If you were to travel to the southwest region in El Salvador, you would find a small fishing village called Metalio. This beautiful fishing village gets hit with an immense amount of rain each year that causes long-term problems for its residents. In a community where 40 percent of its population lives in extreme poverty (making less than $2 per capita per day), these severe weather patterns impact the daily lives of people.
As many of you know, a core aspect of how ENLACE operates is by building local and international partnerships in order to transform communities. From the beginning, we have seen that community transformation can only happen when people collaborate together to identify the physical and spiritual needs of a community.
With the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic, ENLACE began a major pivot in our year’s community development plan and began to provide relief as early as April in Central America. It’s been an incredible effort by hundreds of devoted people. One of our superheroes during this transition has been Dr. Eva Berdugo. Dr. Eva is coordinating all relief and efforts in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nepal. Not only has she been instrumental in designing and managing day-to-day operations and communications, but she has also helped to provide solid and capable leadership as ENLACE turns now toward recovery.
For many of us during this pandemic, there have been many dreams that have not gone the way we planned or hoped for. Dreams have been put on hold, re-oriented, or lost altogether. Not only can it be daunting to have to navigate a new world and reality that does not have a firm structure, but it can also be deeply sad to have lost something you were counting on or excited for.
While growing up in a small, Midwestern farming community I vividly remember asking myself often, “Is this as good as it gets?”
ENLACE’s international church partnership strategy is the backbone of how we support ongoing community transformation efforts in impoverished communities. As part of this strategy, we love to work with international mission partners who want to go deep with a region of a country to partner with multiple local churches to make a true impact. We are always looking to work with partners who want to come alongside ENLACE to support local churches and communities as they are working to transform their communities.
2019 was a topsy turvy year for many of us. It was a year full of heartache and hope across the globe. From ENLACE’s vantage point, the humanitarian crisis on the U.S. border was an endless source of grief.
Many of you who know my wife Jenny and I are familiar with our story.
We met in college and were married in 2002. For our honeymoon, we were invited to volunteer for a few months in El Salvador. After seeing the incredible work of rural pastors, our three-month honeymoon turned into nearly eight years of living in El Salvador. Our children were born in El Salvador, and we’ve now been involved with ENLACE for more than 17 years. I would have never imagined what God had in store for us when we said yes to a trip to El Salvador.
This month in homes around the globe, families are decorating and lighting their Christmas trees. In fact, "trimming the tree" is often its own ritual, one that merits a dedicated time in which family and friends gather to pile on ornaments and lights, popcorn and cranberry bunting, and thinly ribboned "icicles."
If you are partial to a real tree, you know how important it is to find one that is fresh and healthy. Dry and sparsely branched trees are not only fire hazards but aren't ideal when wanting to showcase beautiful and plentiful decorations. The best trees, the ones that can hold up throughout the holidays and into the new year, are those sturdy ones that had been deeply rooted and nourished.
This is a great metaphor for what we have seen in our work. As ENLACE approaches its 25th anniversary, we've had the privilege of being a part of something amazing. Over and over again, we've seen that once local church members take on their role as servant leaders, the before and after contrast in their communities, is breathtaking.
As I was looking through some pictures of ENLACE’s 2016 Pastor and Leader Retreat there was one photo that stopped me in my tracks. It literally gave me chills. Tears began to well up in my eyes, as I contemplated all that was represented. It looks like a normal photo of two Salvadoran men, just standing there next to each other. However, somehow this picture represents nothing less than a transformative hope for the country of El Salvador.
This year marks 15 years since I began working with ENLACE. If there is one thing that I have learned in all of these years it is that community transformation does not happen overnight. But every so often you get a good look at the enormous progress that has happened over the years. This picture represents progress achieved and an incredible hope to come.
The Road to Heaven: When Good Intentions Meet Best Practices in Short-term Missions and Church-based Community Development
Once upon a time there was a member on an international short-term service team that had really enjoyed his time in El Salvador. He wanted to say goodbye with one last gesture of kindness. He decided that on his final work day, as he left the community, he would throw candy to people from the back of a truck. When the moment came, however, the treats did not bring about a happy scene; Fights erupted between children--some had caught nothing while others too much; Packs of stray dogs nipped and skirmished trying to get their share; One full bag of candy landed on the roof of a home, broke through the thatch, and knocked over a clay water pitcher that spilled on a man working at his sewing machine. Needless to say, it wasn’t quite the farewell this team member intended.
While this story is slightly embellished, it demonstrates something ENLACE has learned in almost 25 years of working with short-term service mission teams:
Unintended and negative consequences can result when
best intentions are not paired with best practices.
The number of people in the United States going on short-term mission trips is growing every year. As Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, the writers of Helping Without Hurting in Short-Term Missions, report, there were 120,000 short-term missionaries who went abroad in 1989. That number increased to between two and three million by 2010, and the number has grown since. According to Robert Wuthnow, a professor of sociology at Princeton University, the likelihood of a U.S. church member to go on a short-term mission trip at some point in her or his lifetime could be as high as 25%.
This virtual “tidal wave” of U.S. short-term missionaries who may or may not be effective, has led some to wonder if “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” is an apt description of this phenomenon. They wonder if teams would be more effective remaining home and sending the money they’ve raised directly to organizations on the ground. And this is a good question to ask. Every organization that works abroad with short-term mission support, should be asking it.
ENLACE has been asking this question ever since we hosted our first team back in the mid-1990s. While working with churches and organizations that work internationally can be a double-edged sword, overall the experience has not just been helpful, but it has been vital. “Our international church partners play a key role in helping our work go forward.” says ENLACE El Salvador Team Coordinator Karen Chavez. “In our case, the service teams pray for and resource community-led initiatives while also mobilizing volunteers that work alongside a regional consortium of local churches. Without their collaboration, we couldn’t do the work we do.”
