This is part two of an article about a short-term trip I led to the slums of Nairobi.  To read Part I, click here.

———-

We Take Requests

The second thing we did differently is a lot more important than it might look at first glance:  Everything our team did to help was based on requests made by our host ministries (for example, the topics we covered at the business seminar were suggested by Pastor Fred).

We didn’t come in with xyz initiative and say, “tell us how we can make this happen.”  We came in with open hands and said, “tell us how we can help you!”

Hearing the stories of small business owners in slum communities allowed our team to see how deep the issues of poverty really go.

The best example of this came from the financial commitment the guys on my team decided to make at the end of the trip.  After seeing the work of Tumaini Church and hearing about the church’s plans for building a new sanctuary/classroom to reach more community members and students, we decided as a team to commit to fully funding the project.

What would a trip to Kenya be without goofing around with kids?

We didn’t offer money with a list of preconditions attached.  We didn’t come in with the answers to all of Kibera’s problems.  We simply heard what a local organization was doing to restore their community, heard their dreams for the future and decided to help bring that future just a little bit closer to the present.

Partnering with the Long-Haulers

Third, we looked for ways to partner with people who will be doing this work long after we have gone home.

As Americans, it is all too easy for us to throw our energy and money into “quick fixes.”  We want to see results now! But our obsession with immediacy can often end up causing great harm over time (e.g. Feeding hungry people by donating tons of free rice, only to watch the local rice industry shrivel due to a lack of business…).

By sponsoring the construction of Tumaini Church’s new sanctuary, we are helping Pastor Fred and his team to do things their way.

Learning about the realities of poverty from inside a small pork butchery.

Will it be a state-of-the-art facility? Nope.  Will it be a perfect multi-purpose building that will solve every problem faced by the church in one fell swoop?  Nope.  But will it be a sustainable project thought up by Tumaini Church itself and constructed using local labor and materials?  Absolutely.

Beyond Emotions

Finally, we worked hard to develop concrete “next steps” so that we can continue our engagement long after the emotions fade.

Short-term trips are the breeding ground for broken promises.  “I will never take clean water for granted again!”  “I will always remember this moment when I go grocery shopping back home.”  “I will stay in touch with my new friends forever.”

The fact is, real life makes it hard to run at the same emotional high we had while standing in the middle of a slum.  And more often than not, it doesn’t take too long before we find ourselves right back where we were before the trip.

Tumaini Church’s current building. The new one will be three times as big and will allow them to add 90 students to their elementary school!

To counter that reality, my team took several steps to keep our level of engagement high.

First of all, as I mentioned above, we committed to fully funding Tumaini’s building project. That money isn’t going to raise itself!  It’s going to require each of us to pull our friends and families into the life-change with us for months after returning home.

Second, we “friended” our Tumaini buddies on Facebook and committed to keep each other accountable about staying in touch and praying for them.  It helps that our Kenyan friends like Vincent are really great about keeping relationships alive.

Finally, we came up with an exercise that will undoubtedly keep our hearts and minds in the right place.  In November, the guys in our group will try to live out the command to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” quite literally.

For 30 days, we will give away $1 for every $1 we spend on ourselves (that includes rent, food, utilities… everything!).  Not only will it help us to be more generous, it will help us to think more carefully about how we spend our money as well.

All of these things will allow our trip to continue changing us even after life has returned to “normal.”

Our team (clockwise from top left): Me, Jeff, Dave, Beau, Coty and Cameron.

Who’s Next?

So there it is.  My first attempt at leading a “new” kind of short-term trip… Was it perfect?  Nope.  Did I avoid every pitfall mentioned in When Helping Hurts?  Probably not.

But did I fulfill the mission of World Next Door by getting suburban Americans involved in social justice without doing more harm than good?  I really think so.

With that in mind, there is one question I need to ask: Who’s next?

Enjoy this post? Get future updates sent to you for free! Join by email or RSS

Next Steps
    • I would love to hear your perspective on all of this. Do you agree that it is possible to do short-term trips without doing more harm than good? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts.
    • Definitely pick up a copy of When Helping Hurts if this topic interests you at all. I guarantee you will find the book enlightening!
    • Have you already read When Helping Hurts? What did you think? What were your major takeaways?
    • Shoot me an email (barry@worldnextdoor.org) if you are interested in taking a trip like the one I just described. Perhaps we need to start replicating the experience!
    Next Steps

About the Author: Barry is the founder and Executive Director of World Next Door. A storyteller, traveller and giant nerd, he lives to compel suburban Americans to get engaged with social justice and find their place in God's kingdom revolution. His ultimate dream is to adopt a pet monkey named Kevin.

More posts by Follow Barry on Twitter


Comments

  1. Steve H. said... 

    Reply

    October 21st, 2011 at 6:58 am  

    Loved the concepts you shared “beyond emotions” and the way you’ve created not only sustainable partnerships, but sustainable friendships.

  2. Rob said... 

    Reply

    October 21st, 2011 at 11:13 am  

    Part two was as solid as the first. Thanks Bar!

  3. Dinah Wright said... 

    Reply

    October 22nd, 2011 at 7:56 am  

    I have come to look forward to the updates of WND, but there is one term that seems basic to your organization that I would like you to explain. Exactly what do you mean by social justice? The term as bounced around in our culture doesn’t have a positive connotation.

    Would appreciate your explanation of how you interpret the term for your organization.

  4. Barry Rodriguez said... 

    Reply

    October 22nd, 2011 at 12:39 pm  

    Hey Dinah!

    Thanks so much for your comment. That’s a great question. I’ve had a few people ask that before and I think I understand where you’re coming from.

    You’re right that some parts of the American Church and certain political perspectives see “social justice” as a negative thing, but we are attempting to return to the original meaning and purpose for the phrase: people in our local and global communities getting what they deserve, specifically human rights (food to eat, shelter, clothing, freedom, education, etc.).

    One of the overarching evidences of the kingdom of God, in our opinion, is “justice” for the poor and marginalized (Matt 25:29-42, Isa 58:6-12, Zech 7:9-10, Micah 6:8, etc.). So even though the phrase “social justice” runs the potential of misinterpretation, we felt it was the right one to use.

    Does that answer your question?

  5. LeAnne Hardy said... 

    Reply

    October 23rd, 2011 at 10:54 am  

    Whew! Giving away a dollar for every dollar spent on self. That’s a big commitment. More power to you.

  6. Bea Kanja said... 

    Reply

    November 28th, 2011 at 11:36 am  

    hmm! Well put even for a Nairobi ‘urbanite’ like myself, the article has put a fresh perspective to how we handle social justice issues locally. Refreshing…we surely though unintentionally go into such situations with a big brother attitude!

  7. Sarah McLaughlin said... 

    Reply

    July 10th, 2012 at 3:14 am  

    Love this article Barry! What an awesome commitment to the 30 days too!

Leave a Reply