Mission trips: teams that build things and teams that build relationships

The other day I had lunch with Phil Darke, CEO of Providence World Ministries. Providence operates La Providencia orphanage (plus school and medical clinic) in Honduras. Phil has also spent a lot of time gaining expertise in orphan care.

Because of my work with Child Hope International in Haiti, I wanted to pick Phil's brain a little. I asked him how often he thought an orphanage should host visiting teams. Too much visitation isn't good for the orphans, but it is good to have some. What's the right balance?

Phil answered by talking not about how often teams should visit but how teams should visit. He drew a fundamental line between teams that come to build things and teams that come to build relationships. Teams that build things provide an important service, and there are times when those teams are desperately needed. For instance, in the weeks after the earthquake in Haiti, we desperately needed masons, electricians, and building inspectors to give attention to our buildings and damaged security walls.

However, Phil told me that by far the most impactful type of team is the team that is primarily there to build relationships. He gave an example. Let's say you are on a team that is there to build a house. While you swing a hammer, you are working alongside Hondurans. If you are there to build relationships, you make it a point to talk to them and listen to their stories. If one of them invites you to his house for lunch, you gladly go. You might spend the rest of the afternoon at that house, and if you do, that's good. In fact, you are doing more lasting good that way than you are swinging a hammer. Construction projects will get done one way or the other. But you have God-given gifts only you can bring to the people of Honduras, and sharing yourself is better than shutting yourself off just so you can finish that section of the framing you are working on.

Phil is adamant about stressing the need for relationship building. Relationship is the essence of the kingdom of God, and it is also the most effective and impactful thing people can do on mission teams.

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