Rethinking the $3,000 Missions Trip

Rethinking The 3000 Missions Trip

Painfully thin for his age, Martin shivered uncontrollably by the side of the city swimming pool. He held his sides in a futile effort to keep warm. I was puzzled. A rare June heat wave had swept through Knoxville, and the temperature was pushing 90.

A few weeks later, Martin squeezed in beside me on the bus ride to our first swim meet. He was a wiry, bouncy 10-year-old with mischievous blue eyes and a killer smile. He could rarely sit still long enough to hear the workout set. Yet today he slumped down against the window and curled into a ball.

“Coach Doug,” Martin asked after a few minutes, “can I have my dinner now? I haven’t eaten in two days.” A father of four, I know a con when I see one. “No, buddy,” I teased. “You need to wait until after the meet like everyone else.”

The summer got even hotter, and Martin kept shivering. One evening, a social worker who knew Martin dropped by the pool. I asked her if she knew why Martin always shivered. She pulled me aside and whispered, “It’s because he’s literally starving. The woman he lives with told a judge that she was ‘starving the Devil out of him.’ ” I felt sick.

Summer swimming is enormously popular in Knoxville. Until a few years ago, however, kids like Martin could not compete in our summer swimming leagues. Every year on the last weekend of July, 2,300 wet kids jam into The University of Tennessee aquatic center for three days of fast times, cheers, and soggy ribbons. Until recently, however, no children from our urban neighborhoods were able to join in the fun. Lacking access to pools, few knew how to swim. As a result, drowning is a major cause of death among children in the inner city.

Related: Destructive Donations – by Tony Campolo

Five years ago, Emerald Youth Foundation, a Christian urban youth ministry, saw the need and launched Knoxville’s first inner-city swim team. Today the team has about 50 kids. I’m the head coach. Our swim team is one beautiful example of how the church in Knoxville is seeking the common good of our city. The team is run by dozens of volunteers. Emily and Spencer, for example, compelled by God’s command in Jeremiah 29:7 to “seek the peace of the city,” moved into Martin’s neighborhood.

Emily noticed Martin roaming her neighborhood from morning to night, and asked if he wanted to join the swim team. When he said yes, Emily went to work organizing rides and meals. Other families began taking turns in the car pool line. It costs $25 to join the team because Emerald Youth Foundation raises funds to cover caps, goggles, bus transportation, food, insurance, and pool time. All Souls Church, the downtown congregation that I pastor, included the swim team in our mission budget and supports the team with volunteer coaches.

The broader community is also partnering with Knoxville’s churches in serving Martin and his friends. For example, I recently stood up at a coaches’ meeting and asked if any team had old lane lines they could loan us. I had three offers in three minutes. Swimmers from the Pilot Aquatic Club, Knoxville’s nationally ranked club team, have donated fins, suits, and kickboards. Even the University of Tennessee swim team has gotten involved, providing suits, coaches, and lane lines.

Rethinking the $3,000 Mission Trip

In some ways, however, what is happening with our urban swim team is more the exception than the rule in our city. Some well-meaning Christians have a theology of mission that seeks to alleviate the spiritual and physical suffering of people far away, but pays little attention to needs here at home.

I know because I was one of them. I spent many years taking mission trips to Tulcea, Romania. We shared the gospel, cared for orphans, and started a medical clinic. It seemed that God moved in powerful ways. Then my friends Jon and Toni moved into one of Knoxville’s marginalized neighborhoods. Jon invited me to go on prayer walks with him on Wednesday mornings. I saw syringes on playgrounds, prostitutes turning tricks, hustlers selling drugs. Our walks led me to volunteer at the elementary school in Jon’s neighborhood. I’d assumed all the schools in our city were pretty much the same. They aren’t. Kids with B averages in Jon’s school score in the 30th percentile on standardized tests. Kids with B averages in my neighborhood score in the 90th percentile.

