is now much more difficult. 


A final note... The history of the US is filled with many who despite their personal flaws, have been great leaders. Regardless, historically Christians have understood that we have a responsibility to pray for our leaders, whether we like them or not.

Let's make sure as the Trump team comes into office, that we commit ourselves to pray for him, his administration and our country these next four years. 

Monday, July 11, 2016

Cultural Awareness... the key to effective mission and connection in todays world

You should "Read the Bible in one hand, and the newspaper in the other".

That quote has been attributed for years to the great German theologian Karl Barth. While the Barth Center has been unable to authenticate that he actually said it, the quote lives on in theological mythology, t-shirts and numerous quote books.

Perhaps because authorship does not matter. What matters is the reality of what is being said.

Stop and think about that statement for a moment. We are to have an awareness of what is happening around us. For the sake of the Gospel!

The Mexican Chupacabra

Years ago I was in Baja California talking to a family I'd known for years. They had made me breakfast at their very "rural house." As we talked, Gloria told me a few of their chickens had been killed recently, probably by the Chupacabra. The Chupacabra is a legend in the rural areas of Mexico. It's famous for killing animals, babies and causing all sorts of general mayhem. Think of it as the Mexican version of the Loch Ness Monster or Bigfoot.

The truth of the legend did not, and does not matter. What mattered is that Gloria, and indeed, millions of Mexicans across the country were aware of the Chupacabra. 

Later that week I was walking with another missionary who knew Gloria and who had also served in her village for years. I shared with him her concerns about her missing chickens and that she felt it was the Chupacabra. I expected that we'd be able to share a little laugh together. What ensued has stayed with me to this day.

That missionary, after spending almost 20 years serving in Mexico, had no idea what the Chupacabra was. He said he tried to keep his focus on God and did not involve himself much with locals events, news or culture.

If I could've sued that missionary for malpractice I would have do so. How is it possible that a person serving a specific group of people for any length of time could be so willfully unaware of the things that animate, or matter, to that community? 

Recently we have faced a significant level of unrest in Oaxaca, primarily as a result of massive ongoing protests from the teachers union in that state. In response to a ton of questions about those protests, I decided to write an article providing some detail and background. You can read it here.

Thousands of people across the US and Mexico read that article, shared it and commented. But two specific Facebook comments stopped me cold. One said as he shared, "read this article, it is the ABC's of what is going on." I appreciated that a local thought I had a good understanding of the facts. But it was the second comment that really hit me... another person asked how it was possible an outsider like me could understand the issues and culture of Oaxaca as well as I did.

The answer is simple... it's my job! 

As a missionary, I need to know and understand the culture where I am serving. It makes me a better communicator of the Gospel and enables me to better love and understand my neighbor. I spend hours on this. Reading, thinking, studying. Because I believe effective mission demands it.

If the church is going to have a prophetic witness in the world today, I believe this approach can not just be relegated to missions work "over there." It must be part of how we act and live everyday in our local worlds too.

Being unaware of the happenings of the day, needing to catch up with happened last week, or choosing to ignore cultural events make us woefully unprepared to effectively communicate the Gospel in a rapidly changing world. 

Most of you will never be called to "the ends of the earth." But you are called to be a prophetic witness for Jesus in your local worlds. That means understanding the culture, knowing what is going on and being able to not just see both sides of an issue, but figure how Jesus fits into some difficult situations. 

If we really want to change the world around us for Jesus, the words ascribed to Barth are as relevant here in the US today as they are in my missions work in Mexico... 

Read the bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Immigration... Understanding the Divide between Mexico and the United States

As someone who has served as a missionary in Mexico for over 25 years, there is one thing people from the US always want to ask me about, and no, it’s not water. It’s immigration, and usually it's phrased benignly, like this… “Dave, what are your thoughts on immigration.”

This question, perhaps as a result of the coming presidential elections, is not just being asked here in the US. I’m also getting the same question from my south of the border friends. But the  question there goes something like this… “¿David, que pienses de Trump?” Or “Dave, what do you think of Trump.”

For better or worse, Donald Trump has raised the immigration issue to a level not seen in years, both in the US, and in Mexico.

I believe that if you are going to be about Jesus in another country, you owe it to that country to get to know her. For me, that goes well beyond what many feel are the typical ‘missionary” issues, things like food and the local church cultures. For one to thrive in a foreign land, develop the relationships necessary for success, and convince locals you truly love them like God does, requires a strong dose of cultural intelligence, to use a phrase coined by noted author David Livermore.

I’ve thought a lot about this issue over the years. I’ve been an employer in numerous jobs, responsible for hiring thousands of people both here in Nevada and in Southern California. I’ve had to deal with I-9’s both as a boss, and as an employee myself. I’ve worked alongside and yes, have hired illegal workers from around the world. And I’ve had both good and bad employees from both sides of that issue.

