Podcast Transcript: Interview with Dr. Vanderpool – How to Ensure that your Short-Term Mission Trip is Meaningful and Beneficial to those You are Going to Serve.
In Episode 12, Jacklyn spoke with Dr. David Vanderpool about LiveBeyond’s Philosophy of Missions. He explains how short-term missions can be hurtful and how LiveBeyond ensures that their mission trips are beneficial. He also tackles controversial issues such as volun-tourism, the white savior complex, and attachment/detachment issues when mission team members visit orphanages.
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[00:00] JVB: Hello, everybody. And welcome back to another LiveBeyond podcast. My name is Jacklyn Vanderpool Barnett. And today we’re joined by Dr. David Vanderpool. So, hello.
[00:00] JVB: Hello, everybody. And welcome back to another LiveBeyond podcast. My name is Jacklyn Vanderpool Barnett. And today we’re joined by Dr. David Vanderpool. So, hello.
[00:11] DMV: How you doing today?
[00:12] JVB: Oh, I’m doing good. So, we’re going to talk about something a little bit controversial a bit today, if that’s all right.
[00:20] DMV: Sure.
[00:21] JVB: But I think, I think it will be good coming from our point of view. So many times when I see this in the news, it’s coming from opposing points of view. So, I think it’s healthy for us to get to have our input in it. So today we’re going to talk about the philosophy of missions and how sometimes short-term missions can actually do more harm than good and specifically about what LiveBeyond is doing to change that narrative and make sure that everything we do is for the good. Now, of course, LiveBeyond started in 2005. So, we’ve been around a bit and we’ve made a lot of mistakes. We had to learn the hard way. I think everybody does. But, I think that right now, you know, we’re getting the hang of some, some certain things. So, the first question I have for you is when can helping hurt? What does that actually look like?
[01:16] DMV: Well, you know, this is something that’s a whole lot more prevalent than I think a lot of us would like to, to admit. I think short-term missions by themselves can actually be detrimental. You know, not really understanding the culture, maybe not speaking the language, depending too much on translators to try to get points across. I think those kinds of things probably set us up to try to impose our American culture on cultures that may not be receptive to our American culture. And so, it makes it a lot more difficult, I think, to have good outcomes. One of the things that short-term missions by itself is problematic in is that it doesn’t measure outcomes. It’s really impossible for someone to go down for a week or maybe two weeks and do something that they could then measure the outcome of their efforts. And so, without having those outcome measures, you really don’t know if you’re helping or hurting. And so, in this way, for instance, with medical care, most medical care requires some kind of long-term commitment. And so, if a physician or nurse comes down works for a week in a short-term medical clinic that has no other backup, then those patients that they’ve seen will not have access to any other medications or a doctor after that time. And this is a problem. So, if you have somebody with high blood pressure and you come down and you give them a month’s supply of blood pressure medicine, then what do they do at the end of that month if they cannot refill that medication? And so, these are the kind of issues that we can get into trouble with. If a surgeon comes down, does surgery for a week and then has no ability to follow up the patients or look for complications, be able to treat complications that might occur. Then we can have problems and actually do more harm than good.
[03:25] JVB: Absolutely. So, what about the flipside of that? How can short-term missions be beneficial?
[03:33] DMV: Well, I think that’s a great question, and this is the kind of, of philosophy that we at LiveBeyond have is that short-term missions are beneficial if they’re done appropriately. We feel like that short-term missions overlaying a long-term mission is the absolute best way to accomplish the goal. And we’re there, of course, to spread the love of Jesus Christ to people. If we were there within a long-term mission, then number one, the long-term mission, the missionaries there will understand the culture. They’ll understand what’s taboo, what’s not taboo. They’ll also understand the language, be able to communicate with the people in a way that is meaningful and can get the true meaning out of the people’s words, but then also can follow up with medical care. So, for instance, at LiveBeyond, I’m a surgeon. And so, if we have short-term medical professionals come down for a week, then I can follow up these patients after they return home. If we do surgery, as a surgeon then I could take care of any problems that might arise for that. Also, it’s very important, I think, that the culture be understood, and I think this is where a lot of short-term missions fall short and they believe that they’re doing good things, but actually they may be harming the culture in the long term.
