Mission trips can be great ways to invest a few weeks or months--both for those who are being served and for those who go to serve.
Going on a mission trip can have some particular temptations for those intending to serve less fortunate communities, however. It is easier than we may think to make a mission trip all about us, instead of all about those we go to serve.
Craig Greenfield writes about some pitfalls we should try to avoid when on mission trips in his article “Your Mission Trip Selfies Aren’t Helping Anyone.”
We’ve all likely seen the kind of selfies Greenfield is talking about posted on social media. Perhaps we’ve posted some ourselves: photos of comparatively wealthy westerners with underprivileged children in an orphanage or with homeless people on a busy, dirty street.
As Christians, we should certainly help those in need, and mission trips can be a great way to do that, but before we even commit to going to Mexico or China or Guatemala, or wherever it may be, we should take some time for introspection and ask ourselves why we are going in the first place.
Crosswalk.com writer Carrie Dedrick sums it up well in ”5 Questions to Ask before You Commit to a Mission Trip”:
“Mission trips have many purposes, but glorifying God should be number one (Colossians 3:17). You will be reaching out to people that are in poverty; some may have never heard the gospel before. The minute you reach your destination, (and all of the travel time before) you become an ambassador for Christianity and for Jesus Christ. Are you ready for that responsibility? And who are you going for, really? Is this trip for you or is it for God?”
When we go on mission trips with all the photo opportunities in mind or all the stories we will have to tell our friends back home, we are missing the point, which is to glorify God by giving selflessly to others.
In Matthew 6:1-4 Jesus criticizes the Pharisees for doing good deeds to receive praise and recognition from others instead of doing them to glorify God:
“Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.”
This is a very applicable caution to all of us who are going on mission trips today; are we serving less fortunate communities to display our good deeds in order to receive praise, or are we doing so to glorify God and give back to Him out of the abundance of what He has given us?
Greenfield offers three things to avoid to help us maintain the right perspective on mission trips.
Firstly, don’t simply swoop into a community for a couple weeks and work on completing tasks that the locals could do themselves. This does nothing to help an impoverished community long-term. Instead, equip and educate the locals on how to change their communities themselves.
Secondly, when taking photos with local people on a mission trip, seek to pay attention to individuals’ stories instead of viewing them as photo opportunities.
Thirdly, recognize that the best way to serve may not be directly on the mission field at all--it may be behind a very unglamorous desk, grant writing or working on fundraising paperwork. These tasks are just as needed, although they don’t provide nearly as good photo opportunities.
Photo courtesy: Thinkstockphotos.com
Publication date: June 22, 2016
Veronica Neffinger is the editor of ChristianHeadlines.com