While my Spanish is not perfect, and I doubt it ever will be as I came to the language late in life, I can sit and have the conversation with the two major sides of this issue fairly competently in both languages. This includes both my hard right and my lefty lib friends in the US and business owners and poor indigenous farmers in Mexico, and everyone between. 

In short, over the years I’ve built enough of a rebel image, that people from all sides feel comfortable talking to me and expressing their views, no matter where they stand on immigration.

My first real conversation about this in Spanish was with a group of college students in Guadalajara almost 20 years ago. We were at a weekend retreat and a few of them decided to ask me about immigration. Truthfully, back then I had no real “side” in the debate, but I could argue. We talked long into the early morning hours. It was, and remains, one of my favorite nights ever in Mexico. I learned so much that night. About immigration yes, but also about how people think, feel and experience life in general in Mexico.

That was the beginning of understanding the issue of immigration as much more than just a series of laws, fences, walls, and regulations designed to keep people in, or out. It is an issue that divides friends, countries, families, and even churches. Simply put, few issues between our two countries are as emotionally charged as immigration. 

Like all difficult issues, workable solutions are not going to be easy and no side will, nor should, get everything they want. Simply imposing one sided solutions from the US, no matter how good that might make us feel, will not get to the root of, or solve the problem. 

Conversely, Mexico cannot escape the fact that they have a role to play in this ongoing drama. It is the responsibility of government to care for her citizens, within her own borders. While the US is guilty of sometimes being a rotten big brother, the Mexican government has at times acted like a petulant adolescent and struggles to take responsibility for their own actions related to immigration, even as they are currently deporting more illegal immigrants than does the US.1

Any solution is going to be difficult and costly. To be effective, it will involve political sacrifice, from the heights of the Mexican government, to the most seemingly insignificant US Congressman. On the line here are billions of dollars, years of political grandstanding, national pride, jobs, and of course, peoples lives.

We should also acknowledge that while many in the US are fixated on Mexico as it relates to immigration, a large percentage, 48%, of those who come to the US illegally are from countries other than Mexico.2 Additionally, new research shows rather than allegedly sneaking in, the largest group of people in the US illegally enter under the full authority of the US Government, on approved VISAS, and then, overstay their welcome. Sometimes intentionally, sometimes not.3 

Of the more than 11 million immigrants here illegally in 2014, over 5 million are from countries other than Mexico.  This means that even if we secure our southern border completely, no small feat, we will still have a significant amount of illegal immigration to our country.

Where do we start? First is education. 

Before you can have a solution, you have to understand the problem. I’ve laid out a few facts above as they relate to Mexico, but there is more. Here are a few questions I typically hear from folks in the US.

Why can’t Mexicans follow the rules like people who come here from other countries? 

This is a fair question, if there were in fact rules. The premise is also false, as the facts show. The difference between 48% and 52% is so small that in reality, people from other countries are no more likely to follow the rules than our neighbors to the south. To put it bluntly, you are just as likely to run into a person here illegally from Germany or China as you are Mexico.

But the problem runs deeper. Literally, for Mexicans there are few hard and fast rules, other than you cannot cross the border without permission. For someone trying to visit, or immigrate to the US from Mexico the process can be cumbersome, slow, and costly. If you desire to come for a visit, add arbitrary to the list. Our government routinely denies tourist VISAS without ever providing a reason why, after the applicant has seemingly met all the requirements listed on the appropriate web sites and has paid his or her fees. 

I call this “hunch or feeling based” judgement. And while we all know that at times, yes, hunches can be very accurate, they are not a way for a country to effectively conduct foreign policy. We certainly do not want countries determining how they relate to us based on hunches or feelings. We want, and expect there to be sensible, fair, dispassionate laws to govern those interactions.

To immigrate to the US, a person must have a passport and then make an appointment with a US Consulate office for a pre-visit, or immigration interview. The cost for that interview can be significant, depending on the number of people in your family. In addition to the “official” costs, there are costs for required medical exams, hotel stays, meals in transit, etc. Add it all up and the cost just for the appointment process can run into the thousands of dollars. 

All of that must be paid in advance, with no guarantee of your approval, sort of like a lottery. Imagine saving for years, paying all of your fees and then being told no.

Let me put that in perspective for you. For a family of four, that cost could easily reach $5000.00US when you include everything. That’s about half of the $10,000.00 family GDP in Mexico.4   Conversely, with the average US family GDP at $52,000.00, that family of four in the US would have to pay approximately $26,000.00 to have the same burden as a Mexican family.5 How many families here in the US can afford to play in such an expensive lottery, risking half their family income?

But rules are rules, and I get that. Just understand, that the rules are pretty stacked against the poorest of the poor, the ones who truly need a helping hand to feed their families, those that are sneaking across the border to put a few extra tortillas on the table, ala Jean Valjean in “Les Miserables.”

