I hear a lot of Christians who, whether their students of mine
or people I’ve met, who have said, you know, they’re going to another country to go on a mission trip.
They’re going to go during winter break or spring break and they’re gonna, you know, bring the love of Jesus, or bring some Bibles,
or maybe try to help build some shelters or something. And so there’s this ambivalence I have
regarding mission trips. And what always comes to my mind, and maybe this is just
because I am a teacher, is this program called
Teach For America. And Teach For America
is this thing that a lot of students do, especially elite students, you know, at the best schools in our
country. They’re from Harvard, Yale, really good schools. And what they decide to do
is after they graduate, they’re going to spend
two years taking a crash course over the summer
learning how to teach. And then they’re going to go into
some of the roughest schools in the country and they’re going to teach those kids
and they make a two-year commitment, minimum, to work with these kids
and educate them. And on paper, that actually looks like
a great idea, that they’re going to– You know, you have
these brilliant minds and they have a passion
for teaching. Obviously, their intentions are wonderful, and they’re
going to go there, and they’re going to help these kids, But the reality of the situation and I’ve seen this article after article,
where former Teach For America, people who either
dropped out of the program or finished it, but had a bitter taste
in their mouths, a lot of them would write these articles about
how they don’t actually think they helped. And the reason is you’re going
into these schools, where the kids need some dedicated teachers,
with experience, who know what they’re doing… Passion is great, but if you don’t actually
know how to, you know, handle a
group of 30 rowdy kids, you may not really be helping them.
And if you don’t know how to teach, and sometimes that takes
a few years to really develop, are you really doing
what’s best for those kids? And so, two years after they finish
their commitment, a lot of these students leave the program, and they go off
to law school, or medical school, or whatever their future
plans were, you know. You hope they’re not
just resume builders, but in some cases that turns out to be the case, where
they went for these two years just so they could look good on an application. And so, they leave these schools,
and these kids end up worse off than where they would have been
with another teacher. A regular teacher went
through a certification process. And you know? All these good intentions
didn’t really go anywhere. So, that’s what I think of when I think of mission trips
because I see these wonderful people who want to do this thing that sounds so great on paper.
They want to go to another country and help these people,
these poor people. And they want to give them…
What? They want to give them Jesus,
they want to give them Bibles, they want to build a church. And I’m thinking like,
“Wow, that’s not what they need.” They need shelter and they need
food and clothing. Clean water. That’s what they need.
And you’re going in there… And are you really helping?
Because it’s not like you land there and all of a sudden
you’re off and running. It takes a little bit to get acclimated to the territory
and to learn about the people you’re trying to help. And so, when you have these,
like, one week mission trips and then you leave, and you get your photo op,
and you feel like you’ve done a good job, I have to ask, like,
“Have you really helped them? Or, “Was this for them
or was this for you?” And I think, in too many cases, these mission trips
are just there for the people who go. It’s there to make them feel good about themselves,
like they really helped, when I don’t think
they always do. It’s there to, you know,
make the church look good, like they’re actually doing something
beyond the church walls to help. I think if people who go on mission trips–
Because, again, these are well-intentioned people, their heart’s in the right place, but if they really
want to help, there’s a couple things
they could do. One is make a serious
long-term commitment. If you’re going to go
to a third world country, stay there for the whole summer.
Take a year off and go there and help. That could actually do something meaningful,
because you have some time to actually get to know them and their environment. That would be beneficial.
And wow! I would find– I would have a very hard time
complaining about a Christian who says, “I’m going there.
Yes, I want to teach them the Bible and stuff
I don’t think really helps. But I’m going to be there for a while.
I really want to help these people out. And we’re gonna, you know, help them with medical supplies
and building a hospital, maybe, somehow, or building a school and educating them
and tutoring them.” That would actually help,
but that requires a long-term commitment. And a lot of
church mission trips they don’t plan
on long-term commitments. But here’s a simpler idea: a lot of these
mission trips cost thousands of dollars.
I mean, these kids have to raise a lot of money, hundreds,
maybe of thousands dollars to go overseas,
and they’re raising that money. Here’s a better idea: take that money
that you fundraised and then put it
in an envelope and send it to a group that is already
working there long-term. Because those people need things that cost some
money, they need those wells to get water. They need supplies and food. And they need people who are going
to stay there for the long haul. They really don’t need you
going there for one week, so you can get some photos
and share them on Facebook. Again, I realized not every
Christian’s doing that, but a lot of them are. And I’ve heard this even
from Christians who don’t like the way mission trips
are done at their church. So, I’m glad their intention is good.
Their heart’s in the right place. But if they’re going there
for a week or two weeks, and especially if they’re going there
just to spread the gospel, they’re not helping anybody. People in the third world are not surviving because
they have a Bible next to them on their bedside. What they need is a bed. So, let’s go out there
and actually help them. And again, I think if churches made an effort
to send people overseas for a long time,
for a serious commitment, it would be very hard
for people like me to say, “Mission trips don’t actually help.” My name is Hemant Mehta.
I write at FriendlyAtheist.com If you’d like to leave a comment
or question below, we’d love to check it out.