I want to give a post about something a bit off topic from what I’ve been posting lately, but I feel it warrants some thoughts – especially for those of you who have gone on short term mission trips. I had some talks with other fellows early on in the summer regarding the value of spending a fairly large amount of money to go somewhere for just ten days. This may be a little repetitive for any of them reading this, but I felt this needed a blog post.
The question is: why spend $1600-2000 on a international trip where you are working for a week and then just coming back to the US? Are you really making any sort of long-lasting difference? Are you doing enough to justify spending that $1600 – 2000 on a trip and plane tickets, rather than just sending it in full to a development organization that could immediately put the money to work?
All are difficult questions – and ones I’ve had to wrestle with after going on two such trips. In fact, the last night I had in Santo Domingo in 2007 with my spring break missions trip team was partly spent exploring that question. Quite frankly – I didn’t have an answer back then to these questions. Not having sufficient answers made me begin to question if the cons didn’t actually outweigh the pros of an international mission trip.
Two years later, I finally feel that I have a couple answers which to me make the pros of short term mission trips (or other service projects) outweigh the cons.
First: Any time people want to bring the ultimate message of Love and Hope to others, I think this is great. While this alone isn’t enough to answer the questions I posed above, especially since there are PLENTY of people in the US who need this message, it certainly is a plus which occurs with a mission trip.
Second:I feel like there is some amount of long lasting impact with some projects. The most obvious ones are buildings or other physical projects which some trips undertake. In the case of my trip to the Dominican, most of us didn’t have such a project. We were with children the entire day, playing sports, doing Bible lessons (sort of), and mostly just being with them when no one else was around. As you might guess, it was very hard to point to something and say “look, we made a difference”. Instead, it felt like we were just another group of white gringos to come through, give a few hugs and piggyback rides, only to get back on our bus and fly back to our comfortable beds in the States.
I argue that we are not “just another group”. These kids remember the people who come through. This was proven to me when a couple people who had visited the villages a couple years before came back. The kids remembered their names and even still had the nametags and drawings given to them two or three years before. This was absolutely surprising to me. The kids specifically remember the guys and girls who played with them for just a few days a couple years ago. This proved to me that there is at least some sort of long lasting effect on lives which may not be apparent upon leaving back home.
As you can guess, these two reasons alone are not enough to convince me of the value of short term mission and service trips. Which brings me to the strongest point:
Third: Mission and service trips change the lives of the people who go – and sometimes direct them to dedicating their life to service. I now consider these sorts of trips as an investment. The $2000 spent is well worth it when you consider how life changing this experience is for some. True, some people go home after a trip, say “well, that was a nice experience. I have some good memories and friends now” and don’t really give international service another thought.
On the other hand, many people find their first experience with international poverty to be striking, and can have a spectrum of reactions. This may be from being more aware of spending and finding ways to give to charities or serving the poor in their own community more, all the way to people who decide that serving internationally may be the career for them.
As you may have guessed, I fit into this latter category. My 10 day trips to Spain and the Dominican Republic were fundamental in my career development. I’m gong to explore this more in a future blog post, but suffice it to say that the roughly $3200 I spent (or rather, my parents spent…) was an investment in who I am today, thinking about living internationally.
I have seen plenty of friends impacted on various levels along this spectrum by a short term service or mission trip. This alone is what answered those questions I posed at the beginning. If this was all just about a 10 day spree costing $1600 with relatively minimal impact in the community and no impact on the people involved, well then I’d say that money could be spent in a better manner. For the reasons above, I see this as money well spent.
Think about it.