But Dave, people ask, aren’t illegal immigrants taking jobs from able bodied Americans?

Again, the answer to this question is multifaceted. I’ve stated that I have hired illegal workers in the past. That was primarily when I was in the construction industry in Southern California. Here’s a simple truth I encountered. Without this workforce, construction in So Cal and many other areas would grind to a halt.

Builders have to make a profit, or else they will not build. There is always a maximum amount a builder/developer can afford to spend on production and still make their margin. Contrary to what people may wish to believe, there really are caps on what people will spend on real estate, even in sunny Southern California.

No builder can pay a salary that makes the house he just built more expensive then the market will bear. The problem is this, hard as it is to hear, and even say… fewer and fewer Americans will work at the rate the builder requires to make his profit in the marketplace. A good example of this is the housing market in Southern Nevada. Currently the timeline from start to finish of new home construction is slower than normal and what would be most profitable for a developer. The reason for this? Lack of qualified workers in the construction trades, due partly to a net drop in immigration to the US from Mexico.6 

When asked the obvious question, about whether higher pay rates would make up that difference, Keith Lynum, President of the Greater Las Vegas Association of Realtors put it bluntly recently on KNPR, explaining that the increase in wages would drive prices beyond what people would pay.7 Simply put, it is often more profitable to use labor that will work for a wage that some will consider sub-par. Not illegal, but sub-par.

For years I managed a crew of primarily painters, working for $15.00 an hour, plus the taxes we paid for them. They lived together, pooled resources and saved money for the day they could buy their own homes. Again, many Americans will not work, or live like that. In the Los Angeles area, where simply renting a room in a middle class neighborhood runs upwards of $750.00 a month plus utilities, a job paying roughly $2400.00 a month before taxes will not go very far.

Today, everyone of those guys who worked with me is married, has kids, is legal and just like when they started, contributes to the American economy.

Let’s look at another example, farming. We are told to listen to those in the know, and for agriculture, that means farmers. Overwhelmingly they report that without immigrant labor, much of it illegal, they would be unable to harvest their crops at a reasonable price. Many farmers speak of leaving fields fallow for want of people to process the harvest.8

Farmers too have a maximum they can pay their help and make a profit. And that maximum resides in our pocketbooks. Most of us already believe we pay far too much for the trip to the grocery store. What if you were told right now you’d have to pay an additional 30% on every piece of fruit or vegetable you bought? Again, the experience of farmers is that most Americans simply will not do the back breaking work necessary at the rate they believe they can pay, and the market will support, and still make a profit. 

The bottom line is this… America is addicted to cheap labor and that cheap labor primarily comes from the hands of immigrants, legal and illegal. Think our addiction is not true? In 2011 the Texas State Legislature was working to clamp down on the hiring of illegal immigrants. The author of a proposed bill made sure to grant John Q. Public an exemption from fines and potential jail time for personally hiring illegal workers to work in his private home.9 

In other words, this Texas legislator was ready to penalize corporations for hiring illegal immigrants and paying them subpar wages, but not someone living down the street, further feeding the addiction.

Be it farming, construction, gardening at your house, or even the twice a month cleaning lady, we simply talk a better game than we are willing to realistically face, especially if the issue hits us squarely in our pocketbooks. 

Why can’t they just work in their own country? Why do they have to come here?

To be sure, the short answer is a lack of good paying jobs in many parts of Mexico. But let’s look a little at how that came about. Years ago many men worked in the corn industry of Mexico. But US subsidies paid to our farmers soon radically changed that market, making it almost impossible for Mexican farmers to compete in the world market. Now with the planting of GMO corn imminent in the birthplace of corn, we can expect even more problems.10

I’ve written more on this specific issue both here and here, exploring the link between US practices as they relate to both the corn and sugar cane industry in Mexico and employment.

Suffice to say, yes, Mexico needs more jobs. But US actions have contributed to the unemployment for which many criticize Mexico. Here’s what Sidney Weintraub, a political economist with the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, DC., had to say about US practices in the agricultural world when they challenged the legality of what the US was doing… “The Mexicans never had a chance because their argument was based on fair play, and the US [argument was based] on law.”11

Make no mistake, Mexico has employment issues. Too few people are able, despite educational gains, to find real, family supporting jobs. Official estimates run as high as 25% for the “underemployed” rate. In areas where I work, primarily indigenous villages, I think leaders would love to see a 25% rate. Few of the men in these areas have any kind of regular work. As the economy has struggled to recover from the world economic crisis of 2008 we are now seeing the peso getting crushed by the dollar.12 Additionally, the employers, both private and public have been slow to embrace technology, perhaps knowing that will eliminate even more jobs, further exacerbating the situation.

Let me give you an example. 