[05:05] JVB: I think one of the, the difficult parts about it is that everybody is coming in with such good intentions. You know, their desire is to help people. But when you maybe haven’t taken the time to completely educate yourself on things like the culture, language, or people, there is a good chance that you’re hurting because the American culture isn’t going to fit into every narrative in every country that you go to. So, speaking of that and good intentions, how do you play for the long-term goal rather than the short term goal? And maybe explain that a little bit of what I’m talking about?
[05:48] DMV: Absolutely. You know, and like you said, people have such good intentions, but they’re just not educated on the culture. And so, I can remember a situation we had several years ago where some college students came down and they were very much into the hip American culture. But that American culture was absolutely diametrically opposed to the culture in Haiti, and these, these two individuals really hurt the feelings of many of the people that we have on staff in Haiti. And our Haitian population just couldn’t understand why these two individuals, who perhaps had good motives, could dress the way they did and look the way they did in a country that doesn’t accept those kind of mores. And so it took us months to, to talk through this with our Haitians so that they could try to understand where these individuals were coming from. And it represented really a cultural insensitivity from this group that is extremely harmful. And so, while these individuals may think that they’re doing a good thing in the short term, for the long term it was extremely damaging. And even today, several years later, our Haitians are still talking about these individuals and because they just can’t quite get their mind around what they were doing. So, at LiveBeyond, we think it’s very important to think about and proceed with the long term in mind.
[07:39] JVB: Well, and I think you know, there’s this old adage that, you know, you give a man a fish he can eat for a day, but if you teach a man to fish, he can eat for a lifetime. And I think that that’s really a lot of what our mindset is, you know, teach, give dignity. Don’t just meet the needs for today, but implement a way that you can meet the needs long term. And so, I think that that’s such an important focus. And I think that that’s a great way to counteract this, when short term missions or just missions in general can hurt. Because you’re only thinking for right now today, you know, maybe tomorrow, but certainly not on the grand scope of things.
[08:22] DMV: Absolutely. And that is a very typical developed country mindset. You know, Western Europe and the United States, are time, are time-oriented cultures, and so were very much married to our clocks and our schedules. And so, we want to get this much done today. In the typical low-tier country in a developing concept, those people are event-oriented. They’re not thinking about time. May not even have a watch to have access to knowing what time it is, but they’re event-oriented. And so, there are a lot more patient for the long term, and that’s what they’re looking for. They’re not looking for filling their schedule up today, getting something accomplished today. They’re looking for the long haul. And so, when we come in, with our time-oriented culture and try to apply that in a culture that is more event-oriented, there’s a real conflict that arises, and the people don’t understand what’s going on. They don’t understand what the effort is that’s trying to improve their lives because they can see that it won’t be there next week.
[09:40] JVB: It’s just a breeding ground for frustration, I think, you know, and especially for both parties, because if you are time oriented, you may go down and you expect everyone else to be time-oriented. Well, that’s just not gonna happen.
[09:51] DMV: That’s right. Exactly.
[09:54] JVB: So one of the very controversial terms I hear all the time is volun-tourism, and that’s very much, you know, the stereotype that you see is just kind of the, “I’m going to get a selfie with a child who looks really sick and get a good story and post it on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, something like that. So how do we combat this mentality at LiveBeyond? Because, quite frankly, I don’t think we tolerate it at all. And so, what do we do to say you know, “Each one of you have a purpose, and you’re going to meet that purpose. And it’s going to be a blessing to other people and not just your followers on Instagram.”?
