The Starfish Story: An Update

In Dr. Scott Todd’s Hope Rising, the author shares not only the starfish story you may have heard growing up, but two new versions of the tale. Some friends from Fenton, MI, who lead a non-profit called, Till Kingdom Come, recorded me as I told the story and created this video from our recent trip to Haiti. It describes a glimpse of the goals we have on the field:

To financially support the work we do, please visit this site through our sending organization:

The Starfish from Till Kingdom Come on Vimeo.

The Valley of Trouble=A Door of Hope?

Short-term missions teams often serve in places facing difficulty. Rather than pity, I approach places with optimism and hope. Why?

In Joshua 7, after Achan sins against God, he (guilty) and his family (some guilty, others likely not guilty) died and were buried in the Valley of Achor, which means, Valley of Trouble.

How does God connect with people facing the Valley of Trouble…whether through their own choices, or the choices of others?

We see the Valley of Achor referenced again Hosea 2:14-15, when God says of the unfaithful wife, Gomer, “I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her. I will make the Valley of Achor (Trouble) a door of hope.”

He leads her into the desert to speak tenderly to her! I love His tender voice in the midst of deserts I face.

Door of HopeGod makes the Valley of Trouble a Door of Hope! He’s somehow able to connect with people in their worst moments to show them hope.

Later in the chapter (Hosea 2:19), the writer speaks of Him connecting with Gomer through “righteousness, justice, kindness, faithfulness and compassion.”

God speaks to people with tenderness and shows them compassion. He can make the biggest trouble, a door of hope. Whether it’s a personal trial or an earthquake that changes the future of your country, God sees trouble and shares hope.

As you serve through short-term missions, remember the compassion He shows. As He writes the story, He somehow uses people like us to communicate His compassion. It’s also important to remember that He shows the same compassion to us. In my deepest valley, He showered me with His love. Remember that His mission and His love, and the encouraging words we’ll share are true for us as well.

God’s People Should Get Out More: Some Thoughts on Scattering

The rebellion at the Tower of Babel? They refused to scatter.

I love seeing things from an expanded perspective, and that’s what happened as I read from The Traveling Team (great people, great resources).

In Genesis 1, after God created Earth and then man in His own image, He desires that man flourish and grow in numbers, “Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28). After the flood, God commands Noah and His sons saying,  “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth” (Genesis 9:1). When His creation fills the earth, He’ll live in relationship with people throughout the world.

Papua New Guinea...what some may consider the ends of the earth.

Papua New Guinea…what some may consider the ends of the earth.

Rather than obeying, people rebelled. Shortly after the command to Noah and his sons, people gathered at Babel and sought to build a tower that reaches the Heaven. If you’re familiar with the story, you’ll know that God gets angry and scatters them around the world, confusing their languages. From your understanding of the story, what was the sin committed by the people of Babel?


They didn’t scatter.

The people acted in arrogance, believing they could achieve the same status as God. They also acted in rebellion. In Genesis 11:4, they state one of their reasons for building the tower, “…otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” They wanted to stay together where they were rather than obeying God’s command to fill the earth. They did not want to scatter their resources or their lives. God did not live in relationship with people throughout His creation, because people refused to go.

The story isn’t a command to do a short-term missions trip, or even to devote our careers to cross-cultural ministry. However, I believe it’s a great reminder that God doesn’t want us to keep resources for ourself, or to insist on staying put. Whether through praying, giving, or going, may we scatter throughout the earth, and may people everywhere worship Him.

Do people still refuse to go where God wants them to go today?

Hungry Farmers? Absurd! A Talk from Roger Thurow

My favorite book from 2012 is Roger Thurow’s account of his year with a group of Kenyan small holder farmers, “The Last Hunger Season.” The drama proves better than any TV show. Should they save the corn so the family can eat, sell it for school fees, or cover the cost of necessary malaria medicine so their child could recover? Difficult decisions. Great story that illustrates the larger fight against hunger, while also sharing important facts.

Hungry farmers? An oxymoron that’s both absurd and offensive.

I heard Roger share at a ONE Campaign summit last year and instantly became a fan.

Working with the Haitian peopleConnecting Point

Last week in Haiti, I loved the opportunity to work with with a short-term missions teams and small holder farmers as we joined the larger Convoy of Hope plan to help their work. Through Convoy of Hope, we’re experimenting with various seeds, working with them on best practices, and helping them budget for what is next. We empower Haitians who help lead the way. And for a few days, we stood beside farmers and helped them till their garden.