Along the way, a pastor named Johnny began showing me what the city looked like from the front lawn of his cash-strapped inner-city church. As I spent more time in Knoxville’s at-risk neighborhoods, I realized that I knew more about poverty in Tulcea than I knew about poverty in Knoxville. I was pursuing the common good of a city across the world while neglecting the common good of the place where I lived.

Brave New Films

I don’t think I’m alone. Martin Luther King Jr. once preached, “All of life is interrelated. . . . We are inevitably our brother’s keeper because we are our brother’s brother. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” Most Christians I know believe this in a global sense. We feel a God-given burden for the starving child in Haiti. Yet we sometimes lack a similar burden for the Martins back home.

A good example of this imbalanced approach to mission is the exploding popularity of short-term missions. In his book When Helping Hurts, Brian Fikkert observes that short-term missions have become a $1.6 billion annual enterprise in America. Every year, thousands of Christians in our city take short-term trips that cost anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 per person.

Related: Faith in a Time of Cholera – by Kent Annan

I believe in missions. I also believe in short-term mission trips. Yet the longer I work in the resource-poor inner city, the more frustrated I become with the amount of money God’s people spend on these brief trips. We seem so eager to spend thousands of dollars sending our people overseas for one week without stopping to ask, “Would some of this money be better invested in my own community?”

Every time I hear of another $3,000 short-term mission trip, I think about Dan and Mary, whose ministry to Knoxville’s refugee community is chronically underfunded. I think about the 1,600 meals that the same sum would pay for at our rescue mission. I think about the inner city schoolteacher who dips into her $34,000 salary to pay for pencils and treats. I think of the 83-year-old widow with the $700 winter heating bill, waiting for a new roof she can’t afford. I think about the 50 children of prisoners on the waiting list for the underfunded Amachi mentoring program. I think about the 30 children who have never seen a deer who could go to a Bible camp in the mountains for the same amount of money it takes to send one person overseas for a week. And I think about the starving boy on my swim team.

I do believe we are changing. Churches in Knoxville with strong foreign mission programs are beginning to invest considerable resources in meeting the spiritual and physical needs of the weakest members of our community.

Without these resources, I couldn’t coach Martin.

Martin never stopped shivering that summer, but he did start swimming faster. I made some calls to see if Martin might join a year-round swim program. The local swimming community was eager to help. Then Martin stopped showing up. Nobody at his house returned our calls, and Martin missed the rest of our meets. At our year-end swim banquet, we gave Martin the “Most Improved Swimmer” award. He wasn’t there to receive it. A friend and I drove the award to his house after the banquet. After many knocks, a man answered the door. He wasn’t happy to see us. We handed him Martin’s trophy and told him how well Martin swam. “I don’t know where he is,” the man said. He shut the door.

This post originally appeared on Christianity Today’s “This Is Our City” section.

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About the Author

Doug Banister

Doug BanisterDoug Banister lives in Knoxville, Tennessee. He is the pastor of All Souls Church and coaches the Emerald Youth Foundation Swim Team. His new book, Seek the Peace of the City: Ten Ways to Bless the Place Where You Live, is available for free download.View all posts by Doug Banister →

  • Dennis L

    Thank you Doug! I’ve been trying to say this for years and it’s fallen on the deaf ears of many (not all) who really just like to travel and see the world on a mission dollar. It’s much more of a buy in to spend it at home….

  • Damien

    I’ve also been trying to convince people that short-term missions far away are typically not a good idea. The average person travels thousands of miles and spends thousands of dollars to do manual labor that they’re probably unqualified to do here at home (would you want a bunch of teenagers who’ve never laid a single stone to build the school where your children will go?) or that anyone could do.

    That being said, I think we should separate to different questions:
    – Should you spend thousands of dollars on travel expenses?
    – Do you get more bang for your buck at home or abroad?

