At Work & Economics 101 & Public Square & Theology 101

A Missionary with A Mind for Economics Part Two

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Editor’s Note: Today’s post is the second installment of a two part interview with Mark Aubry, a missionary with a mind for economics. In part one, Mark shared  with us about Hoops for Haiti, the basketball ministry he started, and his efforts to promote entrepreneurship and business development in Haiti. Today he continues the conversation, discussing the link between spiritual and material needs, the pitfalls of practical missions experience, and the need for “Haitian Heroes.” 

Why do you believe it is so important to effectively care for the material and spiritual needs of the poor? What is the link?

Two basic concepts in economics that people understand intuitively are scarcity and abundance. Simply defined, scarcity means “not enough.” Conversely, abundance means “more than enough.”

Jesus said he came that we might have abundance, or more than we need (though by this I don’t mean “wealth beyond all imagination”). If we have more than we need, if our cup is running over, we are more likely to share God’s abundance with others.

If you are constantly living in a state of scarcity, it is impossible to think about the future. If you are constantly hungry or trying to take care of your family, it is almost impossible to think about anything else, be it spiritual matters or creative business ideas.

If we believe we are created in God’s image, then we are to be creators, too. Constant scarcity makes it difficult to become the person God created you to be.

What is an example of someone “hurting more than helping” that you’ve seen in your missions experience?

According to the authors of When Helping  Hurts, when people in places like Haiti are asked what it means to be poor, they respond that being poor means you are helpless, hopeless, and have broken relationships.

This is contrary to how developed economies see poverty. People in developed economies are more likely to believe that poverty is a lack of some thing.

It’s been hard not to make the same mistake with Hoops for Haiti. People from all over the United States and Canada donate uniforms, shoes, and basketball equipment so we can then give them to kids and the adult basketball players of Haiti. It’s our job, in a sense, to give these things away.

There is a “learned helplessness” in Haiti. The actions of Haitians and other parts of the world are such that it seems many of these people are saying, “We’ll just wait for people from America to come and give us stuff.” However, most community, school, and church leaders want to change this attitude and end the dependency.

Haiti needs to develop its own “Haitian Heroes,” instead of having kids think that Americans or other outsiders are the heroes bringing in items to save the day. Hoops for Haiti looks to partner with these “Haitian Heroes.”

A lot of times, we’ll give uniforms and equipment to community leaders, and then they give the equipment away. Sometimes these partnerships backfire – on a couple occasions we’ve seen friends of the community leaders and even the leaders themselves wearing the uniforms. But this has happened so few times that we continue to work this way in an effort to encourage “Haitian Heroes.”

What is one message you would like to send to churches ready to send short term or long term missionaries to impoverished nations?

In one of my missions training courses I learned the story about the elephant and the mouse.

The elephant and the mouse are very good friends. They decided to have a party. At the party, they ate, drank , and danced. No one danced more fervently than the elephant. When the party was over, the elephant asked, “Mouse, wasn’t that a great party?”

The mouse did not answer. As the elephant was looking for the mouse, he shrank back in horror and realized that, in his exuberance, he had smashed the mouse.

Most of the time we as missionaries are like the elephant. Please tread lightly.

What books would you recommend to Christians interested in mission work?

Here are four of my favorites:

1) When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor…And Yourself, by Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett.

2) The Hole in Our Gospel, by Richard Stearns.

3) Serving with Eyes Wide Open, by David A. Livermore.

4) Dead Aid, by Dambisa Moyo and Niall Ferguson.

Any final thoughts?

Elise, you posed this question in late 2012:

What if Christians are called to think about unintended consequences, gather as much information as possible, form relationships, preserve the dignity of the poor, and empower them to use their talents and abilities?

This is exactly how we are to live each day, especially when dealing with people in Haiti.

Lastly, there are many places around the world that are in need of and are ready for investment. There are companies developing with the goal of providing opportunities for both the entrepreneurs and investors in the developing world.

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