Pimping the Poor or Changing the World?

“Pimping the poor” was a phrase I first heard during a dinner conversation with former CEO of City Service Missions, Dan Reeves, in Chicago. From this conversation, there are two types of mission organizations:

  1. An organization that sets up temporary ministry opportunities for groups to attend in order to feel temporary satisfaction.
  2. An organization that connects a group with permanent ministries in a community in order to provide support to those ministries, and for groups to experience permanent growth.

“Pimping the poor” is what organization number one does. The poor are a resource to exploit in order to benefit the “paying” youth group (The reason for the pimping metaphor). Ministries are set-up, groups arrive and “make a difference.” Then the ministry is removed  leaving the impoverished community to once again care for themselves. This has also been called “ministry tourism.” If I can give you some humble advice, DON’T SUPPORT IT!   Look for ministries that connect you with pre-existing organizations. They are the ones striving to make a long term, permanent difference.  Your students will witness the organization’s passion and feel great about their short term assistance that is making a long term difference. 

Planning a local or international mission experience for your group? Contact the organization and begin establishing  a relationship with them. Ask a lot of questions (be respectful).  Here are a few samples:

  • Who will you be connecting with on the experience?
  • Where does your money go?
  • How will the organization support you?

Don’t blindly select an organization!  Actively engage with the organization to ensure that it will be a good experience for your group, the organization, and the locals you will be serving.

Whether local or international, use this handy checklist to make sure you are changing the world, rather than damaging it:

Make sure locals run or work closely with the ministries you are partnering. Partnering with pre-existing ministries ensures that the community is supported for 365 days a year, rather than only the week or summer you are there.

Decide if locals are assisting you or are you assisting locals. I remember a group was given the task of building a house for a family. The problem was that no one was skilled at building houses! The group would build during the day and the local handymen would return at night to fix the mistakes. Don’t do it!  Support the skilled laborers and connect students with locals that have a life-long passion for their community.

Eat local food, and interact with local leaders. New experiences create changed livesOther than helping a community, mission experiences are about widening a students’ worldview. New experiences are a huge part of this! Don’t eat at McDonalds.

Decide what your group will do after the trip. If it’s only about the time you’re there, you should have just sent a check. The post-trip is just as important as the trip. Mission experiences should be life-altering, direction-changing, and eye-opening. Not a one-week trip, but potentially the beginning of a life-long journey. Support your team after the trip!

Create opportunities to experience the community you are serving.  Experiencing a new community creates empathy. Empathy creates new perspectives. This again speaks to the power of new experiences and a widened worldview. Use this!

Be sure the Organization has an active relationship with a Local Ministry. If they don’t, stay away. Simply put.

Make fundraising a gift of more than money. Fundraising does two things. First, it does financially supports the students. Second, it gives them accountability when they return. If someone supports you with money, report to them on why it was worth their support.

You are Not Their Savior! Often true of international mission efforts, we think that it is our job to bring our “North American knowledge” to a community. Show them how we do worship, how we would build a home or how we would tackle a project. We are not their savior and they probably don’t need our  “knowledge.” . Just because they are doing it differently, doesn’t mean they are unintelligent or lacking! Stop trying to SAVE and concentrate on SERVING.

Remember this truth, “People Over Projects.” One Collective, a missions organization out of the States, embraced this statement to bring focus to their mission work this summer. North Americans, for the most part, are rather task oriented. We want to go, accomplish a project, and head home feeling like we’ve made a difference. For many communities, such as Central America communities, people are relationally oriented. Relationships trump projects. They may show up “late”or take a break to chat with a family member.  This can drive North Americans crazy! Stop viewing your trip as a task to complete and start viewing it through their eyes. People over projects always.

Don’t get stuck on the details. Wouldn’t it have been nice if I had 10 points to share? My OCD mind sure thinks so! Don’t sweat it! In the words of Duffy Robins, “True ministry happens when things go wrong!”  I am not suggesting poor planning of details.  I am suggesting you relax a bit and let it happen!

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Stephen D Kennedy is the Youth & Family Pastor at Grace Community Church in Guelph, Canada. Stephen received his BTh in Youth Ministry from Emmanuel Bible College, and is currently pursuing an Masters of Theological Studies at the University of Waterloo and Conrad Grebel. You can connect with Stephen on Instagram @Stevetheyouthguy and are always welcome to connect with him on any topic! Drop a message, he’d love to hear from you.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS. 

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