I, as I am sure you also, have heard many controversial issues and complications that arise from poorly executed and formed philanthropic or short-term missions programs. Because of this, I had grown very sceptical of organisations that offered organised short-term missions trips and considered them to be more detrimental to communities in the long-run than making any difference. Although this may still be the case for the pockets of highly publicised missions trips that primarily offer handouts at best, my mind was changed as I had the privilege of hearing and joining a very distinct missional movement of God in the San Quintin Valley in Mexico.
Distinctions of an effective missional movement.
Unlike some organisations that simply enter communities to drop supplies and leave that can enable a problem of dependence and economic difficulty, Mission San Quintin (MSQ) approached their overall long-term mission differently. MSQ resolved to incarnate into the local community to better understand the needs of the people through working with local churches, rehabilitation centres, orphanages, women’s transitions homes and even the local Mexican government. Because of the success in MSQ’s ministry, the local government have partnered with this ministry to continue initiating sustainable works that alleviate poverty and brokenness in the San Quintin Valley. As a whole, faith, love, hope and transformation is happening in the name of Jesus in this needy area of Mexico.
Our goal at Mission San Quintin Dream Center (MSQ DC) is not to drop in and give charity, but to partner with the people of the San Quintin Valley, to provide food and housing where wages simply won’t cover and to help give them the resources they need so their children can remain in school and become educated. In this way, MSQ DC aims to break the extreme cycle of poverty and bring the hope and transformation of Jesus into their lives.
The problems faced in the San Quintin Valley
The San Quintin Valley largely consists of farmland, which stretches as far as your eyes can see, located around 500 kilometres south of the Mexican and US Border. For the North Americans and Europeans reading, our ability to eat produce, like strawberries, raspberries, cucumbers, tomatoes, and green beans, relies on residents of the area who pick our food in sometimes degrading and unhealthy conditions.
The population of the San Quintin Valley comprises mostly of migrants from the poorer southern parts of Mexico who have migrated to San Quintin in hopes for a better life for their family. Unfortunately, due to circumstances and lack of controlled standards in the farming industry, many of these families find themselves living in unsanitary conditions, sleeping in shelters comprised of discarded sheet metal, cardboard and plastic.
Staff-housing (campos) provided by large farming corporations can be equally unsanitary and degrading. We visited one of these campos as a team and witnessed the living conditions families were housed in. Families as large as six people were housed in 100 sq ft shelters made of cinderblock; the housing was comparable to the slave cabins in the Southern US that lacked doors and window shutters. Again, the shared washing and toilet facilities were questionable water sanitation.
We witnessed conditions and heard stories of how food pickers are sprayed with harsh chemical pesticides daily, and women are at risk of sexual assaults while working in the field.
Deprived childhoods in a rape culture
Many children who are born in these campos are born without identity. Without an identity, that child cannot receive an education easily, and the cycle of poverty continues. As well, many children are forced to drop out of school before they can complete their education so that they can bring additional income to their family by joining their parents picking in the fields or so that they can care for their younger siblings as home. The rape culture in the area means that many girls do not finish their education as they become pregnant in their teens. Because of the lack of education, many of these children will grow up and will have no other choice than to follow the same path as their parents.
Worse still for young females, it is not uncommon for parents to sell their children into prostitution and not uncommon for women to be viewed as ‘property’ of another man. Girls sold into prostitution may go through several pregnancies, raising their children in shelters located in garbage dumps. These girls grow up into broken and wounded women who are later discarded by their pimps when they are no longer seen as being profitable.
Education makes a difference here
The long-term mission of MSQ includes some different programs, internships and short-term mission projects that individuals can be involved with. Many of the short-term mission projects are organised house or school builds that work alongside the government programs.
The team I was a part of was large enough to resource and build a much-needed school building in a needed area. Because of the existing partnership with the government, the work can be guaranteed success and longevity as the government promises to fund and pay for an educator for every school building MSQ can erect.
Every child that receives an education is more likely to escape the cycle of abuse and poverty. With an education, children have a better chance of gaining a better job and supporting their families.
God’s Work of Restoration and Providence
What I found most inspiring about this missions trip was the stories of how God was working in the valley in powerful, miraculous ways without our North American help. The way God cares for the orphans by sending a swarm of bees to rehome their lost bee colonies in their macadamia nut plantations that support the orphanage’s income. Or how God miraculously filled the orphanage’s cupboards with food when the bridge to the town was washed out for weeks. And the crazy story of God’s providence continues there.
We heard stories of women who were ejected out of their lives of prostitution and how God restored their broken souls. Women in these transition homes get to learn how to be a mother to their children and get to learn new skills. There are stories of how some of these women are romanced by godly men who love and cherish them and make a covenant to do life with them.
Markers of an effective short-term mission
In short, Mission San Quintin is not perfect by any means but clearly demonstrate an effective, long-term ministry that incorporates short-term mission projects effectively with special consideration of the local long-term impact. From my time with MSQ, some markers of an effective short-term mission that I will be looking our for are:-
- Short-term missions that are rooted in a long-term mission and ministry of the area
- Missions that are rooted in the gospel of Christ
- Missions that do not simply give out charity but look to equip locals and work with existing organisations
- Missions that work with a deep knowledge and understanding of the needs of the community and people, not just what we think they need.
Why You Should Consider Cancelling Your Short-Term Mission Trips – by Darren Carlson on The Gospel Coalition
Do you have any skeptism about short-term missions? Have you been on a short-term missions trip? Anything about this ministry impacted you? Let me know in the comments below.
Scenes from the Orphanage
The orphanage is a fascinating place; originally built to be a film studio and now used to home children as well as providing services to the broader community. The orphanage has its own medical and dental facilities as well as other facilities including a fire service that serves the community. Volunteer doctors and dentists head here on missions as well to provide medical care that locals would otherwise not be able to receive.
Women’s Transition House
Below is scripture painted on the outside of building where the original transitions home was established. The following photos are of the new home being built.