A few caveats to mention before I dig into things.
- I can only speak from experience in terms of short-term teams in Haiti. I've have no experience any other place.
- I have not studied this issue academically. I have read some books and articles about it, (and there are A LOT of opinions) but what I am saying is founded almost entirely on my experience with short-term teams. And I have experience as a participant, as a host, and as an outside observer.
- Our family does not host short-term teams anymore. We used to. And honestly the decision to stop was not centered around most of the issues below, but was far more selfish in nature. We just couldn't keep our family all on the same page while hosting a group of short-termers for a week or two at a time. (That being said, we do love to have visitors in our home... people who want to come and just experience Haiti, I will get to that in a future post.)
So here we go. Today I want to talk about my first short-term team.
If you believe the creation story in the Bible, you know that God created Adam and Eve. And there's this verse in Genesis that talks about how God created mankind in his image. Notice this, it's not just that God created a single man and a single woman in his image, but that he created mankind in his image. So what's my point? My point is that the whole of mankind is created in his image. If we want to know God more and more, it makes sense that we would need to get to know more of the mankind he created in his image.
I was almost in my thirties before I really understood that, but I got a glimpse of that right after high school. I lived all of my childhood up until 18 years of age in New Jersey, and then I moved to North Carolina for college. I couldn't believe the differences I saw between people in "The North" and in "The South." It was pretty crazy. And it wasn't just the way people talked. It was the way people treated each other. And it was the things people seemed to value. And I don't just mean the unsweet vs. sweet tea thing. ;) (Team unsweet all the way, baby!)
But I was 28 the first time I left the country. This time it was on a short-term team to Haiti. And in a single moment, that moment when I walked out of the Port au Prince airport, there was this instant and shocking paradigm shift that told me my life would never be the same. It was so jarring that I can still remember it very clearly. It was this realization that the kind of photos I'd see in National Geographic actually happened in real life. That was shocking. I guess I knew that in my brain somewhere, but seeing it with my own eyes-- yeah, that was something different.
My short-term team experience was so super stereotypical. We came in loaded heavy with army duffels full of supplies. We had matchy-matchy t-shirts. Our said (and I am not making this up) "Christian Servant" on the front. (No really, seriously, I am NOT making this up.) I asked every typical short-term team member question- "Where is everyone walking to?" "Why is there so much garbage?" "How can these children's moms just give them away?" Our hosts were a couple who were new full-time missionaries, having lived in Haiti less than a year. But since they lived there, I figured they knew all the answers and accepted their answers as truth. After all, they spoke Kreyol.
I wore long skirts and a bandana over my head. I hugged and kissed countless random children I did not know. I fell in love with one specific baby there and cried and cried and prayed and prayed over his plight.
|Short-termer, Gwenn Mangine, circa 2005. Exhibit A- head coverings, holding a Haitian baby 24/7,|
I came armed with everything from REI that I might need- things like camping toilet paper, tons of hand sanitizer (in little bottles that strapped to my belt loops or backpack, AND in a bigger bottle to refill the little bottles), waterless shampoo, and 97% DEET bug repellant. (Note: I am not suggesting causation, but I did give birth to a child with a severe heart defect after that... so perhaps we should leave the 97% DEET to, like, well, no one.)
We did a VBS in the same place that did the same VBS with different American teams the previous three weeks in a row. It was in Kreyol and was called "Peche Pou Jezi." Now, knowing what I know now, this is a little big funny. The intent was that it was to mean, "Fishing for Jesus" and the kids learned about Jesus' disciples who were fishermen and about how Jesus talked about how they'd no longer fish for fish, but that they'd fish for men. The problem is that the word peche can also be translated as sin. So in retrospect, it was unclear if the theme song we sang "N'ap peche pou Jezi" was to mean "We're fishing for Jesus" or "We're sinning for Jesus." (But I digress.)
We were walked around the village and I was introduced to several of the children including Jackson, the local vodou priest's son. An adorable boy with beautiful locs, I thought he was the cutest kid I'd ever met. I gave him my favorite wooden beaded necklace that I wore every day of my life before I left (see pics above and below for pics of said necklace). And while I am on the subject of giving things away, I gave pretty much everything else away, too. I left almost everything there, tossing it into the "missionary barrel" to be distributed in the community. (Sidenote: One of the jobs we were given on our short-term team was organizing the shelves in the bathroom. These shelves were BUSTING with supplies that other team members had left behind... you know, camping toilet paper, big and little bottles of hand sanitizer, waterless shampoo, and 97% DEET bug repellant.)
And finally, although I am embarrased to admit this, I will show the following picture.
|Short-termer, Gwenn Mangine. Circa 2005. Exhibit B- cornrows.|
I got my hair cornrowed. Yep. Just owning that I did this. As you can see, I really did do EVERY stereotypical thing. I feel a little silly now, looking back on this trip. But y'all it was great for me. (For the people hosting us and the Haitians we came into contact with-- yeah, jury is still out on that.) And it is 100% truth to say that this trip was life-changing for me. It was the beginning of our family's journey towards living in Haiti and the whole Mangine Many adventure. So I will always be grateful for this trip. But looking back now, I can see so clearly how my future, and the lives of the Haitians I encountered on my trip would have been better had some things been different. (I will get to that in Part 3 of this series.)
That's where I am going to leave you for now.
Stay tuned in the next few days for Part 2, where I will detail what it was like to host short-term teams.