ENLACE believes that facilitating service teams is one important component to fulfilling its mission and vision provided that two key “best practices” are maintained. The first involves the identification of projects and the second, the identification of beneficiaries.
Supporting Roles: Project Identification and Short-term Missions
Executive Director, Ron Bueno, founded ENLACE in 1993 and has observed that poverty is a result of broken relationships between God, self, others and the rest of creation. “The church,” says Bueno, “is the most effective tool of restoration. And it is vital that short-term teams support the local church in its efforts. Identifying projects or beneficiaries on their own or giving cash or other gifts when they come to work undermines the local church’s role and in the long-run seriously hampers sustainable poverty alleviation and other aspects of the church’s transformation work.”
ENLACE’s role is to prepare the local church to connect with its community and short-term service teams are incredibly helpful when they perform a supporting role to the priorities identified by local churches working with their communities.
Respecting the Experts: Beneficiary Identification and Short-term Missions
We believe that local churches working with their communities know best the needs of their own communities. Local leaders who are working night and day with great heart, devotion and an incredible amount of sacrifice, are the experts. ENLACE comes alongside them to help fortify their efforts and expand their capacity to serve. ENLACE relies on locally elected community committees to manage all aspects of the projects they have identified. It is these committees that identify local families in the greatest need of housing, water, latrines, eco-stoves, etc.
If a visiting team (or any outside group) identifies and/or provides funds directly to an individual or family (at the time of the visit or later after pursuing independent interaction) it often damages the efficacy of the church and community’s established committees while diverting limited resources from a community-wide, integrated approach that is meant to help the greatest number of people in need. And ultimately, it is the poorest in each community who lose.
“We don’t just want 10 families who were lucky enough to be seen at a church event to get water,” says Gersón Sánchez, ENLACE’s Church Coach Supervisor in El Salvador. “We want to fortify the church’s ability to create and manage projects, and help it to grow into a role of problem-solver within its community so that everyone gets access to water, to home gardens, to health care, to waste management now and for many years to come.”
ENLACE’s approach is committed to maximizing available resources to help the greatest number of people in need in a particular community. If short-term service teams identify their own beneficiaries, they disrupt that effort and produce grave consequences for those who are poorest.
The Road to Heaven
Having the best intentions for others is absolutely necessary to bring wholeness to the world. If we don’t care for the plight of poor, if we do not choose to be God’s hands and feet, how else will the “kingdom of heaven be close at hand” as mentioned in the gospels? But empathy without a long-term perspective is only half of the equation. When we are affected by the suffering of others, we sometimes would rather provide a quick relief--even if that act is perhaps superficial--in order to feel better ourselves. It’s like giving someone with a toothache a lollipop instead of arranging a dentist appointment.
Instead, ENLACE believes and is committed to a better way, a better road. This “road to heaven” is only paved when we walk with each other in humility and truth. We must choose to take on a supporting role as local churches work with their communities and respect the long-term and broader community vision that champions the poorest. Best practices in short-term service teams hinges on these commitments and ultimately reflect God’s love and promise of wholeness.
For more details on how to plan an effective short term serving trip, download this free resource: "How To Make a Long-Term Impact With a Short-Term Serving Trip"
Sunday: See Needs as Opportunities to Serve“We’ve learned that needs in our community are opportunities given to the church to serve, and our focus should remain there until everyone’s needs are met.” - Pastor Juan Ramírez, Casa del Alfarero Church, Chantusnene
Monday: Serve the Way Jesus Did
“Our vision has opened and our capacity has increased thereby empowering us to carry the gospel in its fullest form... Jesus ministered in the same, holistic way.” - German Melgar, Fe y Amor Church, Mandinga
Tuesday: Dreaming Leads to Action Leads to Celebration
“We never thought it possible but when the dream of building classrooms for our community came true, we excitedly discovered that we could impact our community in a great way even though we are a very small congregation. Now we are already celebrating all the projects we will accomplish in the years to come!” - Wilber Diaz, Cristo Viene Misión Evangélica Aposento Alto Church, San Gerardo
Wednesday: Working Together Creates Long-term Success
“Thanks to the church and ENLACE, we now have a vision for our town that brings all of us great joy and satisfaction. Working in unity and collaboration is the only way to resolve the many problems that we all face.” - Eris Neftali Romero, Mayor of Ciudad Barrios
Thursday: Ask "What More Can We Do?"
"After we did the work that God put in our hearts, we asked the question: what else can we do? That is when God brought ENLACE to us and we were able to take the next critical steps to help our community.” - Pastor Marvin Rivas, Mahanaim Church, Caluco
Friday: Don’t Build Walls if You Want to Show God’s Love
“The main objective isn’t to create walls but to draw near to people, show them God’s love and transform their lives.” - Pastor Marco Antonio Melara, Jerusalen Church, San José El Naranjo
Saturday: Serving Others Creates Astounding Results and Self Discovery
"Our church is a testimony. The learning process with ENLACE helped us to discover ourselves as a church. And as the members took the initiative to serve the community even I was astonished at what we have been able to do.” - Pastor Jennifer Lucero de Bautista, Jehová Jireh Church, Las Cruces
March Madness Basketball is upon us! Is your #Bracket already #Busted?
Jhony Pérez Rosales is one of the youngest church coaches at ENLACE but his years of service in the church and devotion to his family have afforded him wisdom beyond his age.