    So, I wouldn’t really ask, “would this money be better used in my own community” but rather “would this money be better used — and how”. I still think that, for any given amount of money, you always get more impact abroad than at home. There are very few interventions in developed countries that allow you to save a life for $2500, for instance. Of course, it goes without saying that it’s also great to help people in your community and that it’s much better than wasting the money!

    • TheodoreSeeber

      Depends on your own community. I knew a woman (she unfortunately died of a heart attack in January) who would regularly, on a budget of $2500/month, get people off the streets, get them medicine, and save lives. I was on her volunteer board of directors, and we’re working to turn over the $11000 bank account of the organization (the total funding for 2013) over to a larger organization that does the same work, locally.

      Barb was just one woman with a wheely suitcase walking around downtown Portland, OR- in Old Town, right next to the extremely affluent Pearl District. The comparison is astounding.

      But yes, lives can be saved on very little money, even in developed nations.

  • Drew

    I disagree with this article to the point where I need to say I disagree yet do not want to write much because it will be hard for me to stay composed. What I will say is that the real problem is with folks who give nothing to ministry, not with folks that pour out their lives for ministry.

  • Kyle

    This article is poorly balanced.
    You sound like a bitter blogger with a small God, a small heart for foreign mission, and a small hope for our generation. Sad. Thanks for throwing short-termers a one-sentance bone… But maybe you ought to write a blog on George Mueller instead of throwing a pity party for underfunded ministries in the states. Maybe if your friends had half as much motivation in their prayer lives as wiry teenagers do to raise funds for their short-term trips you might see some serious change. Stop pointing fingers and maybe you’ll be able to write an article or two on the goodness and provision of God and not the problems you see in our generation

    • Grace

      Goodness Kyle, what a harsh comment! You leave me wondering if I read the same article as you. I see a large compassionate heart in Doug, simply doing some deep thinking, re-evaluating and re-assessing. All he is doing is encouraging us to do the same. He clearly says: “I believe in missions. I also believe in short term mission trips.” He is just encouraging us to get before God in prayer to discern where we should be putting our dollars. And if after doing that we still think the short term mission trip is the way to go, I’m sure he would be cool with that. The whole article is respectfully written, I don’t see “bitter” or “pointing fingers” at all. Surely it is a good thing to be challenged to THINK, instead of just doing what we’ve always done by default.

  • Sean

    Why is everything in Christianity an either/or proposition? I think we should be investing in both places – our own town ministries as well as showing our teens how big God is and how people all over the World serve and love the same God. Both are invaluable. To say one ministry is better than the other is misguided at best and heresy at worst. We minister in Jerusalem and he utter parts.

  • Carter Shuman

    You have a big heart, Doug. I recognize the pain in your writing over this issue, but I think that there are much worse ways a church spends its funds than short term missions. We absolutely have a lot that can change about the way we spend our money, but many good things come from these trips that you may not have seen, especially in the lives of those who go. You’re not a heretic by any means but I think you could find a better place to point the thrifty finger. Coffee. Eating out. Entertainment. Just to name a few.

  • bluecenterlight

    I don’t think the problem is mission trips. I think everyone should go on one. It breaks us out of the bubble of living in a consumer driven society. The two weeks I spent in Russia completely changed my world view. But it amazed me that I vowed to be different on my return and how quickly I was sucked back into being like everyone else. I think the problem is that giving for the average Christian (including myself) isn’t sacrificial. It’s not painful. We don’t do without so that others might have their needs met. We don’t model ” it’s better to give then receive” for our children. I don’t think the answer is to sacrifice one for the other. I think the answer is that we do both. That we get our eyes off of ourselves, and focus on the needs of others. Not only here, but around the world. I think it is possible to do both.

    • Tiffany M. Williams

      You are missing the point here. All you need to do break out of the bubble of privilege is take a short trip to the inner city or to impoverished Appalachian communities to get exactly what you felt you had to travel to Russia to see.

      • Frank

        God is big enough for both. Different people are called to do different things. One needy person is not different than another needy person. They both need help no matter their geography.