We tilled, moved large rocks and helped with a small but large step in the process. We also circled up with the farmers and others in the community, sang, laughed, ate mangoes and prayed together. Special day.

Here’s an inspiring TEDx Talk from Roger Thurow about The Last Hunger Season and the year he spent with small holder farmers in Kenya.

4 Goals for Every Short-Term Missions Trip

Reflecting from the Port-au-Prince airport at the conclusion of 9 beautiful days in Haiti, I ponder goals of the team and whether we reached them.

On my first short-term missions trips in the ‘90s*, I figured if we did what we were told, didn’t complain, ate what we were served, learned some of the language, got souvenirs and good photos, prayed with people and made friends, the trip proved successful. Partly true.

God-connectionMy definition of success thickens as I speak with missionaries, read, study, get to know hosts and connect with “recipients” of the ministry. While I’m still learning from each of these entities, here’s a non-exhaustive list of four goals for every short-term missions trip:

1. Empower local people.  Unless the trip is truly relief in the midst of life and death situations, teams must empower people! This week, Life Church TV OKC  (@lctvokc) retweeted a comment of mine with their own verbiage (italicized), “We’re working WITH the Haitian people not doing things FOR them…//Yes! Restoration, not relief!”  Empowerment is a key step of sustainability.


2. Connect with the big picture:  Our staff heard throughout the week, “Thank you for helping us understand the ‘why’ of what we’re doing.” Those few days must fit within a much larger story…what’s the story and where does the team fit?? There must be an answer, and the answer must be articulated…often, and with clarity.


3. Connect with God: Stillness and space to hear God’s voice stand as a greater goal than completed tasks or great photos. Connecting with His heart in

She's a 90-year-old woman who loves Jesus & works on her small holder farm. She and team enjoyed each other's presence.

She’s a 90-year-old woman who loves Jesus & works on her small holder farm. She and team enjoyed each other’s presence.

the midst of cross-cultural experiences can help us grasp the heart He has for those all over the world—many of whom have never heard a clear presentation of life with Him.


4. Don’t mess stuff up: Sacrificing the long-term for the sake of the moment can devour any intended impact. I’ve heard people say about various instructions, “I’m only here this one time! What can they do to me?” And then the missionaries, church and local workers must clean up a mess. Sacrificing the long-term for the sake of the moment messes stuff up!


Reflecting on the week, I believe we met these goals and more. Awesome team.

Do you agree with these goals? What goals would you add to this obviously incomplete list?


*I’m thankful that my leaders on those trips in the 90’s understood success better than me!

3 Short-Term Missions Lessons from Tilling the Garden

The kids had a blast...I saw three lessons for short-term missions as we tilled the garden yesterday in Haiti.

We rode about 1½ hours up the very dusty road into the Haitian hills. We met up with a local leader who connected us through the church to a family to prepare their land for a garden. They’ve grown corn on the land before, but wanted to expand what’s planted and the size of the garden.
The team and I worked hard! Thankfully the weather was relatively pleasant and the work fun for all. The homeowner, local leader, a local agronomist, the owner’s family and plenty of children from the village helped in the process. (The children had a blast…don’t accuse us of pushing child labor!)


I see three lessons for short-term missions from today:

 -1. What we do should help prepare for after we’re gone. Since the work is short, what can we help set in motion?

tarantula-2. We worked WITH the local people. There was much with today. We loved the stories, laughs, sweat and songs. Extra special…the prayer together at the end. Another kind of extra special? Fighting that huge hairy tarantula together. Sorry friends…he ended up on the burn pile.

-3. We learned. Listening, watching, asking questions, observing and spending time with the people.


Today was a special day.

What other lessons should I add to the list?


Tilling Together

Haiti’s Starfish Story: Versions 1-3

Dr. Scott Todd shares a classic story with some new twists in, “58 Fast Living: How the Church Will End Extreme Poverty.” Here’s my take on the stories he inspired, with a Haitian twist.

The Starfish story

v. 1

A man walked along the beach and saw a boy throwing starfish into the water. When he learned the boy was “rescuing” the starfish, he said, “The beach is starfishfull of these starfish, there’s no way you could ever rescue them all!” The boy replied, “I know, but I can save this one.”