[10:44] DMV: Well, that’s a great question, and boy, is that a challenge! Because in our culture, the United States culture today, it’s all about us. We are the center of our own little movie that we’re starring in, and so it’s, it’s really a challenge because that attitude just doesn’t play well in the developing world, where people are in dire need, where people are starving, where people need healthcare and clean water. And so, the things that we try to do is, we try in our morning Bible studies to show that, believe it or not, it’s not really about us. It’s about them. And we emphasize that quite a bit because the attitude of it’s all about me, and I’m very important, and I need to look a certain way and dress a certain way and act a certain way and be seen a certain way that is absolutely in complete conflict with what the needs of the people are and the way that Jesus actually treated people. He understood, of course, that it was about them. And so, we try to really reinforce that. And unfortunately, sometimes people are offended because they think it is all about them. Well, they probably don’t need to be on a mission trip of any kind for a while until they can perhaps get a little bit more maturity. But because it is about the people who are suffering, it is all about the indigenous people, trying to make their lives better. And this is really the philosophy of our missions is that we believe that Jesus came in, and as the Living Water, he gave clean water. And as the Bread of Life, he gave people food. And as the Great Physician, he healed people. And we take that to heart. So, having the mindset that it is about them, making their lives better, giving them clean water, giving them adequate nutrition, giving them access to health care. Those are three ingredients that we see really reinforces then the Gospel message that Jesus gives. One of our favorite passages is John 10:10, and the second part of that passage says that Jesus came to give life and he came to give life abundantly. And so, we believe that showing people life and how that they could have life by having enough water, having enough food, and having good medical care then leads to them spiritually transformed with the abundant life of Jesus Christ.
[13:33] JVB: Absolutely. And I think one of the ways that LiveBeyond also combat this mentality is, it’s relational. You know, you’re not just so focused on you or your Instagram feed or whatever picture you’re going to post, but get to know the person that you’re serving, you know, get to know these kids in our school, get to know the kids who are in our Johnny’s Kids program that you are, you know, literally serving all week while you’re there. And one of the verses that we’ve mentioned before in this podcast, and you mention every single week in Haiti is 2 Corinthians 8:9 and it says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, for your sake, he became poor so that by his poverty, you might become rich.” And one of the things that I love about your teaching of this first is you say, “Take out some of the names and replace them with yourself and someone that that you have seen this week.” So, for example, it’d be, “For you know the grace of Dr. David Vanderpool. Though he was rich for Annette’s sake, he became poor. So that by David Vanderpool’s poverty, Annette might become rich.” When you hear that first, it can’t help but completely transform the way that you were thinking. If you were thinking me, me, me, me, me, me, me the entire week that they’re there, this, this verse is like a slap in the face to say, “No. Like you, by living in America, you are rich compared to the rest of the world. And people who are in Haiti, you know. Newsflash: Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. They’re very poor. And we are in one of the poorest areas of the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. And so, when you get to, to take that and look at yourself and then look at the kids in front of you or the people in front of you. Guerline or Lancy Belle, and Daphne and Chenielo and Pierre Richard, to get to see all these kids and you have these relationships, it can’t help but transform that mentality that you were having in that volunteerism or voluntourism mentality when you come down. And so, I love that that’s, that’s one of the teachings that you have and that challenge that LiveBeyond has. People come in to say, you know, who are you here for? And what are you gonna do about it?
[16:04] DMV: That’s right. That’s a great point. And, you know, the voluntourism people coming in and, and wanting to see the beauty of the country but overlooking the beauty of the people. And I think that they miss out so tremendously by doing that. The people themselves are absolutely beautiful. They have hearts that are just solid gold, and that the joy that comes with knowing their name is just so important. We always say once you know their name, you are done, that you’re going to be in it for life. And so, meeting the people, getting into their lives, hearing about their struggles, hearing about their triumphs, you start to realize that everybody’s the same. You know, people nowadays, especially United States, tend to be divisive and to try to, to exaggerate differences between people. But you know, it is my experience of doing mission work throughout the world – everybody’s the same. We may have different sized pocketbooks, but we have the same hopes and dreams for ourselves and for our children. We might not have the same access to those hopes and dreams, but we are the same, especially in the Lord Jesus Christ, that the Lord values everybody the same. And I think that right there, just that understanding right there, can radically transform a heart that is me-centric rather than other-centric.
[17:40] JVB: Another one of the terms that I hear a lot is the white savior complex. I think you know, I think that that’s something that we may need to talk about a little bit. And so, you know, what does that mean to you and what do you do about it? And to make sure that we don’t perpetuate this quote unquote white savior complex.
