Read this book


I understand sex trafficking is a real problem. I understand it’s happening all over the world. And I understand it is an incredibly dark and profitable industry. What I don’t understand, however, is what to do about it. How can I, a suburbanite living in Phoenix, Arizona, have anything to do with fighting this unspeakable evil? Anyone who has a daughter, as I do, can feel something deep inside of them that absolutely hates this problem. Even if you don’t have a daughter, you can surely feel the shame that this problem heaps on all of our shoulders as participants in a world that allows this kind of darkness to thrive.

All of that said, it’s never something I’ve known much about. I typically try to avoid googling things that will make me severely depressed and I also try to stay away from any personal experiences in worlds like this. The problem with attitudes like mine towards sex trafficking is that if we don’t understand the true problem, it will never get solved. So what can we do?

To get started, read this book and share it with your friends. Next, put it in your mind that this is one of the biggest problems of our day. It doesn’t matter if you’re a missionary, a development worker, a pastor, a construction worker, or an Indian chief. If your heart is beating, this is a problem you need to help solve

Life-long Learner

If someone’s sick, it doesn’t matter how good intentioned their doctor is; if she doesn’t get the diagnoses right, no one’s getting better. So it goes with missions. Bottom line is, international ministry takes more than just a heart for it.

Side note (if you don’t like rants, please skip this paragraph): When you say all it takes is a heart for ministry to be successful, you’re doing yourself and those around you a huge disservice. All it takes TO GET STARTED is a heart for ministry. If you have a real heart for ministry, you’ll devour all the training, mentorship, and education you possibly can. Rant over.

There are an overwhelming amount of books on this topic. It doesn’t matter if you’re brand new to missions or if you’re a seasoned missionary who can speak multiple languages,  go to the bathroom in multiple positions, and eat with a variety of utensils. This list of resources is a great place to learn or to check your work; are you lining up with what the leaders in your “industry” are saying? Here’s a list of my favorite books about international development work.

WHEN HELPING HURTS – One of my favorites when it comes to introducing someone (or a group of people) to the idea that aid, the way we’ve been doing it, isn’t really working. The book does a great job of identifying a huge problem but it doesn’t offer many solutions for moving forward. It’s a very easy read that will make anyone put on the right filters for doing international work.

 DEAD AID – Unlike When Helping Hurts, this book is not written from a Christian perspective. It’s an incredible look at how international aid has actually negatively impacted Africa. This is one of those books that’s about a super boring subject (international economics), but the author does an incredible job of making the complex, simple. It’s an easy read that will really help you put complex economic systems into a perspective that’s understandable.

SERVING WITH EYES WIDE OPEN – This book is geared for people who are going on short term mission trips or organizations that host them. Again, it’s a very easy read. It’s premise is that before anyone leaves America soil they need to seek cultural intelligence and be prepared for the culture they are hoping to engage with.

THE HOLE IN OUR GOSPEL – After you’ve read through some of the other books and you’ve tried to implement their ideas, you’re bound to get discouraged. The reality is, this line of work is never easy. If you think it’s easy, you’re probably doing it wrong. This book is perfect for those times when you’re questioning if you’re even making a difference. It stays away from practical how-to writing and focuses on philosophy. This is the book that you read when you want to be reminded why you went into this work in the first place.

POOR ECONOMICS – This is probably the most complex read on this list. It’s also not written from a Christian perspective. If you’ve ever wanted an overview on the various debates going on in the world of international aid and development, this is your book. It’s incredibly balanced and well researched. Keep it mind, it is ultimately a book on economics; it’s not a leisurely read. That said, it’s one of the best books I’ve seen for helping you understand the real economic struggles normal people face all around the world.

 CHE Network – Being a part of the CHE Network has been the single greatest resource I can think of for Christian international development work. 500+ organizations around the world are a part of it. It’s the most comprehensive set of principles, best practices, and resources for people in this line of work.

Honorary mentions: Toxic Charity and With Justice For All are both incredible books about this topic as well and definitely worth reading. Of course, how do what I do without mentioning the Bible, It has a surprising amount to say about serving than poor, defending the weak, and standing up for the oppressed.

You know what I haven’t found as a resource about this? Some good blogs. I’m huge fan of A Life Overseas, though it’s geared towards individual missionaries more so than general development work.

How about you? What resources would you add to this list? What book is on your shelf that you looking forward to starting soon?

Begin with the end in mind

oilcanThe squeaky wheel gets the grease, right? Oftentimes, we give our attention to the loud and the urgent. This can lead us to ignore the important and achievable. When working with the poor, there are plenty of loud and urgent needs. I call them blinding needs because they blind us from seeing anything else going on. We can easily spend our lives working on the endless queue of urgent and never move on to what’s truly important. This is why poverty never goes away, instead we seek more efficient and innovative ways to give food and apply band aids.

If asked, most humanitarians/missionaries wouldn’t say they picture a world where developing countries are dependent on the developed countries for their very existence. Yet, most international workers are creating this world every day. The urgent needs of poverty distract us and keep us from working for the long term self sufficiency of those living in it. Fifty years and trillions of dollars later, we’re still being distracted.

How can we avoid this alluring trap? Begin with the end in mind. Read a real life example.

What loud and urgent things are distracting you from the important and life transforming work you originally set out to do?

Begin with the end in mind: a case study

When 1MISSION first started building houses, it was virtually impossible to choose where we’d build. Every family had a heart-breaking story and every neighborhood was incredibly desperate. To help us decide, I drew two copies of a map of our city. On the first map I drew 20 dots (representing the houses we’d build in the next year) spread out all across the city. On the second map, I drew twenty dots very close to each other. I roughly looked something like this:

Screen Shot 2013-05-07 at 8.31.31 PM

I asked a few questions while we all stared at these two hand drawn maps. I started with, “what is our purpose here?” Our answers were along the lines of: to build a sense of community, to help neighbors become better neighbors, to grow the local church, and to get people engaged in community service. Of the maps, which will be more likely to accomplish these things?

