'Reverse missions' help travelers learn how the rest of the world
By JAMES THRALL for Episcopal Life
AS A MOTTO of the Ministry of Money suggests, local thoughts about
money and faith often evolve into global questions of economic
"Because what we do with our hearts affects the whole universe"
states the organization's Web page, as it presents a variety of
programs designed to help people consider their everyday relationships
In the 1980s, Ministry of Money started its "immersion pilgrimages"
or "reverse mission" trips to bring North Americans to other parts
of the world, where they confront the economic disparity that
separates the United States from many other countries. At Women's
Perspective, a spin-off from Ministry of Money, executive director
Rosemary Williams calls their similar excursions for women "transformational
trips." As at Ministry of Money, they are "trips that change your
point of view, widen your horizons, break your heart," she said.
"They are life-changing."
Describing the trips as "seed-planting time," Williams said
they may take years to bear fruit in terms of lifestyle changes.
And even then, said Jan Sullivan Dockter, Ministry of Money program
director, "Some people take big steps, some people take small
steps. We try very hard not to stuff anything down their throats.
Our role is opening up questions and letting people take their
While the trips are definitively not billed as "mission"
trips, participants almost always engage in some kind of service
work, such as helping with Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity
program in Haiti, or assisting a ministry to street people in
The work is considered "less 'we're going to do something
noble,' and more spending time with people in need," Dockter said.
On reverse-mission trips, "The idea is you're not going to
give something to whomever or wherever you're going; you're going
to receive," said Jay Silver of St. Mark's Church in Raleigh,
N.C. "You're not ministering to other folks. You're engaging in
ministry with them."
Lorraine Antieau's first trip to Haiti with Ministry of Money
initiated her serious engagement with issues of faith and money.
It was "an eye-opener at such a deep level," she said. "I had
always been aware that poverty existed," but giving up "part of
my privilege as a white, educated American" for the duration of
the trip was an education.
"Even as I was experiencing life at a much less affluent
level than I ever had before, I still had more luxury than the
people we met," she said. "A word that I didn't even know before
is 'entitlement.'" Now secretary of the board for Women's Perspective
and a veteran of five trips, Antieau, a social worker and psychotherapist
from Chicago, said she has been forced to consider how much she
assumed that everyone lived the way she does.
She was particularly humbled by the gift of a coconut, she
said, given by a woman who could barely feed her own family. "She
walked an hour to meet me, then waited an hour because I was late,
and then gave me a coconut," Antieau said. "I had nothing to give
At the same time, the cross-cultural trips have underscored
the similarities in some experiences around money. Women in particular
"share a lot of the same pain of being disempowered financially,
sexually and within [the institutions of] their faith."
While Ministry of Money trips have focused on Haiti, South Africa,
the Middle East and Central America, this coming year the schedule
will include a visit to Baltimore's inner city.
The Baltimore trip has an economic rationale: It offers a
more affordable alternative to the overseas trips, which can cost
several thousand dollars. But it also presents its own challenges
to the comfortable assumptions of participants, Dockter said.
"In some ways, it's almost easier for us in North America to deal
with poverty elsewhere rather than just next door," she said.
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