On the last post, I talked about two of the positive aspects of going on a mission trip: God can use you to make an eternal impact on others and God can also use it to change you.
Today, I want to explore some of the negative aspects about going on a mission trip.
Some of the main criticisms of these types of trips are that no real change occurs and teams (especially American ones) are more of a hindrance than a help. Here is a quote from an article I read entitled “Why You Should Consider Canceling Your Short-Term Mission Trip,” “I have seen with my own eyes or know of houses in Latin America that have been painted 20 times by 20 different short-term teams; fake orphanages in Uganda erected to get Westerners to give money; internet centers in India whose primary purpose is to ask Westerners for money; children in African countries purposefully mutilated by their parents so they would solicit sympathy while they beg; a New England-style church built by a Western team in Cameroon that is never used except when the team comes to visit; and slums filled with big-screen TVs and cell phone towers.”
Obviously, not all mission trips are perfect. Many don’t actually accomplish much except a great photo album on Facebook and feelings of spiritual accomplishment on behalf of those participating.
Trips like these give a bad name to all mission trips and should definitely be avoided. It’s good to holistically (providing essential needs like food and housing) serve. In fact, in the Bible it says that spiritual help without holistic help is not effective. As Christians, we need to show that we truly care about the people we’re helping, not just “throwing” our beliefs at them.
However, a trip should not be solely focused on holistic service. It should have a dual focus including an evangelical (spreading the Gospel) focus. It’s also important that the ministry you’re working with comes alongside local teams. The point of serving is to serve where you’re asked to serve, not where you want to serve.
To make sure you’ll actually be a help and not a hindrance, consider the following questions: Have people that have gone on the trip before continued to keep up with locals? What are the benefits of our service? Will they outlast our short stay? What local ministries would I be helping? What actually needs to be done? Is what I’m going to be doing encouraging locals or increasing their dependence on foreigners?
Those are just some questions to get you started. Two of the most important things to remember when going on a mission trip are 1) serve where you’re asked to serve and 2) be culturally sensitive.
It’s also important to realize that though mission trips can be great ways to serve others and learn more about God, you don’t have to go somewhere else to serve and grow. You can start right in your own community! Again, to quote my classmate, “We’re just spreading the word of Jesus; it doesn’t matter where we go.”
In case you do want to go a mission trip this summer, here are some great options: Student Venture (13 different trips all over the place – for high school students), MK2MK (2 trips, one to Nepal, the other to South Africa – for high school students who are MKs/have lived overseas), and Never the Same Missions (for 2 weeks to Peru – for high school students)