Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Who Do Mission Trips Benefit?
I have written before about my uneasiness about mission trips. I have heard from any number of folks on the mission field, involved in mission and relief work, and in congregational leadership. They all admit to some concern about the large amount of money spent to send people over with few unique or special skills, to do things that local people could do, and to pre-occupy the attention and resources of the mission field from their work to the short term "missionaries." It is not uncommon for a group of 20 to have invested $60-$80K in basic expenses for one mission trip of 10 days to 2 weeks, say, in Africa. I have written here before about the wisdom of spending that kind of money on the trip and the rather "make work" things that these folks do on the mission field while leaving the indigenous church still in need of the cash to construct church buildings, pay for basic operating expenses, etc.
I wonder if it is not time to be honest here. Mission trips are religious vacations for the people going. The trip organizers are more like tour directors than mission directors. The work that is done is intended to give the people who go a taste of the mission field -- not to do real mission work. The money spent is largely entertainment, perhaps some educational value. Let us be honest about this. This is pretty much what the whole idea of mission trips is about -- entertainment, some education, and a little bit of experience. In some respects, it is not unlike visiting a national park here or one of the presidential museums or Washington, DC -- a lot of fun, some great experiences, and a little learning along the way. So let us be honest. Mission trips are religious vacations.
Now as long as we are honest about this, as long you do not ask me to pay for your vacation, as long as you do not preoccupy or distract the missionaries from their real work, and as long as you do not consume scarce resources on the mission field that might better serve the work of the kingdom, well, okay. Go, and have a great religious vacation. But let us not confuse or deceive ourselves. Two weeks on the mission field (absent any real specific or unique skills needed there) are not going to make much of a difference. And, given the cost, it is a pricey way to speak through an interpreter the Gospel to a few folks, to build or rehab a building, or to witness the same folks being baptized over and over again for effect. In this day and age, we can do most of this more cheaply through media (and pay the locals who need the work to build and rehab the buildings).
But, if these "mission trips" disrupt or distract the missionaries from their work or keep needed funds from that work (money that ends up being spent on our religious vacations), then don't go. Don't encourage others to go. Don't support those who decide to go.
I must be honest. I have never gone on a mission trip. I have spent time in Mexico. I have been in mission settings in run down urban areas across the Northeast. I have served on boards and committees in Districts and been charged with some of the responsibilities of the mission work of our churches (particularly in the areas of finance). I would love to go to Africa. I would love to visit India. I would love to go to Germany. I would love to go to a thousand other places and some of the reasons are religious. But most are not. I want to go for me. Why can't we just be honest about this when it comes to "mission trips." If we begin with this honesty and can do them without detracting from the work of the congregation here or the mission there, and if we are already giving a tithe or more to that local church and offerings above to the mission work of our church body, then go. I will be happy for you. I hope you will learn something. I pray that when you get back you will marshal the support of God's kingdom from among those not to excited about that work. But let us be honest. Lets not call them "mission trips." Okay?