        I never understand the small faith of people that feel we somehow have to choose or
        that God isn’t capable of providing help to everyone.

        • Pepper

          Amen to this! My sister was told by a youth pastor that she should go to Mexico “because it was closer” (After saying she was going on a mission trip to Haiti) and not realizing her heart was called to another location. If we all only helped one place, who would help the others? God calls our heart to different places because He has a plan to use us.
          Your comment clarified it so perfect, thank you!

        • jim

          Amen Frank……God leads, and hopefully we listen and follow. No matter when or where.

      • bluecenterlight

        My worldview changing had nothing to do with seeing poverty. I agree, I don’t have to go to far to see it where I live. My point was that when you hear a story about a plane crash in a foreign country, you don’t think much about it, it happens all the time. But what if an American was on that flight, our ears perk up. What if someone from your state was on that flight, your city, went to your high school? The closer people are to being like us, the more we tend to care. Spending time outside the bubble of our culture gives you a sense of how big God is. You never see the news the same way, it changes you. We will easily spend $3,000 on crap that will add inches to our waistline or end up in a landfill, or a self indulgent vacation. I think if we live intentional lives, we can, and should accomplish both things.

      • Drew

        You are missing the point here. All you need to break out of your American bubble of privilege is to take a trip to a different country and see what real poverty looks like. When you see someone with amputated legs that has taught themselves to walk on their hands because they cannot afford crutches or other medical care, that tends to have an impact on someone. When you see someone with a tumor the size of a volleyball because they have zero access to health care, even emergency health care, that tends to have an impact on someone. The worst place in America is absolute paradise compared to most places in the world. All Americans need to get out of the American bubble.

        • Tiffany M. Williams

          Hmmm. . . And we don’t see those same conditions in the US?? Ok. I have been in and outside of this country. I never denied that folks are called to serve all over the world. The point is that you never have to travel far to see immense poverty We have to open our eyes – or at least don’t over-look.

  • Suzanne

    Did you find out what happened to him? Did the social worker get him into a foster home? Did he run away? Is he still alive?

    • John

      I wondered all the same questions. Is any sort of agency involved?

      • Doug Banister

        Thanks everyone for the comments. Martin’s situation got worse over the coming year. When some folks finally located him, he and his six year old sister where wandering their neighborhood alone at night until a neighbor took them in. A drug dealer apparently had gotten involved in the family. The mother has since taken some steps towards improving her family’s situation. Social workers, mentors and non-profits are all involved. Yet I’m sobered by just how many obstacles remain in Martin’s way. Doug

  • Kerin Dunkes Magill

    Doug —
    My heart breaks at the thought of Martin and others like him. I, too, have wondered whether the funds spent flying to far-flung communities might be better spent here in our own back yard. I am blessed to have a pastor who is opening the eyes of her congregation to the needs right here. I also agree with others who have commented on the impact overseas trips have had on their own spiritual journeys, and on the idea that it is possible to do both. As evidenced by some of the comments here, the culture of the overseas mission is quite entrenched. But as I have seen in my own congregation, good leaders can definitely help their congregations to see that needs in their own communities are just as great. While the stories there, unlike the short-term mission trips — might not serve our increasing need for immediate gratification, there is a deeper satisfaction in making lasting change in one’s own community.

  • Tomara Brown

    Thank you for this post. My life was changed on an overseas mission trip and I’ll never be the same. The most I spend on overseas trips is around $1600-$1800. At the end of each day as we are sharing stories of transformation, I always ask “As a result of how you saw God as work today, how are you going to live your life differently once you return to Louisville, KY?” I have had the privilege of recently taking a graduating senior to Latin America. Her life was transformed and she served this past summer at a local children’s home – Sunrise Christian Services. She chose to live her life differently once she returned to the states. That is transformation. Jesus came to serve and not to be served. We serve wherever God places us!

    All in all – Mission Trips are all about relationships and partnerships in building the Kingdom of God.

