Why Mission Trips Are Usually Social Tourism OR Cures, not Band-aids (continued again)

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The conversation took place last summer. I was sitting in my office talking to our student intern; a really godly, thoughtful twenty-year-old. She had just returned from a college mission trip to Taiwan. It clearly was a life-changing experience for her, and I did not want to dampen her zeal or extinguish the fire burning in her eyes. But I did want her to think deeply about what she did and why she did it.

A significant part of her group’s time was spent at a shelter for street prostitutes. Each evening, the young women came in from the streets, listened to a sermon, got a good meal and a safe place to sleep. The college students helped with the meals and did some basic cleaning and picking up in the sleeping area. Minimal interaction with those they were serving because of language barriers.

I push her a bit: “You spent a lot of money and invested a lot of time and heart there. What were you trying to accomplish?”

“Mainly just to get God’s Word out; they had to listen to a sermon every night before dinner.”

“Was there an endgame? Something you wanted to see in their lives? Any long-term provision for them?”

“No, we mainly wanted to let them know they could change, and that God would always be there for them.”

Gently… “But you were the face of God for them, and you left. You came back to your comfortable life, and those girls are still on the streets every night selling their bodies to strangers. What did you really tell them about God?”

Silence. Thoughtful, reflective silence.

Here is the point: God stays and meets us in precisely the way we most need Him to. And as His face, His hands, to those who are the outcasts of society, we are called to echo His love to them with extraordinary wisdom. Godly wisdom. An intentional focus on transformation means we act from a position of insight to understand the need. We must always engage in a manner that provides the opportunity for transformation.

God stays. He doesn’t visit for a few days and then withdraw Himself to the safety and security of home. He immerses Himself in our lives. A mission trip that is more about making us feel good, assuage our guilt as wealthy Americans, and perhaps put a bit of salve on the wounds of our chosenness is not mission at all; it’s social tourism.

Is your mission trip about you or them?

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Photo credit: Home Sweet Home by Trey Ratcliff used under Creative Commons License

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