[18:04] DMV: You know, it is very pervasive. And we see this all the time that people say, “I’m coming down to help the poor Haitians.” Usually at the first of the week, you know, we’ll, we’ll visit with them when they arrive from off the airplane, and they’re saying, “We’re so excited to be here to help the poor Haitians.” It’s very fascinating to watch the transformation throughout the week because they start to realize day by day, little by little, that the Haitians are giving them something, that they’re actually going to be taking things back to the United States that are extremely valuable that they learned in Haiti. And so, by the end of the week, a lot of times, they’re dialogue has completely changed. Instead of saying, “Wow, I’m here to help the poor Haitians,” they’re saying, “I can’t believe how full my heart is because of what the Haitians have given to me.” And we see this all over the world, whether it’s Africa or the Middle East or Central/South America. And that transformation almost has to be experienced to actually occur. It’s not something I think you can teach. I think it has to be something that you live through, and, and so, generally, we sort of smile, and when people get off the airplane and say that and we just pray that the experience will be transformative for them. And by and large it is.
[19:41] JVB: I think it’s one of those things too that, you know, there are things that, you know, we as LiveBeyond, we need people to come alongside of us, and specifically people who have special specialties. You know, whether that’s medical or, you know, agriculture, education or anything like that. And so, it’s good to recognize that you have this gift. But it’s important to have humility with it, too. You know, we’ve got to take off our Superman cape, every once in a while and not just think, “I’m going on the Haiti and I’m going to save the entire country. And what would they have ever done without me?” You know, because obviously that, that’s not true. The only person who could save Haiti is Jesus, and we are excited and expectant for that day. But I think what’s also important, you know, I mentioned this earlier, Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, but they’re not poor on joy and happiness and peace. And, you know, there’s just such a high level of contentment, even though they are poor and they do experience some awful things due to their poverty. And so, I think that that’s always so humbling, even for me when I go down or when I lived there is, you know, is like, wow, the American culture perpetuates this. You always need more and more and more. Never be happy with what you have. Keep going to the next step. And it always, you know, punches me in the gut a little bit to think like, “Wow, I have so much and I was never happy.” But I look at people who material-wise, have so little and are so full of joy. And so, I think it’s, I think it’s important to think like yes, you know, maybe you have a degree that, that gives you this ability to teach and share the knowledge that you have or blessed people in a certain way, but to also be really receptive to learn, you know, things from the Haitians as well. And I think that that’s a really good place to be in when you know that you’re going to be, you’re going to be giving, but you’re also going to be receiving and you’re going to be blessing and there the Haitians will also be receiving, so I think that that’s really important.
[21:55] DMV: That’s so true. And it’s, you know, the only way to be effective. There are several points. The only ways to be effective in a country like Haiti, you have to be humble. Humility is absolutely key. Pride will completely break apart the deal, and so, humility is, is extremely important. You know, it’s also really important to reach out, get to know the people, and try to understand, you know, where they’re coming from. And it’s just so rich to be able to enjoy another culture, to enjoy other people who may be completely different from you from a socioeconomic standpoint, but the very same in every other way. And so, I think, if we if we enter into short-term missions and long-term missions with humility, with as much of a degree of understanding as we possibly can, and a genuine appreciation and love for the people, then the success, it will not be far behind.
[23:03] JVB: Well, I put out on Instagram a couple days ago some questions that people may have or concerns even that they have about the philosophy of missions. So, I’m going to jump into a couple of those questions, then I would love to hear your answer to those. So, one of them is saying, you know, are you really able to contribute to a sustainable solution? And we talked about that a little bit, but I think, you know, for a weeklong how are you going to be contributing to a sustainable solution?
