We drove along the winding streets in a village in northeast India, on our way to spend time at a home for orphans who have been diagnosed HIV+. The woman who founded the orphanage had recently started a community program that provided educational support, food, baby formula, counseling, and medical treatment so that HIV+ parents could continue to care for their families.
For Teresa, a teenager who longs to be a doctor when she grows up, the orphanage has given her the power to forgive and the courage to teach others the truth about HIV. For Liana and his wife Haemi, Burmese refugees who now weave fabric and live in an unfinished warehouse with four other families, the community program has been a life-saving one for their boys. “We receive educational support and food, and because we were taught to make wise decisions when my wife was pregnant, our young sons have tested negative for HIV.”
Seeing the work being done at the orphanage in India was good for the soul. Meeting the families benefiting from the community program made me want to cheer. But there was something else—something more—that strengthened my faith and gave me confidence.
As someone who has organized and led international mission trips for more than seven years now, it would be easy for me to make a list of important things to remember when working on your mission calendar:
1) Missions is about people, not projects. Stay focused.
2) Pour into other cultures rather than try to change them. Stay humble.
3) Find ways to serve those who are serving others. Stay thankful.
4) Learn the difference between an adapter and a converter. Stay safe (trust me on this).
But the single most important thing I tell any individual or church that believes they are being called to offer tangible hope to a ministry or organization, whether it’s across the street or across an ocean, is this:
Before you invest people and money, invest your TIME.
That’s right. Take the time to get to know both the ministry partner and the need that is being met through their service. Learn about the culture, government sentiment, and community engagement. Ask about the history of the ministry and the qualifications of those who run it. Find out how decisions are made and how projects are funded. Visit ministry sites to see both the work being done and the treatment of those who are involved. Look not only at those who are being served, but at those who are doing the heavy-lifting of service. Set clear expectations, and develop methods of accountability. And I can’t emphasize this one enough: require financial transparency. At Austin Christian Fellowship, a team comprised of both staff and church members evaluates every domestic and international ministry partnership annually, to ensure contributions of time, talent, and finances are being stewarded wisely. And Orphan Outreach, a global nonprofit serving in six countries by partnering with indigenous orphan care ministries, hires in-country program directors to work alongside those partners on week-in/week-out basis. Quality oversight is given to short-range goals as well as long-term plans. The in-country staff also works with US mission teams serving at children’s homes, schools, and communities so that work being done provides the greatest benefit for all.
Being “on mission,” both locally and internationally, is a part of the lifeblood at most churches in our country. Finding ways to engage our members in meaningful ministry to the vulnerable by doing good with their heart and their hands is our way of living out Isaiah 1:17.
Learn to do good.
Help the oppressed.
Defend the cause of orphans.
Fight for the rights of widows.
In India, seeing the work being done was inspiring. But working with a ministry that makes accountability and transparency a top priority gave me the confidence needed to encourage other people to invest their time, their gifts, and their resources.