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True Mission or a “Poverty Vacation:” Are Mission Trips a Waste of Money?

October 17, AD 2013 10 Comments

By James Franke

Mission Trips a Waste? Poverty VacationsI’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 (,,, 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” ( 

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?

Mexico-Intake-2013-4-2-1024x682Thirdly, 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).

By James Franke

Read Part Two of This Blog Series

About the Author:

Compelled by Jesus' missionary mandate, and filled with the Holy Spirit, Family Missions Company missionaries proclaim Jesus Christ and His Gospel to the poor. Always working in concert with the pastors of the Catholic Church, we strive to live the Gospel that we preach. We believe the Lord is calling many Catholic lay people, both singles and families, to serve in foreign missions, "the greatest and holiest duty of the Church." The need is urgent; we must go!
  • Thanks for your post! Having served as a member of our VOICA International ( formation team, helping to prepare young Catholics for mission, I appreciate your question, ‘Is it a waste?’ It is an interesting one, and is not an easy one. On one hand, there is a line between cost of travel and services rendered, but there is a hidden value to one experiencing the poor that we may never be able to calculate. I have seen some young adults come to us who want to travel and saw going to mission as a way to have that ‘experience’. We think twice about accepting them, and there are times when we do send them. In those cases, more often than not, they are confronted with their self-serving motivations when they realize the poor will give them their last piece of bread, or the best part of their fish in hospitality. Mission serves the poor, and yes, we hope that those that go do so to evangelize … but more often than not, it is the poor that evangelizes our missionaries. Which, in the end is worth the cost of that plane trip. God bless, and keep up the posts coming!

  • Mares

    With all due respect, I know people youth and adults who go on these “mission trips” and not one of them have any comprehension or empathy for the poor in the US. The majority of these people are fairly affluent, do not lack for any sort of comfort and luxury in their personal lives, but come away with the notion that the poor in the US have it “too good” that it’s somehow not quite so painful to be hungry, homeless, suffering in the US. That there’s so many social welfare programs, and they give the US poor a pampered life. They ignore the fact that the illegal aliens and refugees they demand be “welcomed” drive up the cost of affordable housing in cities and towns, they drive down wages, they are rushed to the top of the public housing lists, while poor citizens displaced from their jobs, are left to languish and slip between the cracks.

    The poor in the US suffer, and die with little to no compassion from those who like to label themselves, the “great and the good”. A citizen family I know, with both parents having lost their jobs, were forced to live in their van. The local family shelter wouldn’t take them, because the leftists in control of our state, demands the overflow in the capital city be given preference over local families, who are told to go to the capital ctiy and get in the back of the line behind illegal aliens and “refugees”. The family’s van windows were smashed in, by young thugs, one day while the parents were out looking for work and the kids were in school, a state judge fined them hundreds of dollars for the broken window, and didn’t care about their reality, and there was not one organization willing to help them. A bunch of us pitched in and paid the fine and found a low cost auto window replacement company to make the repairs… but not one church, not one of the so called, “poverty” groups gave a darn.

    I say, let’s end these subsidized vacations. They don’t seem to be in the interest of serving the Lord’s advocacy of doing for the least among us. Instead, they seem to be serving leftist wolves in sheep’s clothing’s intent to seed hearts and minds of the fortunate in the US, to look with disdain on the least among us here in the US. Just one more game of divide so as to more easily conquer. What we need are those who claim to care, to start working with poor citizens in their own backyards. All these foreign countries, whether Africa, India, Latin America, Asia, etc.. even the Caribbean have large wealthy populations who need to start funding & caring for their own. It’s a sin for the so called wannabe mission workers to be strangers to their own poor citizen neighbors, and there is no excuse for it. Maybe they need to be forced to open their eyes and care. It seems to me these people are encouraged to blame the poor in the US for the lot of the poor in foreign countries, rather than the fact being that the wealthy and comfortable in those foreign countries, like these affluent plaster saints in the US have caused & have been indifferent to the poverty in their own back yard. Also, I’d recommend the pope, cardinals & bishops be forced to meet with poor US citizens, and learn how their demands for amnesty harm poor citizens, while enriching the wealthy, and co-incidently the investments some of these princeling cardinals and bishops have money in.

    • JoannaDW

      One of the few comments I have read on this subject anywhere that was worth reading. Thank you. I, too, am tired of people looking to the US to solve their problems and of blaming the US for those problems existing.

      I’m also sick of people trotting out third-world poverty to poor in the US. If you want to help people overseas out of a sense of solidarity and empathy, I applaud you. If you pity the poor and use them as a means to feel better about yourself, shame on you. I have no idea why people think it’s a compliment to tell someone less fortunate that, “You know, I used to feel bad about my life, but then I looked at how much your life sucks and I’m so glad I’m not you.” What an insult.

      And thank you for your comments regarding Benedict. He was a caring man, but also realistic. I think Francis could take a leaf out of his book, because Francis is also a caring man, but he has a tendency to exhort high ideals and leave the details to the others.

      As for me personally, I will gladly donate money, overseas and at home, to support industry, fair trade, workers’ rights protests and other projects that help the poor help themselves and lead to long-term stability and prosperity. I refuse to donate one more dime to charities whose only accomplishment is cooking a bowl of rice.

  • Deacon Ed Peitler

    What price can you place on solidarity? Non,e because it is a value without measure.

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  • frank hannaman

    You make some really good points, but maybe instead of simply sighting Mt. 28 maybe you should look at the Greek translation, where go literally means anywhere you go. It’s sad when people twist God’s for their own gain.

  • Chad

    Excellent article. Just returned from Haiti last week for my second trip. !!!

    • Daisy Hero


  • Levi Carlton

    The author immediately discredits all of the briefly-mentioned opposing views until he gets to the point of defending the economic argument with, “well, it’s better than spending money partying in Miami,” followed by a conveniently interpreted verse used as a standalone argument. The fact is that missionaries may form meaningful relationships and do meaningful work for the impoverished people they meet. However, income to pay for basic necessities is what these people need – not tourists aiming to disrupt their culture with a historically divisive, foreign religion. Missionaries people dump money into airline markets where there money goes to corporate executives rather than being pumped into a low-income village. This form of welfare could fund schooling for kids, provide employment for people to work on the village infrastructure, education, and a stock of medical supplies with some training. THAT’S what impoverished people need – tens of thousands of USD can positively affect more people this way and spur much needed economic development.

  • Daisy Hero

    Yes, but why not teach ambassadors for their country the gospel that they can take back and effectively teach without the cost and risk? I have see missionaries who make it a LIFESTYLE for themselves (more of these than I care to know) and less a trip for the gospel. The mission field is ripe in our own back yards! But that is not as glamourous, yes?