You see, we were all easily distracted by the blinding need. When we began to picture the desired end result, however, our vision cleared and the answer was simple. Spend a few minutes right now clarifying your vision and picturing a clear desired end result. Are your current programs/methods/projects working exclusively toward that end? Be honest, it’s only hurting those you set out to serve if you aren’t.

The Good News

6a00d8341cbf9a53ef01127945117d28a4-400wiMost of us in the church know that “gospel” means “the good news.” Who wouldn’t want to share good news with everyone, right? No one ever says, “I hate to be the bearer of good news, but…”

So why can it be awkward to share this so called good news with people?

Too often we look at people as projects and not as what they really are – people. When we share the good news outside of honest and genuine relationships we aren’t sharing the good news that matters to the individual. I’m not saying we should cater the gospel to fit whatever the individual needs or wants but I am saying that the gospel shared outside of  relationship is not the full gospel.

In John 4 Jesus meets a samaritan women at a well. The good news to her was the concept of living water. She could finally quench her life-long thirst for approval, security, and significance. A few days later (still in the same chapter) Jesus meets another man, a royal official. The good news to this man was that his son would not die. This man, unlike the samaritan woman, had everything he needed. He probably had moderate wealth, stature, and power. Why didn’t Jesus give the royal official the same “living water” speech he gave the samaritan woman? Outside of relationship, the gospel isn’t as penetrating and life-changing as it is inside of relationship. We mostly understand, now-a-days, that the bullhorn guy’s style of evangelism is ineffective, yet we use the same methods he does with slightly more tact.

The point is, people aren’t projects, they are people worthy of relationship. In the book, Tradecraft, the authors put it like this:

We can either treat [people] as others worthy of relationship or sentence them to a life as a project to be completed.

Think of the difference between a trusted friend asking for $10 and a beggar on the street doing the same. So it goes with the gospel.

This is just as true in missions as it is in the neighborhood you grew up in. This is why it’s so much more effective to empower locals to build relationships amongst each other. Genuine cross-cultural relationships are possible, but they are much more difficult to sustain.

In my experience, the gospel that is presented in a cross-cultural relationship is more likely to be a shallow version that won’t be sustained beyond the immediate friendship. These are not the kind of “disciples” we are called to go out into the world and make.

Are you empowering people to lead? Are you encouraging people to share what they are learning with each other, not just learn from you? Are you fostering a relational environment amongst people?

Equal Exchange

equal-exchange1MISSION asks  families to volunteer in their communities before they are eligible to earn a new house through our program. We actually get a lot of questions about our process. Wouldn’t it be more loving if we just built a house for them, no questions asked or strings attached? Short answer: no. Long answer: continue reading.

OPTION 1: Fly a team in and build a house for a family of 6 that currently lives in a cardboard box in the rainy mountains of El Salvador.


OPTION 2: Ask that they become engaged in their community and in the process, meet many other people just like them who live and work in their community.

Let’s fast forward 10 years:

OPTION 1 IN 10 YEARS: The family lives in a decent house that is beginning to fall apart. The really good news, however, is that no one living in the house has died from hurricanes, mud slides, earth quakes, or respiratory problems.

OPTION 2 IN 10  YEARS: The family lives in a decent house that is beginning to fall apart. The really good news, however, is that no one living in the house has died from hurricanes, mud slides, earth quakes, or respiratory problems. The even better news is that most of the community knows each other from when they all helped build each others’ homes. If the neighborhood watch program works in America, imagine how much more engaged these community members are. How would you feel about your neighbor if he actually helped build your house? Also, the community now has access to reputable doctors, pastors, teachers, and government officials because they interacted with them while volunteering to earn hours for a new home.

Which option seems more loving? A community who “does life” together or a bunch of individuals that received something for free from some foreigners?

If you still think option 1 sounds more loving, you are probably motivated by feelings and emotions more than truth and authentic development. The remedy for this usually requires two things. The first one is observing a genuinely dependent community and seeing the harm caused by dependencies first-hand. The second one is some honest personal assessment about why you’re in this line of work in the first place.

Build on assets, not needs

medical clinic 1

Too often we enter a community and see the enormous amount of need. We see hunger, thirst, disease, hopelessness, and a whole lot more.

How can we not be overwhelmed when considering the depth of the pains associated with poverty? It’s unbearable to see, much less think about our kids or our parents or our friends living in those kinds of conditions.

I’d like to encourage you to be careful going down this road. When we focus on what is wrong (or what is needed), we almost always miss what is right. It is not by observing what is wrong that a community will change, it’s focusing on what they are already doing right (or what they already have).

A few years ago, I was helping a medical clinic in Northern Mexico. American doctors came down to serve people who probably couldn’t have afforded professional medical care. I noticed a translator who was from the community and she was wearing scrubs, as if she was a nurse herself. I struck up a conversation and learned that she is a doctor who works for the local government as their health expert. I asked her if she’d be willing and able to run this monthly clinic without the American’s help. She said of course but the Americans didn’t go for it. They didn’t trust her medical expertise and they talked down to her. They didn’t know what medicines she was prescribing (the only ones that were local available. It was easier to simply allow her to translate.

I couldn’t sleep that night because all I could do was count the opportunities we were missing every single month. How much better could that clinic have been if it provided locally available medicine? How different would that community be if the medical professionals weren’t undermined and demeaned by weekend warriors?

The needs can be overwhelming, but be careful to never be so blinded by needs that you miss long-term (and community changing) opportunities.