By James Franke
I’ve heard the argument a hundred times, phrased a hundred different ways. It all boils down to the same basic mentality: short term mission trips, those eight to ten day “poverty vacations” are nothing more than a waste of time and money used to make students, young adults, and families sacrifice one of their yearly get aways to make them “feel good” about themselves, a little self-help trip.
But is this true? If so, what is the alternative? If not, why do so many believe it to be?
Having dedicated the last three years of my life to organizing and leading short term mission trips, this thought, needless to say, rubs me the wrong way. Do I think that every mission trip is perfect? Absolutely not. Do I think that there are some mission trips that do nothing more than use the people and culture of a place as a form of shock therapy, so that the missionaries go home “changed” and “more appreciative” of all that they have? Absolutely… and I think that, if that is all it does, is horrible. However the fact that some mission trips are abused and poorly done does not mean that ALL of them are. This is the first part of a series of blogs devoted to answering the questions frequently asked about short term mission trips.
Are Mission Trips a Waste of Money?
The first argument against short term mission trips is the economic one. “The cost of a mission trip ($900 a person x 20 people = $18,000) is too much, it would be better to send the money somewhere and stay home.” It sounds like a good thought, however the reality is much more than “stay home and send money”.
The first solution to this is to go on a mission trip with a group that is not a business! Some mission organizations exist to evangelize and serve the poor (www.fmcmissions.com, www.lifeteen.com/missions, www.focusmissions.org, among others) and some exist to do ‘good work’ and make a profit, to be a successful business, what Pope Francis might call a “pitiful NGO” (http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/1301190.htm). There are a few mission groups out there that truly stretch every dollar and dime, and who do not charge an arm and a leg, to serve the people they are sent to minister to. Do not throw the baby out with the bath water by grouping these ministries in with those that are NOT good stewards of the work they have been entrusted with.
Second, consider the alternative. The truth is that a large percentage of mission trips are made up of college students spending their Spring Break in missions instead of in Cancun. The cost of these typical spring break blowouts, partying all night on the beach, visiting as many bars as possible, and not quite living up to the standards of holiness that Christ left for us, will almost always be higher than that of a short term mission. If the choice is between $500 spent ‘living it up’ in Miami or $500 to spent living in a third world country, feeding the poor, building homes, and preaching the Gospel.. which would you choose? And not just for yourself, but which would you choose for your children, grandchildren, and the young generation of Americans currently being formed by their friends, professors, and colleagues?
Thirdly, what is the purpose of a short term mission trip? If the purpose of a mission trip is to build a house or dig a well… then yes, stay home and send the money. Economically it is much wiser to send all the money that would be used on transportation and cost of living, than by using it up, leaving only small amount and brining that with you. However, if the purpose of a mission trip is to evangelize, to bring Jesus Christ, His love, and the Good News of the Gospel to the ends of the earth, then we must GO! Why? Well, because Jesus said “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them… teaching them…”. (Mt 28:20-21).