We often have people offer to hold our four month old son, and I am always so grateful to hand him over. It provides a bit of rest for me. Plus, I love watching him play and receive care from other wonderful adults.
At the same time, sometime those people will come back to us with, shall we say, input.
“He sounds stuffy.”
That’s just how he breathes.
“Does he feel warm to you?”
Babies are hot.
“I think someone’s gassy.”
Are you? That’s a bit much to tell me. Oh, you mean him? No, he’s not.
The words are kindly said and kindly meant. But the effect is often to make me feel defensive of my own attentiveness to my son, and tired as I put in the energy to correct them in a way that will seem grateful and gracious.
I imagine hosts of short term mission teams might feel something similar. Whether a group has dropped in for a day or a week or more, they are likely to ask questions that could be tricky to answer graciously.
“What if you did X for your community?”
We tried X and it was unsustainable.
“Why don’t you see more of Y around here? Y would have good results for these people.”
Because Y is not a cultural fit in this location, even though it could be great in another community and culture.
“Where’s Z? People would love it!”
Z is very good, but might create a sense that our community needs outside help to thrive. We think we can solve some of our own problems and thrive that way.
What I really want to tell those lovely baby-holders is this: As the momma, I live with kiddo day in and day out. He sleeps in my bed, eats food made by my body, is with me around the clock. I know the difference between the hungry noise and the tired noise. I know when he needs my help and when he’s on the verge of getting it himself.
You help me, baby-holder. You do. So much. You lift my spirits and let me rest my arms and help me not feel isolated. Those things are so important, and I cannot do them myself. I need you to do them for me. What I do not need is for you to try and fix my baby, who, by the way, is not broken. Or sick. Or gassy.
And I wonder if long-term missionaries and community development leaders in cities near and far would say something similar, were they allowed: Short term team, you are welcome here. But we live here day in and day out. We know our community’s resources and weaknesses, her strengths and struggles.
We appreciate your energy, your enthusiasm, and your eagerness to help our community. You lift our spirits and help us not feel isolated. We need you to come alongside us, give our arms a rest, and bless us as we invest here. We do not need to you tell us what is wrong here or what will fix our problems. Our community may be poor, but we are not broken.
My hunch is that if we got this, we would walk away feeling even more loved and supported, even more cared for, even more blessed by these gracious helpers.