Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Completing Projects vs. Building Relationships

I read several articles as I prepared for my project.  One of the articles is a recent “Face to Face” feature in the Summer 2013 issue of Word & World.  On one side, Rev. Brian Ballard used his contribution, “Mission Trips: Attend to the Planning and the Purpose,” to define two different approaches to global short-term mission trips.  The predominant model for these trips is that of a community with abundant resources traveling to a community in need of resources.  A group from this first community enters this community in need with the intention of meeting needs within the community; this may include digging a well, building a home, or any other project which serves the local community.   Those who traveled to this community in need often do not form any relationships with members of the community.  The visitors stay within their own community of visitors until the project is complete and the visitors travel home.  While the projects may last, the experiences often do not because the organizers of the trip did not provide time for participants to interact with members of the local community or reflect on what they do during their time in this new place.

Ballard prefers this second model for global short-term mission experiences.  This model recognizes that God is already acting within this location and this community.  Therefore, those who travel to this community focus on building relationships within this community.  While the group may complete certain projects, the building of relationships remains the group’s priority.  As they come together through these relationships, both sides look for opportunities to learn from the other community.  Ballard offers St. Peter’s interaction with Cornelius in Acts 10 as a model of mutual learning through relationships with people in other communities and cultures.

The other “face” of this “Face to Face” feature is Rev. Debra Samuelson’s article, “Mission Trips: Participate in the Family Reunion.”  Samuelson shares her experiences of worshipping, praying, and interacting with a community in Lalo Aira, Ethiopia.  She mentions that the Ethiopian community opened her eyes to new stewardship and spiritual practices while also welcoming her stories and practices.  For her, the whole experience was a wonderful expression of the Body of Christ stretching across and breaking cultural boundaries.  By sharing her experience, she also demonstrates the second model which Ballard outlined in his article.

As I was formulating this project, The Lutheran magazine published in its February 2014 edition a timely article entitled “Why Not Child Sponsorship?” by Elizabeth Hunter (a portion of the article is hidden behind a subscription paywall).  Hunter interviewed Rev. Daniel Rift (Director, ELCA World Hunger), Ryan Cumming (Director for Hunger Education, ELCA World Hunger), and Mary Marete (Program Director for Sustainable Development, ELCA Global Mission) on the topic of why ELCA World Hunger does not use a child sponsorship model within its organization.  One of their objections to this approach is that the focus becomes fundraising so that projects get completed and people are helped.  However, relationships are not built or maintained.  They believe that ELCA World Hunger’s accompaniment approach better serves global communities by building relationships with these communities and identifying future steps through these relationships.

The March 2014 edition of The Lutheran contained a letter (“Yes to Sponsorship”) from Carl Korfmacher, who strongly objected to this article.  “Words like ‘accompaniment’ and phrases like ‘we uphold values of mutuality, inclusivity, vulnerability, empowerment and sustainability’ mean virtually nothing to the average person. Sponsoring a child is a very personal and tangible experience… Charitable giving is and should be a personal experience.”  Carl also mentions that he participates in a child sponsorship organization.  Carl’s criticisms strongly imply that efforts to build relationships with other communities around the globe waste time and money which could be applied to service projects.

What do you think?  Are Carl’s objections correct?  What is the best way to carry out our Companion Synod Relationships?  Leave your reactions and questions in the comments.

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