The Value of Strong, Long-Term Relationships on Mission
We arrived and set-up in an outdoor pavilion where the kids were eating breakfast. After a little bit of confusion, we were able to set-up the clinic. Everyone had their assigned task; people recording height and weight, doing vision exams, taking photographs, providing ringworm and pinworm treatments and we even had a craft team. We were set… Everything was going smoothly; I could not have been more proud of our team.
Then the school physician arrived….
Wait!!! What?! I didn’t even realize the school had their own doctor…
Though he was very polite and kind, I could tell he was angry. He asked why we were giving out medication to children without his knowledge. He was concerned because he had just done intestinal parasite testing on all of the kids and was waiting for results before giving them the proper medication. I tried to explain that we had been asked to perform these tasks by the director of the ministry, but I knew he was right. I would have never done such a thing in the US. I should have done my due diligence and asked the right questions of the right people.
You see, in the past medical missions has functioned as “jungle medicine.” In some circles "jungle medicine" is slang used to describe a type of basic medical care provided for people groups that do not have access to local medical providers. However, the developing world is continuing to make great strides in the area of medicine. Many areas now have local medical providers; therefore, our approach needed to change.
So how do we know when and how to change our approach?
There is a one-word simple answer….. Relationships
Without strong, healthy relationships with native leadership, the short-term missionary often functions as a parachute savior. Meaning they quickly drop in on a community, do the assigned task as they see fit, then helicopter out. This leaves the community picking up all the broken pieces left behind; which is never a missionary's goal.
Since that time, our teams began to function differently. Building relationships are now our #1 priority. Through the relationship development process, we have gained mutual love and respect which leads to improved communication. As a result, the on-the-ground, local leaders feel comfortable telling us their honest needs, and we come up underneath, use their strategies and support their mission, rather than the other way around.