In the weeks after my wife returned from her mission trip to Haiti this past June, I was bombarded with questions from so many people, that I decided to do a little research so I could answer them for everyone. The big question I had intended to write about was the one about why it costs so much to go on one. But as I looked online for information to supplement what I was told by someone else who’s had experience with them, I discovered something else that really needs to be talked about…the actual definition of a mission trip.
I saw a lot of derisive comments on a lot of websites about “voluntourism”, and about the people who “get in the way of the people doing the real missionary work.” And those comments didn’t sit well with me. Those comments implied that no matter how much good you did in the country you went to, unless you were actually preaching, unless you were actually trying to “win souls for Christ”, you weren’t part of the real work that needed to be done there. I got the impression that unless your group’s goal was to “preach to the heathen”, then you had no right to use the term “mission trip” at all. Oh sure, you could call it a “humanitarian aid” trip, but don’t call it a mission trip if you’re not doing missionary work.
At that point, I decided that my mission was to preach to you just how much male bovine excrement that is.
I was going to rhetorically ask if you have to be preaching in order to have a mission? Can’t your mission be to improve health care in a certain remote village? I was going to ask why is it that some of my fellow Christians have defined the term “mission trip” so narrowly? Then I was going to point out that often these are the same people who define the term “Christian” so narrowly that I, and many others, would be left out.
But other things came up. There were other issues to write about, and my piece about mission trips got put on the back burner…that is until I made a comment about missionaries and missionary work on Facebook the other day, and a friend replied:
Effective missionary work just serves people. It does not proselytize.
Whoa! This was huge! And it pretty much echoed what one of the leaders of the Haiti trip said when he said, “We’re not there to bring Jesus to Haiti. Jesus is already there.” And my friend’s comment was enough to put this back on the front burner.
For some reason, some people think that a mission trip is, or should be, all about proselytization, which if you haven’t heard the word before, or figured it out by now, is just a ten-dollar word for “preaching and trying to convert people.” But that’s not true. As my Facebook friend said, effective missionary work just serves people.
Let me put it a little differently, at its best, a mission trip is really no more than a “humanitarian aid” trip done by a congregation or sponsored by a religious group. Really. If students and teachers from the Camillus Academy in Camillus, NY decide to go to Puerto Rico for a week to help dig people out from Irma; as a secular organization, that would be called a humanitarian aid trip. But if the students and teachers from St Camillus Catholic School in Ampere, NJ went to do the same thing, it would be called a mission trip…whether they preached or not. Why? Because that’s just the way it is…just like how a skirt on a guy in Scotland is called a kilt.
And what of the derisive comments about “voluntourism”? Well, my friend went on to say:
Some people get curious about what it is that motivates others to go somewhere else and serve, and maybe they ask, and maybe they are inspired to try what they see others doing. In some circles this is called “a policy of attraction.”
There is still help needed in these places, and it’s not always simply about throwing money at the problem for someone else to take care of. Often it’s also about throwing people at the problem as well. These “voluntourists” who go down for a week, make a difference, perhaps build relationships, and then come back and tell others, who also go down and make a difference. They also often continue to be somehow involved with that community when they return. And the cycle continues.
This is what a mission trip is all about…
No matter what you call it.
And if you want to find out more about the organization my wife traveled with, check out Stone by Stone.