  • Stu Davies

    I don’t think there is anything wrong in doing ministry at home or away. The key thing is to hear what God wants you to do!

    If God tells you to do ministry in your neighbourhood, do it.
    If God tells you to do ministry in another country, do it.

  • Rose

    The one mission trip that I took as a teen made me think that it was more for our spiritual growth than to actually make a difference in the third world. I would like to know what happened to Martin…someone should have fed that boy.

  • david todd

    If we are to reach Jerusalem effectively then we must be in Samaria and going to the ends of the earth because one mission empowers and underpins the other. The $3,000 mission trip is just as valuable and just as necessary as the inner city soup kitchen, rural youth hang out, seniors lunch club or national mission organisation and all of these inform each other. Some disciples are called to foreign mission, some to local mission and some to national mission, but it ALWAYS does good to experience and get involved a new area of mission to you, even if only once.
    I used to not care about or understand mission trips to far flung places, until I understood that they are interdependent. I used to run an inner city mission, three years ago I led a mission trip to Rwanda, next year I will possibly go back and look to do new work in Burundi. The church is called to mission locally, nationally and internationally, no mission exists in isolation.

  • Daniel Olson

    I see local missions change the hearts and lives of locals. I imagine that the scope of foreign missions trips run the gambit from “2 week 3rd world vacation” to “no frills sleep on the ground without a blanket or mosquito net, and eat the same one meal a day as the locals do”. But anyone I know who has done a foreign missions trip says they came back changed. And for most sheltered Americans… this is a needed reality check.
    A local woman who heads missions trips to the AIDS decimated population of Swaziland really caught my heart with her story. check out (swazichild dot com) Bottom line is….. whether you do ministry abroad or at home DO IT.

  • Guest

    This is something I think about all the time. I was in a church the other week and there were two offerings during the service because we they were trying to raise $25,000.00 for a video camera and accessories. There is an attitude in the modern American church that, if we help ourselves first, it will do more for the Kingdom then feeding the poor, housing the homeless, and caring for the broken in our own community. That’s the reason many American Christians are willing to spend thousands of dollars on video cameras and life changing trips overseas before they are willing to look in their own backyard at the starving, homeless, and broken.

  • Drew Ruiz

    This is something I think about all the time. I was in a church the other week and there were two offerings during the service because they were trying to raise $25,000.00 for a video camera. There is an attitude in the modern American church that, if we help ourselves first, it will do more for the Kingdom then feeding the poor, housing the homeless, and caring for the broken in our own community. That’s the reason many American Christians are willing to spend thousands of dollars on video cameras and life changing trips overseas more than they are willing to look in their own backyard at the starving, homeless, and broken.

    • Teresa Janelle

      I definitely agree with you that it’s hard to look at the extravagant spending we sometimes lay out on “ourselves” or our churches or whatever, when we look at the person next to us and see that they are lacking very basic needs. And yet, how much giving is enough? Should we stop paying for our churches altogether, and just meet in people’s houses? That would definitely free up a LOT of money with the reduction in operating costs. And perhaps that is what we should do! Should we give so much that we too are homeless, or just barely well-off enough to get by? It’s a difficult question.

      My old church went through a long discernment and discussion process to determine whether we should spend 10,000 on a projector and screen as worship aides. In the end, we did purchase these, although it was not clear-cut and the decision upset many people, for the same reasons that you bring up (I believe). However, the argument was made – and it’s a good one I think – that facilitating worship of God in MANY ways is a valuable goal. A projector would allow us to share and experience more art and music and facilitate worship in a different way than we had been. Is it feeding the orphans? No, of course it’s not. But it is helping to worship, or at least that’s the intention. Now I’m sure not all churches or individuals who make extravagant purchases like that one think it through, or need it (perhaps mine did not…I am uncertain as it’s not a clear-cut issue). The woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume that would’ve fed a family for a year was extravagant and wasteful, as the Disciples pointed out…and yet Jesus did not reject her offering. Good intentions are important, as are lavish gifts of love to God that come in MANY forms – from feeding orphans to buying projectors.