[23:34] DMV: Well, I think that’s a really good question, and sustainability is a hard word to define. You sort of know it when you see it, but it’s hard to know exactly how to get there. But I think it’s absolutely crucial for the success of, specifically, a long-term mission. And so, one of the things that I really encouraged people is to pair themselves with a long-term mission that is striving for sustainability. That way, when you go down on a short-term mission, you are taking part, maybe it’s a one-week piece, but you’re taking part in their sustainability plan. And so, for instance, you know, at LiveBeyond, our goal for Johnny’s Kids, the individuals who are mentally and physically challenged, is to have them become self-sustaining. And so you will see that in Johnny’s Kids. And the people who come down and work in a short-term fashion with Johnny’s Kids are helping the children learn how to feed themselves, to learn how to dress themselves to, to learn how to walk, ;earn how to have some kind of meaningful way to make money. Those kinds of things are a sustainable goal, and so when you work that week, you are participating in the sustainable goal of the long-term mission.
[25:01] JVB: Absolutely. Another question that we have, and this one is particularly fascinating to me, it’s asking about kind of a controversy behind the attachment and detachment complex that people who go on short-term missions could have, especially on children, and particularly on children in orphanages.
[25:21] DMV: Well, that’s a very, very good question. And it’s a very difficult question because children who have been abandoned by their parents or their parents have died very often have some kind of detachment/attachment disorder. And so, this disorder can be really exacerbated by people coming down on short-term missions, becoming very closely attached to this child and then leaving in a week. And then a new person comes the next week and becomes attached to that child and then leaves. And the cycle just continues throughout the year. This could be terribly damaging, especially to young children who really need to attach and focus on a single individual, hopefully a mother or father. And so, I think that it is very helpful to keep too much exposure, have too much exposure, for the children to short-term missionaries. I think it’s much more healthy for the children to be attached to people who are there long-term, so that the children grow to expect adults to be there long-term. If they see them cycling in and out of their lives quickly, then it really destabilizes the maturity of the child. And so, I think that in orphanages can really be a massive problem, and it probably would be best avoided, especially in young children.
[27:00] JVB: Well, we had Anne Marie Stern from myLIFEspeaks on the podcast a couple episodes ago and, you know, I was just floored. First off, she did such an incredible job. And what she does is making such huge strides to advance the Kingdom of God. But one of the things that she was talking about was how many children, particularly in Haitian orphanages, have living family members. Whether that’s parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents anything like that, that so many of the children who were in these Haitian orphanages are what we call economic orphans, where their families can’t take care of them at that moment. So, one of the concerns that, that I have and I know that LiveBeyond has is, these children might be in orphanages, but since they’re not quote unquote true orphans, they may not be in the orphanage all that long. But the damage that can happen to them in that short amount of time through this attachment and detach complex, it can severely damage them for when they go back to their families or to a different family member. Because, you know, the relationship that they have is, is then skewed, the viewpoint that they have is skewed. And so, I think that’s such a, a wise and mature question to ask in knowing that the, the impact that you as an individual can have, especially on children. And again it goes back – the intention is so pure, you know, especially, you know, as a woman. There’s, I have a maternal instinct, you know, so I just kind of want to scoop up any child and hold and take care of and nurture. But in some cases, like, that can be really detrimental. And so, I really love that question.
[28:47] DMV: You know, one of the things that we’ve done is we’ve started a program we call it Kè Pou Timoun, which it means “Heart for Children.” And it was basically an effort to get economic orphans placed back into their families. And so, we noticed, like you mentioned, that 70 maybe 80% of the children in Haitian orphanages are economic orphans. Their parents just can’t afford them. And so, we proposed a program that’s been very successful where we will feed the children. We will send the children to school, buy their uniforms and that kind of thing to help offset the cost of raising that child. But it’s a two-way street, and the parent must then take that child back into the family and raise the child. And so, this has been very effective, and we’ve placed many, many children back into their homes. We, we make sure that the home is safe, that there’s no, there’s no violence there, that children are taking care of, of course, but these children now get to grow up with their siblings, get to grow up with their parents, and they’re nurtured. Because the parents often times don’t want to abandon the child, but they just don’t have enough income to feed the child. And so, this is actually a compassionate issue. The parents are putting the child into a place where they know that the child will be fed, and being able to put those children back into the homes and ensure that that the children are fed and educated is outstanding. And we’ve seen the children really thrive in these circumstances.
