I wrote a post on short-term missions that wasn’t super helpful. It explained a problem without even starting to talk about solution(s). That’s not the way I like to do things.
One solution can be found in the “Chronic vs Crisis” discussion. One way to determine if relief work is necessary (as most short-term mission trips are), is by asking the question, “Is this situation a crisis or is it chronic?”
A crisis is usually caused by a natural disaster, a war, or some other act of God that cannot be predicted. After the earthquake in Haiti, it’s perfectly appropriate that organizations went there with airplanes full of food and medical supplies to hand out. Like I’ve said before, if someone is about to drown, it’s not a good time to teach them how to swim; just pull them out of the water.
What probably isn’t appropriate, however, is that years later some of those same organizations are still handing out food and medical supplies without any local involvement or ownership.
Chronic is everything that isn’t a crisis. Normal life. Every day. Most poverty around the world is chronic poverty and although it’s getting better it’s been around a long time and probably won’t be going away tomorrow (though I still believe it could go away in our lifetime).
The solution to a crisis is immediate relief. The solution to a chronic problem is long-term development.
If you try to do development during a crisis, people will die. If you try to do relief work in a community with chronic poverty, you’ll be reinforcing their poverty.
It’s crucial that we understand the difference between the two and implement solutions that are fitting.