  • Adam

    Your city has thousands maybe tens of thousands of believers and who would argue against them investing more in their communities. Don’t confuse that with missions though. Maybe missions money shouldn’t be invested in short-term trips but shifting that money to a local focus isn’t the answer. Simply invest in real change overseas rather than short-term projects that net little long term effect on anyone other than the participants.

  • John

    This might be simple minded, but…

    isn’t the point of a mission often the affect on the missionary? You’re not going to save Romania in a week, but you might have your eyes opened to the fact that Romania needs saving in a way which empowers you in your walk with Jesus.

    • Sandrilene

      This may be true. But using the poor of the world as your special learning experience is not a good thing.
      I’d love to do something splendid and make a difference to the world. However I know that realistically that donating to charity and volunteering close to home while not flying and not owning a car is the best I can do for other people and for the environment.
      If you’re a qualified doctor than your skills might make a real difference.

      • Drew

        Jesus tells us to make disciples of all nations, just not your hometown, so you might want to bring up your problem with Jesus.

        • Jonathan Jensen

          And ‘making disciples of all nations’ can’t possibly look anything different than short term missions can they?

          • Drew

            It’s not the only way, but it is certainly “a” way, if you really want to argue the point because you like to argue.

  • Jaymee

    As important as it is to help people in our own community, I don’t think we should promote this OVER people suffering in other countries. Borders and the division of countries themselves is only a social construct, and so placing additional meaning and importance to ‘our own’ is meaningless and detrimental.

  • Melissa Jones

    Thank you for this article, as I believe it is much easier for us as Americans to own up to the poverty that we let exist around the world rather than the poverty we see at home; however the power of a missions trip abroad cannot be discounted. I attend church in a neighborhood just like Martin’s, and recently went on a missions trip abroad with a group of people who grew up much like he did. A couple were former addicts, one had been in and out of jail; and the impact the trip made on them was amazing.

  • Kurt

    First off, this is a good article because it is thought provoking.
    My initial thought is this: what would be better? Spending $3000 to see tourist spots im Europe (like a lot of my Christian friends do?) Or spend $3000 on a mission trip to Haiti? I think if Christians spent their personal ‘vacation money’ on mission trips, this would be fine. I love to travel and if I can mix traveling with helping others, I think there’s nothing wrong with that.
    So then the issue becomes, what do I do when I come back home? I don’t think it’s an ‘either/or’ situation. I thinks it’s a ‘do both’ situation. Missional living isn’t something you go to a different country to do. Missional living is something we make an every day activity. So maybe the question should be:
    How do we make a $3000 mission trip more impactful and have a longer lasting, sustainable effect for the people we visit? AND how do we get more involved in our communities for the remaining 50-51 weeks out of the years we are in America?
    I would submit that a Christian is called to do both. Missional living abroad and at home. The challenge comes with how we spend our money as individuals. Most of us probably have enough discretionary income for a $2000 mission trip and donate $2000 to a local non profit. That’s $77 a week.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    Bet next time a shivering skinny kid tells you he hasn’t eaten in two days, you’ll take him on a trip to McDonalds.

    I am the same way, until about 10 years ago when I started working with my own city’s homeless- now I give locally first.