I went to a papeleria, or a stationary store, recently in Mexico. I was greeted at the door by one worker and directed downstairs to find what I needed. I asked at the counter for poster board. The employee told me they had it and the price. I asked for five sheets and she wrote up a ticket. I then went back upstairs to pay and when I brought back the receipt, the employee directed another employee to get my five sheets.

Wrapping them up as I waited, they were then given to another employee to take them upstairs and confirm again that they had been paid for. I was finally given my poster board but before I could leave, the security guard had to check my receipt one more time. All told, 6 employees were involved in my transaction, valued at less that $5.00.

Technology and a better understanding of how to use workers would have undoubtedly cut down the number of people involved in my transaction. But that would mean fewer workers, and as we have seen across the globe, millions of idle unemployed young people, frustrated at the situation and the powers that be, can lead to social disaster. It’s the idle hands theory.

At some point, leaders in Mexico will have to address the situation in a real and practical way. Until that happens, we will continue to see the pressures of immigration, both legal and illegal from our southern neighbor. The question is in the interim, what should the US and Mexico do about it?

Many advocate for a simple, unilateral approach. Build a wall, send everyone home and call it good. It is after all, our country. America, love it, or leave it! 

This approach, while appealing to many on the surface simply denies the above realities and will only manage to anger our neighbor to the south, a major US trading partner and a source of serious economic activity in the US.13

That does not mean we should stand aside, do nothing, bury our heads in the sand and hope for the best, a charge leveled by many critics of comprehensive immigration reform. I believe we need a system that not only works to limit illegal immigration, but also deals compassionately, fairly and equitably with those who are already here.

I also think that any approach must be grounded in reality, be both operationally and politically workable, and ultimately, be seen as a net positive for all involved. It must also be honest about the 11 million who are already here.

There is absolutely no way we are going to be sending 11 million people back to their home countries, no matter how much people like Donald Trump, your neighbor or any other presidential candidate wishes it to be so. Strictly speaking, to do so would require an airlift not seen around the world since the days of the Berlin crisis, involving over 22,000 full Boeing 747’s to get everyone home.

So, what should we do? Or, as the original question asked, what are my thoughts on resolving this difficult issue? I do not have the solution, but I know this. Any solution that does not consider the above thoughts, is going to fail.

A final note...

The issues related to immigration are very personal to me, because I deeply love many people in both the US and Mexico who hold legitimate views on all sides of this difficult issue. As a missionary in Mexico, I believe it is my role to learn and understand as much as I can about the issues facing the Mexican people in their daily lives.

Part of that is understanding the politics, culture and history of the people I serve. Part of being effective when working within a short term framework, is putting those realities in context for the mission participants who serve alongside me.

I'd love to hear your thoughts...

1. Arce, Mark Stevenson and Alberto. "Mexico Now Deports More Central Americans than the US." Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 18 June 2015. Web. 28 Oct. 2015.

2.  "5 Facts about Illegal Immigration in the U.S." Pew Research Center. N.p., 24 July 2015. Web. 04 Sept. 2015.

3.  Krikorian, Mark. "On Immigration, Fighting the Last War." National Review Online. N.p., 1 Oct. 2015

4.  Pineda, Martha. "Home." GAIN Report, Mexico., 19 Dec. 2013. Web. 04 Sept. 2015.

5.  Noss, Amanda. "Household Income." (n.d.): Household Income:2013. U.S. Department of Commerce, Sept. 2014. Web.

6.  Barrera, Ana Gonzalez. "More Mexicans Leaving Than Coming to the U.S." Pew Research Centers Hispanic Trends Project. N.p., 19 Nov. 2015. Web. 29 Nov. 2015.

7.  "Las Vegas Real Estate Prices Stable As New Homes Come On The Market." Nevada Public Radio. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2015.

8.  Tomson, Bill. "Farmers: Trump Terrible for Agriculture.", 1 Sept. 2015. Web. 

9.  Riddle, Debbie. "82(R) HB 1202 - Introduced Version - Bill Text." 82(R) HB 1202 - Introduced Version - Bill Text. Rep. Debbie Riddle, n.d. Web. 04 Sept. 2015.

10.  Bayless, Rick. "A Sad Day in Mexico." Rick Bayless. N.p., 22 Aug. 2015. Web. 05 Sept. 2015.

11.  24, August. "WTO's Sugar Ruling Leaves Mexico Bitter." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 24 Aug. 2005. Web. 05 Sept. 2015.

12.  Irwin, Neil. "How a Rising Dollar Is Creating Trouble for Emerging Economies." The New York Times. The New York Times, 16 Mar. 2015. Web. 29 Nov. 2015.

13.  Villareal, M. Angeles. "U.S.-Mexico Economic Relations: Trends, Issues and Implications." U.S.-Mexico Economic Relations: Trends, Issues, and Implications (2015). Congressional Research Service, 20 Apr. 2015. Web.