Over the weekend I had a phone conversation with an American friend, Jim, who had recently been on his first short term mission trip to a village in Thailand. His church has made a significant commitment to the people in this particular village. The church is partnering with a local indigenous ministry and during the past several years they have sent multiple short term teams and invested a significant amount of money. The American church desires to help without hurting and have been attempting to do things that will be sustainable. This is more difficult than they expected.

Jim told me a couple stories about initiatives the church has thought about and attempted that demonstrate the difficulty in creating sustainable ministry. For example, one strategy the church attempted was to build a pig farm. They purchased property and equipment, trained farmers, and actually started a pig farm. Unfortunately, it did not work and now they are converting it to a chicken farm.

As Jim was telling me about the pig farm, I wondered whose idea it was. I guessed correctly that it was an American idea. That was the first mistake. It is relatively easy for wealthy Americans to see what looks like solutions to poverty. Unfortunately, ideas from the outside rarely work. It is better if we listen carefully for indigenous solutions for local problems. Sometimes we can help the local people overcome hurdles they face. When we give them something, like a pig farm, we are giving them a hand-out. When we help them with their idea, we give them a hand-up. A hand-up protects their dignity and has a much greater chance for success.

Even though Jim recognizes the difficulties in this kind of ministry, he is eager to remain involved. He had a wonderful trip and has already signed up to return. I am grateful for people like Jim who are willing to make great sacrifices for the sake of others. May God bless Jim and others like him who desire to give a hand-up to people who are less fortunate.