  • lundque

    This is a good and necessary discussion. In doing some research last year for a class, I discovered a whole world of Christian entrepreneurs who appear to have made a good living by leading these $3,000 mission trips to far flung places. Sort of the Christian version of ecotourism (if you’re taking an activist whale watching expedition on an old tub to the southern latitudes, are you helping save the whales or are you enjoying a sea voyage vacation with some lectures during which you might see a whale or two).
    There are going to be bits of both. When you use two weeks of vacation time to lead a mission to wherever, you’re still on vacation. When you do mission work as part of your vocation in Knoxville, you’re working.
    Doug, the mission work you do in Knoxville is extraordinarily valuable. But it may be valuable also one day to take those kids you’ve been doing mission with in Knoxville on a mission trip to Columbus, Ohio, or Milwaukee, or Baltimore or Savannah or Port au Prince. Getting to work with and for people who are different helps remind us of the humanity and diversity of the Body and to learn to truly see the face of Christ in our brothers and sisters.
    Maybe finding a way to do mission without inadvertently lining the pockets of some of the entrepreneurs would be something worth spending your time on.

  • Along with several other commenters on this piece, I’m troubled by the idea that it has to be an either/or proposition … either we care about local missions or we care about foreign ones. Experiencing either one first-hand increases the likelihood that the one experiencing it will have a heart to do more.

    I’m much more disturbed by the amount of money we spend on our church programs, buildings, staff, etc. right in our own communities. Although $1.6b sounds like a lot of money (and it is), it’s chump change compared to what Evangelical churches spend on their own staff and physical plant. If we had a more-balanced perspective of reaching the least of these, whether local OR foreign, we’d have funds enough for both. It saddens me when those with a heart for the developing world, and those with a heart for the poor in the developed world, find themselves in competition. It needn’t, and oughtn’t, be that way.

  • Jael James

    Thought-provoking article. Why did the social worker allow this child to remain in a home with a mentally unstable woman who was starving him?

  • Doug, I appreciate your point. But even Brian Fikkert does not suggest getting rid of short term mission trips overseas. His chapter on the subject points out how to make these trips more effective. I believe it should be a both/and rather than an either/or (full disclaimer: I work for a ministry that is involved in short term mission trips serving children in Eastern Europe).

    We are not all called to the same ministry and I don’t think people should see themselves in competition when it comes to ministry. The Jerusalem Christians could have easily made a similar argument about Paul’s short-term mission trips (Ok, maybe not that short termed) to serve the Gentiles–but eventually those Christians “over seas” began to send funds to take care of the church in Jerusalem.

    My wife works in a foster care ministry here in America. As a former youth minister I’ve taken kids to work in the inner city, in US children’s homes and in poor barrios in Honduras. So I do understand the problems. But I have also seen what passes as foster care in third world countries and there is no comparison. I don’t think we should ignore our home front, but again, I don’t think we should ignore the rest of the world either. (And the former students who went on those mission trips are meaningfully involved in a variety ministries both local and abroad–some are teachers in inner city schools, some travel to Africa, some work in local ministry).

    As an earlier poster noted, “God calls our hearts to different places…” Indeed. The biggest danger is if we ignore that pulling on our hearts and instead stay in our living rooms and turn up the television while eating junk food!

  • Teresa Janelle

    Another factor to consider with missions trips in particular and travelling in general is the HUGE environmental cost of flying in a plane. I’m a big fan of travelling, whether to rich or poor areas (although preferably both) because I think it expands our horizons and gets us out of ourselves. However, the carbon footprint of frequent short-term missions trips is humongous. This is particularly problematic when we consider that climate change disproportionately affects the poorest of us in the form of heat waves, droughts, floods, and other extreme weather. If you’re not sure about anthropogenic climate change, at the least it’s worth considering the precautionary approach, otherwise known as “better safe than sorry”. So “close to home” missions ‘trips’ are more sustainable in many ways.
    That said, there can be value in short-term trips that are primarily intended as learning experiences for the participants, rather than as the patriarchal Westerner who “knows better” (I get the impression that the nature of many trips is starting to change and become more respectful and empowering).

  • jamiearpinricci

    I appreciate that the author mentions “When Helping Hurts”, as this book makes a point of reflecting on certain organizations and programs that are more helpful and not harmful. YWAM’s Discipleship Training School (DTS) often gets attacked in these kinds of conversations, but the authors strongly endorse that approach to short-term missions.

