When you arrive at church there is a cardboard box at the entrance. Church members are coming together to donate some new and gently used clothing which will soon be packed and taken by the church mission team on their trip to Cambodia to be given to those that are less fortunate in Cambodia. Great idea, right?

Little does the church team know, Agape International Missions (AIM), the host organization in Cambodia, has been doing job training for the last two years with a former victim of sex trafficking to help her open her own garment and tailoring shop. She has just opened her shop and all the clothes your church has collected will be distributed in the community she’s working in. These clothes may be a blessing to some, but they will be a curse to her and her dream of opening up a tailoring shop.

It would have been far better if the church’s mission team had considered these questions before moving forward with their clothing drive: Did the host organization in Cambodia ask for these materials? Could these clothes be bought or made in Cambodia?

Yesterday we discussed the broad topic of paternalism: doing things for people that they can do for themselves, or doing things for people without involving them in the process. Today we want to talk about resource paternalism: bringing in resources that are already available in the host country, or bringing in resources that haven’t been asked for.

Western missionaries often bring in a lot of resources that are readily available in host countries that were never asked for. For example, they bring in large supplies of rice, medicine, and clothing without thinking twice about what it might do to the local farmer, pharmacy, or tailor. In an attempt to be compassionate and generous with our resources, we can inadvertently undercut legitimate business in the community we are trying to bless.

What is important to understand is that AIM works in communities where it is imperative to build up legitimate business if there is to be long-term sustainable change in these communities ravaged by sex trafficking. Many of the communities that AIM works in are economically driven by sex trafficking; the main industries are brothels, drugs, gambling, and alcohol sales. For God to restore these communities, these businesses must be shut down and replaced with legitimate profitable businesses. Knowing this, you can begin to realize how devastating it is when a mission team, which has come to stop sex trafficking, undercuts the legitimate businesses through resource paternalism in the community they came to serve.

The best way to avoid this is to buy and use resources that are available in the host country you are going to visit.

Here is a real case scenario of what another mission team has done to avoid resource paternalism and to transform the community they were working in:

A medical team from the US planned a trip to offer medical and dental services in Svay Pak, Cambodia. Instead of bringing their own medicine from the States, they bought their medicine at a local pharmacy in Cambodia. Instead of bringing Power Bars and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, they bought noodles from the local restaurant for lunch in Svay Pak. Instead of bringing their own scrubs for the medical mission trip, they planned ahead and asked a former trafficking victim, who was a new owner of a tailoring shop, to make the scrubs for the team. This small decision provided three months of salary for that young woman. This team used the local resources available to them and, in doing so, blessed the Cambodian business owners who have rejected being part of the sex trade and extravagantly blessed an amazing survivor as she started her own business. If this team would have brought their own resources, they would have hurt the local pharmacist’s business, and passed up an opportunity to support a local restaurant and the young tailor.

As you are preparing for your trip, begin to think strategically about the resources you will use while on the trip and ask the following questions:

  • What are ways your team can avoid resource paternalism and utilize more resources in Cambodia?
  • What are ways that the Cambodians you will be serving can participate in the miracle, not just see it?
  • What are some of the underlying biases and assumptions we have that lead to resource paternalism? What is the truth that overcomes those biases and how does this change how you view the community you will be working with in Cambodia?

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