• • • Paradigm Shifts • • •

Is Money More Effective Than
My Presence?

Written by Laurie Germeraad Kagay

August 12, 2014


During my first trip to Kenya, I sat with a man who shared with me his worries associated with providing the basic fees necessary for his two children to go to school. It was because of such stress that he told me he and his wife did not want to have any more children. As we talked about the problem, a large team from the U.S. marched in, uniformed with matching bible verse t-shirts and dirty tennis shoes, to order pizza at the restaurant where we were eating. He whispered to me, “They are here to see the animals.”

Is your money more effective than your presence? Well, it depends on the quality of your presence. Can you do something about the problems at hand, or are you going to see the animals? Could your skills help someone learn how to build not only their home, but also their neighbor’s, in a responsible way? Could you help a family plumb their toilets so that certain diseases no longer affect their children? Could you teach a man a faster way to set bricks, allowing him to do his work faster, getting more customers in his business and more time with his kids? If so, go!

Some specialists can accomplish a great deal in the course of a few short weeks, and it would be worth the money spent to get them there. But for most who are seeking a mission trip experience, they have one main thing to offer: the money to get them there. This is because mission trips are largely targeted towards youth, soft-selling the task of alleviating suffering as a very small amount of effort, just one week a year.

Many times, locals will be hired to redo the same project the mission team from the West began, didn’t finish, or completed haphazardly. There is an irony in sending young kids to do something that they’ve never done before, when people on the ground, locals, who will actually live with the finished result, remain unemployed.

Money can be more effective than presence when your presence is untrained or unaware of the “big picture” that can bring societal transformation and a sustainable infrastructure. More often than not, the kinds of projects that actually benefit an individual, family, or community will take far longer than the length of time most want to spend away from home on their mission trip.

But, will a person be willing to give money towards someone’s home, or garden, or school, without having an experience with them? Short-term trips can be effective for giving individuals a better understanding of poverty, if they are well facilitated.

Unlike the voluntourism trend that millions embark on every year, we challenge people to be responsible for their experience on our short-term mission trips. The bible teaches that you are responsible for the needy that you come into contact with; remember the Good Samaritan story? While the poor in the third world are not our physical neighbors, our worldwide travel agendas put them in our proximity, and make us responsible for what we have seen. If people want to take up that responsibility, we are ready to make them into the kind of experts whose presence is worth the money it costs to send them abroad, but also with the heart to stay long enough to make a lasting impact. Perhaps even, like Jesus, to dwell among them.

As an organization, you will never hear us touting that money has allowed us to have success. We believe it is the development of human resources, who can adequately respond to needs, who are the greatest asset in to a world in need. We also believe “we are His workmanship created for good works” (Eph. 2:10). Jesus told his disciples “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts” (Matt. 10:8-9). He didn’t think that it was money that made the difference, so he told them not to pack it. But he also gave this directive after they had spent a sufficient amount of time learning from him how to participate in healing society.

Until a group of people (remember, the disciples weren’t sent out alone) come into this kind of expertise, we must continue to weigh out what is more effective: money or presence. When a group is able to to cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons, and has the character to do so regardless of payment received, presence wins. For others without such competency and character, money might.