On Thursday, I wrote about how I hope my kids never have to go on a mission trip, but that's not entirely true. Mission trips are about more than seeing poverty up close. They can be about experiencing a different culture and helping to meet a need.
My best young adult experiences were on mission trips. I learned a lot, met some fascinating people, and was able to share the gospel a few times. I think we just need to change our mindset about these things. I suggest that we start using different terminology.
Instead of calling it a mission trip, I think it should be called a "ministry exchange". The term mission trip carries with it the connotation that one group of people is going to take the gospel or do a service for another group of people. The thing is, I would bet you money that the gospel is already there in the form of a local minister and the money we spend on taking the trip would more than cover the cost of hiring a local to do the job. (This would also create jobs and boost the economy in that area.)
The truth is, most of us don't really have the skills to be all that useful in the environment we are going to. One exception would be teaching English in a foreign country. As a native speaker, we are already qualified to be a huge help in that area. Also, being a source of relief or encouragement for ministers living in the area is a huge deal. I can say that from experience.
So, now that we've established that most of us, save those in the medical or construction type business, are mostly useful because we have the money and free time to go. Does that mean we should just send money and never go?
No, and that is where the ministry exchange comes in. Teams go to provide a service and hopefully open doors for the gospel to be shared, but anyone who has ever served the less fortunate in any capacity can tell you that it is greatly rewarding. We are challenged and grown as people. The more you see, the more types of people you encounter, the better off you are.
When people talk about sweatshop labor, I think of the factories I passed in China, with strong chemical smells and clanging going on late into the night.
When people talk about immigration issues, I think about the Mexican men I met in Georgia who were thrilled to live 12 guys to a singlewide trailer, working in the fields all day so they could send money home to their families.
When people talk about government assistance, I think about the children I worked with in Hattiesburg who would have literally died if their families didn't have access to food stamps and health care.
When people talk about orphan care, I think about the children in Haiti who were so precious and longed for someone to hold them and tell them they were special. We didn't speak the same language, but I know they wanted someplace to call home and some people to call family.
I may not have had much of an affect in these places, but they sure affected me in a lifelong way. I shop and approach politics much differently than I would have if I hadn't seen these things. I'm also more inclined to give to ministries in these areas.
That's why I think a more accurate term would be ministry exchange - because we take what we have to offer, and we come home with a whole lot more. Also, we certainly should never approach such a trip with a savior complex.
We need these amazing people to open up their lives to us way more than they need us to give them some clothes or work on their buildings.