Bridge Team Volunteers: Crazy or Inspired?

By Mike Bishop

It is so great to see a work team catch a vision for a trip and then keep coming back and building relationships. This happened with a team to Ecuador who started coming in 2012 to work on a the church of ER’s Jose and Teresa Jimenez.

The resulting long-term relationship has led others to call the team either crazy or inspired! Phase one of the project is to build a temporary two-story building for holding services and having classrooms for teaching. The team from Bridge Church in Miramar (Miami), Florida has come back every year to add their efforts to the project while in their absence the local congregation continues what they can.

The goal is to build a larger meeting room (possibly starting next year) which will hold 1,200 or more people and can be used for joint services of the smaller churches in the area. This church is located in a poor community near to the airport which is a developing area.

Over the years the two church consider themselves extensions of the other. Most of the team members have come over several years and plan to return and continue the endearing relationships established with the congregation.

Interested in sending a team to Ecuador, South Africa or the Philippines? Click here to learn how ER mobilizes people and teams.

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“The Minga”: Michigan Volunteers Invest In Ecuadorians

Jeramy Hing, Extreme Response Ecuador

(July 31, 2017)

When a team of volunteers traveled from Lapeer, Michigan to Ecuador to serve the poor, they brought a fresh perspective. Yes, they would build an addition to a church/school. But their top priority was to build relationships with, and learn from, the people of Pifo.

Short-term teams from North America venture around the globe to help alleviate poverty. They focus on worthy projects like clean water, construction, food distribution, medical aid and more. But often, the volunteers misunderstand poverty alleviation. They view poverty as a lack of material resources and assume the poor bring nothing to the table to impact their own positive change. This perspective implies the poor need us, but we don’t need them and we are going to solve their problems in a two-week trip.

Lapeer Community Church took a different approach. They made it a priority to meet together regularly and learn the principles taught in the group study “Helping Without Hurting In Short-term Missions.” They not only learned about being culturally sensitive, but they discovered a new definition of poverty that changed their perspective.

The team learned that material poverty is deeply rooted in a poverty of being, and that even the materially rich have this in common with the materially poor. In 2000, the World Bank conducted a comprehensive study of the poor and effective approaches to lasting change. They compiled their research into a three-volume set titled “Voices of the Poor.”

In this study, a poor woman in Moldova shared this: “For a poor person everything is terrible—illness, humiliation, shame. We are cripples; we are afraid of everything; we depend on everyone. No one needs us. We are like garbage that everyone wants to get rid of.” Page after page, poor people describe their plight as a poverty of being—psychological and emotional brokenness that correlate with broken relationship.

“This is a profound insight. If poverty is primarily rooted in broken relationship, then the solution is rooted in relationship.”

This is a profound insight. If poverty is primarily rooted in broken relationship, then the solution is rooted in relationship. Approaches that encourage dependency or exacerbate inferiority will not produce effective, lasting change. Focusing on what the poor lack and not on what they have to offer will not encourage change in the lives of the poor.

The 10 members from Lapeer Community Church brought their newly learned perspective to Pifo, Ecuador to lay a foundation for a church/school for ER partner Buen Pastor. They were not sure how these principles would apply throughout their two weeks, but they were open-minded.

Community Engagement Inspires The Team

On their second work day on the construction site, people from the community began showing up to work alongside the team. Men, women and youth moved gravel and mixed concrete with simple hand-tools. They worked hard together, shared food, played soccer between shifts, laughed and built relationships.

Oh, believe me, a lot of work got done, but the focus was on relationship. The Lapeer team saw first-hand the skills, knowledge and ingenuity this poor community brought to the table. They saw a community filled with passion, life, dignity and a undeniable will to engage in the process of their own positive change. This is something Extreme Response strives to achieve. We seek to build lasting-relationships, living and learning alongside of the poor daily.

That night a team member asked, “Is it normal for people to show up and work together for free and without months of planning?” I told them, “Yes, it is normal.”

The Latin culture has a term for it: “minga.” Entire communities frequently band together to work on projects that benefit the whole and then they eat and play together. This is a product of collectivist cultures, in contrast to Westernized individualism. We don’t really have an English word that communicates the concept of a minga.

By the end of the trip, the Lapeer team had dug 10 footers, each more than six feet deep and four by four feet in diameter. They mixed the concrete with hand-tools, poured the footers, tied the rebar framing together for the foundation, poured the concrete for the foundation and purchased the materials for the community to finish the floor.

The community was so impacted by the relational approach of the team that they threw an elaborate going-away party. The Lapeer team realized they were there to learn more than they were there to teach and to receive from the community just as much as they gave. They learned that lives change because of long-term relationship. And they realized that their part does not end when they get back on the plane to head home. They went home with a zeal to continue their relationship with the community of Buen Pastor and Extreme Response staff members as encouragers and supporters of lasting change.

Inspired by the Lapeer team’s experience? Learn more about ER’s short-term teams here.

Jeramy and Teresa Hing, along with their two children, serve with Extreme Response in Quito, Ecuador. The Hing family is heavily invested in serving people through education, Christmas outreach, disaster response, short-term teams, technical support, music and more.

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