Last Saturday night we sat by the pool in a nice hotel in an impoverished country. Compassion Canada had paid our costs to be there. We had just been on a plane full of other Christians visiting Honduras. I tried to capture some of the reservations and concerns we felt as we wrestled with being there and how we got there:
Is this just Christian tourism? Is this a sales pitch, like a glorified timeshare presentation? Are we coming here with all of the answers? We got knowing nods from some who’ve been here before. They’ve heard the objections; they felt the same the first time they came. They didn’t say much, except to wait and observe.
I remember how one member of the group put it: are we being set up to drink the “Compassion Kool-Aid”?
It turns out that we Canadians are a cynical bunch, but these are all valid questions. It’s impossible to go on a trip like this without wrestling with all the contradictions and realizing that a lot of things just shouldn’t be the way that they are.
It will be something that we continue to wrestled through. I was thinking of this as I read some of Bene’s questions about our trip this morning (in the comments of this post). I don’t know if I have all of the answers but I will give it a try.
Are you saying you couldn’t afford to go if these donors didn’t send you?
I think we can afford whatever we value. Before this trip I would have said we couldn’t afford it. Now that the trip is over, we are looking for ways to save up to send our daughter to Indonesia to visit the child she has sponsored for a couple of years, which will cost a lot more than visiting Honduras. It’s probably more a question of priorities and values than money. Sadly it took a trip like this to change ours.
Are you saying that we (the rest of the church) are so ineffective, ignorant, slothful, blind, deaf, hard hearted and selfish…
Oh my. Yes. A thousand times yes. Except not the rest of the church. Me. I am one of the worst.
…that we have to have ministers accept freebees to ‘fire’ us up? What, are you saying a Rev will reach more people, speak more eloquently because you have a captive audience?
No, I don’t think it takes just ministers. In the almost ten years I’ve been at Richview, I think we’ve sent close to two dozen people on trips like this. None of them have been ministers. They have been people of all ages. In some ways it’s better when they aren’t ministers. It can carry more weight.
In each of these cases, people have returned and spoken before the entire church. In most of the cases they have done a better job than I could do. I have seen many tears.
These ‘others? Are they church staff, or just us insensitive incompentent pew warmers?
Hmmm….I will skip over the “insensitive incompetent” jab.
This was a small group, so I don’t know if it was representative. In this case it was just Charlene and I, a denominational leader and his wife, a Compassion staff member, and another pastor and his wife who are Compassion reps. As I say, I appreciate being able to go. In 17 years of pastoring we’ve sent lots of people on this sort of trip who aren’t pastors, but it’s the first time for me.
People are not an it, sponsorship is not an it, the poor are not an it, children are not its, sponsorship or field work is not an it.
Compassion is an it. It is a ministry.
No kid should ever do without because as a Rev. you are handed an opportunity that most of us will not have.
You’re absolutely right. It’s probably the biggest issue we wrestled with. This is ministry money and there is a huge need.
It helped us a lot to realize that not a penny of sponsorship money was spent to send us. That helps a little, although not completely. I wish ministries like this didn’t have to spend a penny on communications and marketing, but sadly that is not the world we live in. They wouldn’t have trips like this if there wasn’t a net benefit for the ministry.
Compassion has made some good moves. One of them is moving from a focus on marketing to building relationships with churches. I think that’s why a trip like this came about.
Oh, I should mention – we raise money for trips like this all the time. In this case I could have raised the money directly from Richview. I appreciated not having to do so though. I’d rather that we supported our church members who want to go on trips like this.
I also appreciate that they aren’t just sending big names from huge churches. I’m not a pastor of a huge church. I’m a nobody. It says something that they would send me, and I would have understood if they didn’t.
You have blogged sensitively about your trip as payback to the organizations Exposure Tour donors?
No. The only condition of going on this trip is that if we believed in what Compassion is doing after being on the trip, we would share the ministry with our church. If we didn’t believe in what they were doing, we were free to say so and never have anything to do with Compassion again.
One last note: I really appreciate these questions as they are all good, but some of them may have been worded in a less accusatory manner.
As I say, I don’t have all the answers. I also have to admit that I am not unbiased in what I write. There are way more tensions than we’ve even covered in this post, not just with this trip but with many of the ways that we operate as ministries.
The knowing glances I received last week came because these questions are not new. I don’t think Compassion has all the answers either. But from what I have seen they have thought through the answers. Although imperfect, they’re doing a better job than I could have expected in almost every area I saw. I went because I saw how it had changed my friend Tim’s life. Now I understand why.