You know the old saying, “Give a man a fish and you have fed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you have fed him for a lifetime.” Well, our desire in going to Haiti is not only to give out “fish” every single day so that the people continue to depend on us to eat, but also to teach them “how to fish” so that they are able to sustain themselves for a lifetime. We do however realize that there is a tremendous need for both giving fish to people and teaching them how to fish.
I’m talking about the tension that I sometimes see between the 2 ministry philosophies known as sustainable development ministry and mercy/compassion based ministry. Sustainable development ministry is the “teach a man to fish” and mercy/compassion ministry is “give a man a fish”. Both are absolutely essential in my opinion and of equal value in ministering to people. We cannot focus so much on sustainable development that we are refusing mission teams and outside resources because that enables the people too much to become dependent on those things. Yet we also cannot focus so much on Mercy/Compassion ministry that we fail to see our role in teaching these people how to make a living for themselves so that they are not dependent on the foreign missionary. (disclaimer – I don’t like the word “mercy/compassion ministry” to simply describe the approach of “giving a fish”. Isn’t everything we do, whether giving a fish or teaching how to fish, to be done with mercy and compassion?) So, we need to have a balance and minister in both ways. Allow me to explain:
Giving a Fish. In Haiti, part of our ministry will be to orphaned children. If I come across a child who is orphaned and helpless, you better believe that my first act of business is not going to be teaching that child how to make a living and find food and shelter. No. My first act will be to take that child into my home if I have to ,and spoon feed that child however long it takes until he is healthy, and give that child whatever he or she needs. And to do that, it will take many outside resources. It will require mission teams. It will require American Dollars. And it will glorify God. There’s no teaching to fish involved in that, but rather simply giving. And we must be able to just give in the name of Jesus and know that might be all we’re required to do for a while.
Teaching to Fish. In Haiti, there is so much poverty and hunger that all the mission teams in the U.S giving money and work will not solve the problem. There are many families and whole villages and towns that are starving and suffering, and some of that due to lack of skills, education, and knowledge of resources. Here is where just giving these families a fish a day will not really help them, but will further cripple them by causing them to become dependent on the foreign missionary. And so here is where the sustainable development approach of teaching a man to fish will be most effective. So, if I see a group of people that are continuously hungry and just don’t know how to get food for themselves and their family, you can bet that rather than just inviting them over our house every day for dinner, I am going to do whatever I can to teach them how to fish so that they can provide for themselves and their families. I will teach them the skills needed to fish. I will educate them on fishing. I will provide them with the knowledge needed to access resources. This won’t require as much outside support and resources over such long periods of time. And this too will glorify God.
So, the conclusion to this matter is that we cannot just take one approach thinking it to be better than the other. Don’t talk to me about sustainable development when I am spoon feeding fish to an emaciated child who has not eaten in days. But also don’t talk to me about why I am not giving fish to the 10 families in my community every day, but rather teaching them simply how to cast a line. Both will be needed… both will make a difference…and both will be pleasing to our great and awesome God.
(disclaimer #2 – we’re not just talking about actual fish and fishing…are we?)