In the past few months, with the onset of spring break and summer vacation, I’ve been paying particular attention to social media in order to follow what my friends are doing.
High school graduation a couple of years ago sent many of us in different directions, so it’s a good way to keep in touch and not miss out on their experiences.
A lot of the photos and statuses I have been seeing lately are from mission trips that my friends have taken to big American cities or foreign countries, often third world, where there is significant poverty, among a multitude of other issues.
However, much of what I am seeing makes me wonder how they could really be considered mission trips at all. Trips for sure, but maybe not so much missions.
Before you question my background, yes, I do consider myself a Christian, and no, I have never been on a mission trip.
Much of the reason for this is that I question their intentions completely. I see all these heartwarming pictures of people with poor children in areas that most would consider uninhabitable, but, later in the album, I see pictures of everyone in a resort or at a ball game.
It gets me thinking how much aid these do-gooders are actually providing. In fact, I have heard friends say when they got back, “We built half of a tiny house in two days then went to the beach for the rest of the trip.”
That is, in no way, a mission trip; that’s a vacation. What’s even worse is that these “missions” are tax-deductible.
Many who go on these religious endeavors probably don’t even notice what they are doing. Why? Mission trips make people feel good about themselves.
They leave their homes to venture off to faraway places to provide service to those in need while simultaneously sharing the gospel. They allow people to play hero for a little while and “make a difference.” In doing this, they ignore the ways to really help the needy, not to mention the reality that there are people twenty miles away that may need help just as much as those that are 3,000 miles away.
Moreover, do missionaries realize how it must make those helpless souls feel when, after spending the day with them, they travel back to their four-star hotels and enjoy hot food and soft beds as opposed to little to no food and the cold, hard ground?
Even if your trip does encompass eating what they eat and sleeping where they sleep, look at the situation from an economic standpoint.
Aside from medical assistance, the people in these poor cities and third world countries don’t really need anything but money and supplies.
Venturing over there and building a house or a church for them is unnecessary, because you’re providing unskilled labor to places full of it. In fact, the money you spend getting there is often more than the yearly wages of the workers wherever you’re going. If you truly want to make a difference, stay home and donate the money.
There are plenty of good causes to contribute to.
Stop Hunger Now is a program in which the church raises money and then packs meals to send abroad. If you want to provide something more sustainable, Heifer International allows you to purchase different kinds of livestock to send anywhere in the world.
Just remember that for every expensive plane ticket purchased and every hotel room booked, there’s a lot less money that goes where it should. After all, the intention is to help someone in need, so do it effectively, not wastefully.
Mark Sandefur is a junior civil engineering and public policy major from Madison, Mississippi.