I am Canadian.

The Art of Mission.

I am proud of my nationality. I always have been. Seeing that maple leaf inflicts an automatic smile. Though there are aspects of Canadian history that I am not particularly proud of, there is a lot to be said about Canada’s global acceptance and relations today. We’re also pretty great when it comes to hockey.

Multiculturalism has always been the norm for me. The concept of racism made absolutely no sense to me growing up. Why would a human being dislike another human being simply because they have a different skin tone? What weird ancestors. I am thankful that my generation, for the most part, shares this outlook. My own family values befriending families from cultures and countries different than our own. Some of my earliest (and favourite) memories are of my mother encouraging me to play with my pre-school classmates who were ethnically different than myself. My parents have proven through example the mutual benefit of embracing and sharing cultures.

In the Dominican, the words “Soy de Canada” (I’m from Canada) usually follow “Hola, mi nombre es Claire” (Hello, my name is Claire).  This normally stops the person from referring to me as ‘gringa’ (American female) and an attitude of respect is reflected. Often one’s words in response are something like “Tengo un amigo de Canadá!” (I have a friend from Canada!) and “Canadá es muy frío” (Canada is very cold). I don’t argue with either of these responses.

As Canadians we are taught to solve problems. We can’t help it, we are raised this way. I believe that this reality is both our best and worst quality. My nursing education was all about this. McMaster claims to be one of the best programs that teaches one how to problem solve. However, they wrap up this concept in fancy expressions like ‘critical thinking skills’ and ‘self directed learning’.  Short Term Mission’s Network (STM Network) is teaching me what exactly this means and how this mentality impacts a community from another culture.

It’s not so much that it is wrong to have a solution mindset but it is not the best approach to use globally speaking. As helpful and selfless as we may think we are being by striving to solve problems in the third world, we can be doing more harm than good. This way of thinking does not prioritize sustainability and it does not strive to empower the people in the community of need.

But what does it mean to stop with the solutions? This concept frightens me as it is how I’ve been trained to think. My Canadian mind innately thinks that by providing a solution I am best contributing. When breaking it down, it defines a huge part of my personality.  If I’m not trying to find a solution for a problem, I feel as if I am useless and lazy. It just feels wrong.

But this is where I’m wrong. My STM Network trainer Mark is a mission’s expert. He has the ability to think outside of the box and from the perspective of the host culture. I’m learning how this mentality is challenging yet crucial to community development. It requires one to decipher what is God’s will and what may be on the personal agenda. One has to realize that the solution to a problem does not lie in their hands but in the community around them. It’s a humbling process.

Mark is teaching me to think with the mindset of a coach. Considering my Dad coached me in hockey and soccer for many years, I have a great example to use. If I realize a need in the community my mind should shift from “how can I help here” to “who is already addressing this problem”. Despite any initial observations or report from the community that there is nobody doing anything, it’s likely not the case. So, how can I help ‘coach’ a community to create sustainable and positive change? If I were to leave that community, would my absence have an impact? Perhaps the words ‘coach’ and ‘empowerment’ are interchangeable here.

The truth is that successful mission work has little to do with the missionary. They are not the best solution to the host culture’s needs yet can be a tool to enable success from the community itself. Easier said than done …


If you want to learn more about STM Network, check out their website!  http://stmnetwork.ca/

Originally posted to The Art of Mission.