Even as a little girl I felt led to the helping profession. I always seemed to be in tune with the injustice of my surroundings; those situations that just never settle right in your stomach. I have specific memories from my childhood, adolescent, and young adult years that developed my own personal theology of justice. In sixth grade I sat on the school bus and watched from my window two groups of high school boys beat the living daylight out of each other because they socially belonged to two different groups. As a twelve-year-old girl, it nauseated me to see that such hatred could exist between people. In eleventh grade I caught wind that my younger brother was being bullied on the school bus. The next day my 5’1, 90 pound self said a few choice words to those bullies, humiliating my brother, but ending their bullying. As a twenty-two year old I walked the streets in South Africa watching starving children drink alcohol to stay warm and the youth die of AIDS. It was these types of experiences that helped shape my theology of justice and it was this theology of justice that eventually lead me to the dual profession of social work and the gospel ministry.
I am a graduate of Baylor School of Social Work and Truett Seminary’s dual degree program (MSW/ MDiv.), so separating my faith from my profession never made sense to me. During my graduate studies I felt a calling to practice within the local church. I now have the wonderful privilege of serving as the minister of missions at Wilshire Baptist Church (www.wilshirebc.org) helping shape and guide our congregation to fulfill the two greatest commands, to love God and to love others.
One of the ways our church participates in this commandment is through short-term missions. I recently returned from taking a group of six congregation members to the Dominican Republic where we served alongside Buckner International (www.buckner.org) helping care for people’s physical health. Each day we saw over eighty people from the community, for whom many do not have access to health care. We listened, we loved, and we served, but more importantly we cared. We cared to know what was going on with their body. We cared enough to spend time with each person, to look in their eyes, speak their name, and communicate the best plan of action to help increase their vitality.
With the launch of the popular book When Helping Hurts, there has emerged a lot of skepticism around short-term missions, and rightly so. There are obvious ways where short-term missions have been more harmful than hurtful. And it is right for us to rethink the way we participate in the mission of God. At our farewell dinner, I talked with one of my new friends from the week, Martirde. Martirde is a community organizer for a small non-profit and has hosted a variety of short-term mission groups over the years. So I asked him what his thoughts were about short-term missions, “would it be better if we just sent money instead of coming, Martirde?” To which he replied, “there are just some things that money cannot buy.” He continued, “I’m not sure Jesus really cared about quantifiable results. He cared about restoring dignity and hope and those are things that money cannot buy.” I was pleasantly surprised by his answer, because I agree. There are just some things that money cannot buy.
I asked him about how as the minister of missions I could best prepare teams for short-term mission experiences. We talked about perspective. Coming to the Dominican Republic should not be to fix some problem or solve some issue; those who come to the DR should be prepared to learn. By participating in short-term missions we are participating in a much bigger story; the story of God- and that is a privilege.
Heather M. is Minister of Missions at Wilshire Baptist Church in Texas. She has been a member of NACSW since 2012.