[30:35] JVB: And the last question that we have is what does it mean to be qualified to do missions? And can anyone truly do it?
[30:43] DMV: That’s a good question. I wish there was, there were some kind of merit badge or something you could get for missions. That’d be outstanding. You know, one of the things that I think is very important and I believe thoroughly that all Christians are call to minister the Gospel to those who don’t know Jesus. We’re all – the Great Commission is for all of us. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean everybody needs to be long-term missionaries, but we’ve got to spread the Gospel. We’ve got to be spreading the Gospel in our neighborhoods, where we live. We need to be going to other lands, other, other nations, other countries and spreading the Gospel because that is the mission that the King gave us to do. And so, the King will qualify us to be missionaries. As we become believers, we are called and qualified by Jesus Christ, to become missionaries. And so, I think the question is probably asking about education and things like that. But I really want to emphasize from a spiritual standpoint, we are called and qualified to, to do missions. Now, as far as preparing for the mission, I think there’s a lot of things that we can do prior to going, especially on a short-term mission. We can learn about the culture. We can learn the language. We can learn about the people. We can learn about what physical problems occur in that country. So, like in Haiti, there’s almost no electricity. There’s almost no running water or sewage available, and we can learn about those things and tried to come up with plans to help with these, these deficits that we could contribute to. So, there’s a lot of things that I think we can do, especially in this day and age, of great education, to become a lot smarter about our missions. However, from a spiritual standpoint, we could be called and qualified by the Lord Jesus.
[32:57] JVB: I know for me, you know, ever since I was in kindergarten, I think I said, you know, “I want to be a doctor.” And of course, with you being my dad, it’s, it’s easy to want to emulate you and want to be like you. And when I got to college, chemistry proved that that was just not going to happen.
[33:20] DMV: You weren’t called to chemistry.
[33:21] JVB: I was not called to chemistry at all, even a little bit. I love getting to be a part of our medical weeks and the challenge that there’s been, and growing up being your daughter and all the different countries that we’ve gone to, and getting to be, you know, your little aide when we’re in surgeries and things like that, and getting to see all, I loved it. I just absolutely loved it. But that was a, that was a huge stop sign in the middle of the road for me was, “Nope, this is not what you’re going to do.” And so for a long time, you know, I was praying, “Lord, like I know that I’m called to missions. But what am I gonna do? You know, what is that gonna look like?” And, you know, what, what felt like, and it was years and years of asking that question. But the Lord in all of His goodness and His grace revealed to me exactly what that was at the right time and getting to do that, and getting to be a part of that, especially for the two years that I lived in Haiti, there was just so much gratitude. And I would like to think a healthy pride of getting to do that and getting to be a part of the Kingdom. And so, I think specifically for anyone who’s asking this question. Yes, I 100% agree with you on that. If, if you feel like you’re being called missions, the Lord will qualify you. And yes, anyone can do it because He’s preparing you, He’s giving you the tools that you need. You just have to be patient sometimes, you know, to hear exactly what He is calling you to. So, Dr. Vanderpool, Dad, thank you so much for joining us this week. I always love hearing what you have to say, and I appreciate the answers that you had to some really tough questions, but it’s always just such a joy to talk to you.
[35:11] DMV: Thank you so much. It’s great to be here.
[35:14] JVB: Anyone who is interested in learning a little bit more about LiveBeyond you can go online to LiveBeyond.org, where you can check out our 2019 and 2020 mission dates. If you also feel like it’s been put on your heart, you can click the donate button and set up a one-time or a re-occurring donation. Thank you so much for joining us this week. And don’t forget, go out and LiveBeyond.
Learn more about the orphanage crisis in Haiti in this podcast with Anne Marie Stern of myLIFEspeaks. (Transcript available here.)
Learn about our mission trips here.
View dates and sign up for a medical mission trip here. 2019 and 2020 dates are now available!
Hear from Dr. Vanderpool about what to expect on mission trips on this podcast transcript.
Hear the latest news from Haiti, read posts about faith and community development, and find transcriptions from the LiveBeyond podcast.