Organizations around the world seek to help rescue that “one.” Admirable. Jesus went out of His way for the one, so we can too. There’s even an organization, the Starfish Foundation, inspired by this idea.


Prior to the earthquake, Haiti was the most impoverished country in the western hemisphere. Additionally, it housed the highest per capita number of non-profits as people with good intentions served people across the country. Interesting.



v. 2


The man saw the boy take a picture of a starfish with his smart phone then push a few buttons, before throwing the starfish in the water. When the man expressed doubts, the boy replied, “I know, but I just took a photo and Facebooked it, Tweeted it and even Instagrammed it. I’m hoping the need will go viral and people will come and help.” Soon, the beach was full of people who came together and rescued all of the starfish.




The people went back to work and felt good about the deed.


After the Haitian earthquake, the world came together to pray, give and help. Lives were saved, assistance from governments, non-profits and churches arrived, and many received necessary help.


The world went back to work, feeling good about the deeds.


Poverty remained.



v. 3


During version 2’s celebration, a young man stands on the shore weeping as the crowd celebrates. When asked about the tears, he said, “I’m thankful we rescued those starfish, but if we don’t learn why they washed on shore in the first place, they’ll return!”


Sobering. Smart.


We met local people who were working to purify the water coming from this old well in Haiti. They're working hard, and we'll join them.

We met local people who were working to purify the water coming from this old well in Haiti. They’re working hard, and we’ll join them.


In Haiti, people are coming together like never before (imperfectly, to be sure) to begin attacking the roots of her situation. Through Convoy of Hope, farmers are learning techniques to grow stronger crops. Missionary friends are raising up a generation to lead. The non-profits that remain are beginning to move from “relief” mode to “development” mode. The head is starting to catch up with the heart.


More awaits, but Haiti’s on a great path.



In Short-Term Missions:


     1. It’s hard to “rescue” in a week or a month. However, we can come alongside of those attacking the root and walk with them towards progress.
     2. Helping “the one” is great…especially when the help leads them to a more sustainable path.
     3. Heads and hearts working together is a fabulous thing.



What are some ways you’ve seen people work to get to the root of problems?




Speak Up Or Go Home

In cross-cultural ministry, I’m learning it’s not just what you say, but how you say it. Twice during the three months I spent in Papua New Guinea in 2002, I heard one of my favorite foreign phrases, “You speak up to us.”

A brief history of Papua New Guinea (PNG)

We found two flags, one large

Before we left, they wanted to have a “cross-cultural” party. The only USA flag we found was massive…but we had a PNG flag too. Special day.

The people of PNG call their country, “The Land of the Unexpected.” People from thousands of tribal groups speak 864 unique languages from their villages, where many see the horizon as the “end of the world.” It’s one of the places known for headhunters and cannibals…in recent memory, “Oh, it’s been at least 40 years,” he said. Today, these groups live with a history and set of traditions difficult for westerners to comprehend.

Since the white men (and they were men) “discovered” the inland areas of the country, they’ve sought to “modernize” the “savages” and teach them all the “good things” of life. Unfortunately, many men had horrific intentions. Thankfully, some foreigners live with better intentions today. We learned as we listened, that regardless of intention, most foreigners speak from a top-down position to the Papua New Guineans.


You speak up to us!

We enjoyed many opportunities to listen to the people of PNG, learning much about their culture. One of my favorite days was spent driving and walking and asking questions and soaking in the area. We also shared in churches, worked alongside local people doing ministry in the schools, and enjoyed many local customs with the friends we made.

As someone who spoke in various settings such as churches and schools, I heard a phrase I haven’t heard before or since, “You speak up to us. Most foreigners come and speak down to us, but you speak up to us. Thank you.”


How was speak matters:

-Each person is created in God’s image.

-They understand their culture, we don’t. Short-term missions trips don’t provide enough time to master the cultural complexities of a place like PNG.

-You’re there, and will soon be gone. They’ll stay.



-Listen with fascination

-Learn what you can about the people you’re serving

-Speak with optimism and respect

-Insist on nothing

-Don’t take every “influential” opportunity

-Don’t be arrogant (I almost wrote, “Don’t be an arrogant jerk.”)



In short-term missions, our listening, respect, partnership and personal interaction typically influences far more than our words. Our words influence more when spoken from the right position. From my perspective, speak up or go home.