  • Maggi

    I think in the end it all comes down to one question: what does God want you to do? It hurts to see Christians with an us vs them mentality. I’ve been questioned by Christians as to why I sponsor children overseas or why I want to go to a foreign country on a mission trip when I should be helping “my own kind” (their words, not mine). Apparently they’re forgetting or just don’t realize (cause rarely do they ever ask) that I volunteer weekly at a local crisis pregnancy center and helped rebuild homes in Joplin, Mo. not to mention they everyday things I have done for others in my community. Every year my company collects donations for local women’s shelters and I love, love, LOVE shopping for that. But I went on my first foreign mission trip this year (to Haiti) and loved it. It was a culture shock and opened up my eyes to another part of the world.

    I definitely see our own backyard as a mission field and when I meet people who say that they wish they could go on a foreign mission trip but can’t due to cost, family obligations, etc. I try to remind them that where they are is also a mission field. Maybe a single mom could use some free babysitting, maybe an elderly neighbor could use a trip to the market, maybe you could buy someone’s gas for them or tutor a kid in Math….the opportunities are endless.

    The Bible says to go into the world and preach the Gospel and not everyone is meant to minister in the same place. Some are called overseas, some are called across the country, and some are meant to minister in their own backyard. Christians should be encouraging each other to seek out what GOD wants them to do and then support that decision. It hurts to have Christians outright question my decisions to sponsor foreign children even after I have told them that I felt led by the Lord. Either they’re totally clueless or they just don’t know what it means to be led by God. Christians need to understand that just because God wouldn’t want them spending thousands on a trip overseas doesn’t mean he won’t ask that from someone else.

    We get enough judgment from the world. We need to be careful not to do it to one another. :)

  • Alina Abbott

    As someone who has done both the short-term “overseas” and been involved in local action, I think that there is value in both. When I signed up for the short-term mission and raised money for it, I think that I sort of had the idea in mind that I was going to go on a fun vacation and maybe help some people along the way. What I got was a solid kick in the pants about the reality of things in world outside of my safe little “Western Christian Bubble”. I learned about the value of Christian community, the preciousness of the Word of God, and the importance of worship. I saw first-hand the impact of how decisions made in my cushy world could have a devastating impact overseas (I saw the conditions that pineapple field workers lived in, all so that I could have cheap pineapple on my Hawaiian pizza, for example). It changed forever how I saw God’s world, and my understanding of how I live in it. In the decades since I went there, it has made me a supporter of Fair Trade, social justice, and work with the poor and underprivileged both at home and abroad. In my life, the $1600 cost of that trip was more than worth what I gained, and what I have given back to the community over time (it seems crude to put a price value on such things, but since that is the topic of the post…).

    I know, however, that not everyone is impacted the same way. I am most disturbed by people who come back from these trips, and the most significant thing they have to say about the trip and how it impacted them is: “It made me more thankful to God for all the stuff I have.” And then they go back to their cushy lives being thankful for their flush toilets and hamburgers, and that’s it. Talk about a lesson in missing the point.

    So, I don’t think that there is a “one-size-fits-all” answer to the question of the value of these trips. I think it depends a lot on how the trip is run, the type of work they do, and the level of interaction with local people. And how willing the attendee is to let their heart be changed.

    • Alina Abbott

      A short-term trip can have long-term impacts on how a person involves themselves in living and giving.

  • Joy_F

    I’m okay – love even – missions when they are responsibly taken and raised. They raise awareness and can be a great learning experience. I don’t think they do much good for people overseas in general, but they can change an American’s life if they go to be a student and learn and be changed. They do some good overseas in the way of diplomacy and learning as well.

    However…..a lot of youth leaders etc use it as a way to help out their own bank accounts a bit, adding sometimes around $500 extra per person that goes, often into their own pockets. It’s considered a good way for the youth leader or church to earn some extra cash. Many feel they get paid very low and so its justified…..this makes me uneasy.

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