Are Mission Trips Really Valuable?

November 25, 2008 — 5 Comments

Shortly after arriving in Greeley I was asked to pray about joining the team of 18 volunteers—serving as the Preacher for the trip.  After praying about it and talking with Rhonda, I decided to join the team heading to Guatemala on November 28th—December 6th.  I will be doing daily devotions for the team, offering pastoral care to the patients in the clinic, teaching in the VBS, and whatever else they need me to do.

Rhonda and I are so excited about the work that God has called us to do at Journey Christian Church in Greeley, Colorado.  The Church is healthy and growing.  They have a heart for our community and for the world.  In particular, they have been involved for the past few years working with a Medical clinic in Montellano, Guatemala.  The clinic has been operated by Health Talents International since 1973. 

Besides me, our team consists of an eye surgeon and three family physicians from Greeley, six nurses, four teens and an optical assistant. We also have two interpreters who will be able to help us communicate with the wonderful people of Guatemala. All together we have 19 people from Greeley participating in this medical clinic.

We will be performing eye surgery on approximately 40+ Guatemalan’s who cannot see due to advanced stages of cataracts. These people rely on their vision to work, as most of these Mayan patients work with their hands. Without their vision, they cannot provide for their families.

During our trip we will also help with minor-surgery, eye-glass fitting, medicine distribution, hygiene education, distribution of basic toiletries, conducting a VBS in local villages, and doing our best to keep hundreds of children busy waiting while they, or their parents, wait to see one of our doctors.

I recently read a story in the Washington Post questioning the value of missions trips.  In the article, Jacqueline L. Salmon notes, “Critics scornfully call such trips ‘religious tourism’ undertaken by ‘vacationaries.’ Some blunders include a wall built on the children’s soccer field at an orphanage in Brazil that had to be torn down after the visitors left. In Mexico, a church was painted six times during one summer by six different groups. In Ecuador, a church was built but never used because the community said it was not needed.”

She continues by noting, “Research has found that the trips tend to have few long-term effects on the local people or on the mission travelers. Some projects take away work from local people, are unnecessary and sometimes dangerous.  ‘I really don’t think that most people are trying to be ugly Americans,’ said Glenn Schwartz, executive director of World Mission Associates and author of ‘When Charity Destroys Dignity.’ ‘But they’re misinformed and don’t realize how their good intentions can go awry.’  Mission groups also often bring their own experts and ignore local authorities on the ground.”  (Here’s a link to the rest of the article: Churches Retool Mission Trips)

I’m so excited about this trip, not because we’re leaving the country, but because we’re going to do something that will matter long after we leave.

People who can’t see well today, will–next week at this time–see again because of the work that we are going to do and–hopefully–next week at this time, they’ll be a bunch more people bound for an eternity with Christ. 

Talk about positive long-term effects!

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5 responses to Are Mission Trips Really Valuable?

  1. 

    Arron,

    As an MK (Missionary Kid, for you lurkers), I have seen both sides of the short-term mission trips. If a group can truly fill a need, and has the expertise or ability to do a job that can’t be done by the missionaries in the field (either due to lack of abilities, funds, materials, labor, or time), then the project is seldom ever unnecessary or unwanted.

    However, there are groups that mean well, but want to tell the missionaries what their church will do for them, and how it will be done, even if it isn’t needed, and often is a burden to the completion of the goals of the mission. Other groups are there mainly to play tourist, and are often more interested in filling their own need to feel important or look good to their church members back home. They are usually the ones that get in the way and hinder the work in the field.

    The best groups are ones that respond to the needs specifically listed by the mission group – almost every mission will be able to provide a long list of things that really NEED to be done (not all of them are overseas). And each mission trip group needs to be able to interface with the missionaries on the ground that know and understand the culture, politics, and needs in their location. And they need to accept the leadership that the missionaries are also following in order to be relevant to the people they are serving.

    Not every mission trip is necessary or wanted by those that it is meant to benefit, but most can be, with the right motive. God may lead a church to do something, but as with every good missionary (and yes, there are bad ones too, unfortunately), a person with a servant’s heart (and often a strong back) is the most essential quality required to be of true value.

    For any group that is looking to travel overseas on a short-term mission trip, be sure that you not only have the funds to go, but the ability to serve the needs that are out there, instead of pushing your own agendas on to the missionaries. And finally, be flexible enough to change your “mission” if the needs change after you arrive – the technical needs you go out to fill are usually not nearly as important as the spiritual or psychological lift you can give to the missionaries or the people they serve!

    I love the work you guys will be doing… it sounds necessary, relevant, and most of all, a blessing to those receiving the gift of sight. God bless you all on the trip… wish I could go too!

  2. 

    Kirk–Great response . . . and worthy of a post all by itself. I’m going to direct people to your comments.

    Thanks.
    Arron

  3. 

    I’d say in most cases that the short-term trips are worthwhile. Even in this country (Japan) where there is rarely any need for the physical labor/building projects or medical outreach that teams typically bring, the encouragement for the resident missionary is priceless. If the short-termers have a heart for serving and are open to God’s leading, their lives also can be turned upsidedown. I went to Bible college as a direct result of participating in a trip (Haiti), and I recommend it to youth and adults alike.

  4. 

    I have been on 6 mission trips, 5 in foreign countries. All were directed by a local person who determined the work who were doctors or missionaries. All work done was paid for by the mission team and would not have been provided locally due to lack of funds. All mission trips are not the same but I will say that on my last trip to Kenya, we were asked to go home and share the story of the people we served and pray for them. They hoped they would not be forgotten in the world. We built houses for AIDS orphans, worked in the hospital and other related work. This was before the terrible election unrest and our hearts were broken for the wonderful people of this country.

  5. 

    One thing I noticed in the Post article was the measure of use of dollars. It seems easy lately to measure effectiveness by dollars. Once that is the standard, that becomes god. Scripture tells us to go and make disciples. No mention of cost effectiveness. Money is just a tool…and not to be worshiped.

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