Summer Missions Trips: It's Not All About You

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You know how sometimes you read something, and it sticks with you, but you’re not sure why? I’ve been pondering the post In Defense of the Summer Mission Trip ever since I read it, first on the YALT blog and then on The Network. I think I finally figured out what it is: There is a huge missing piece to the story.

The author, Carlye Tazelaar, is surprised—nay, shocked that anyone would think summer mission trips feed into a Messiah complex.

“I have personal experiences and convictions as to why the summer mission trip may be the best gift you could ever give your high schooler, youth ministry, and community,” Tazelaar writes.

She then goes on to talk about the friendships forged, eye opening experiences, and incredible spiritual growth, culminating in several professions of faith.

“Is the Messiah complex real? Of course,” Tazelaar writes. “Many people do go into their mission trips thinking what they have to offer is going to change the world. However, I have yet to talk to anyone who’s gone on a summer mission trip who comes out of it with that same mindset and attitude. Coming from these trips as both a student and a leader, I can honestly say that the servants on the trip are much more impacted than the community is. And we praise God for that, because these changed followers of Christ typically end up serving their communities and the global community in amazing ways.”

I totally agree with that conclusion. I myself had a life-changing summer mission trip to Costa Rica when I was a sophomore in high school. Who can be against changing the lives of young people and building the future of the church?

However, notice the missing piece of the puzzle. What about the people they are going to “serve?” Other than an oblique reference to “the servants on the trip are much more impacted than the community is,” the community is completely ignored. And this is why many community developers resist the summer mission trip.

Our communities are not just object lessons in poverty. They are where we work and live. Those people contributing and giving more than they are getting from your trip? They have names. Maria. John. Roger. They are our friends. And we are working hard to empower them to help themselves and make changes in their own situations. To work to make their neighborhoods a better place to live and their churches more vibrant.

What do they think when you show up in your matching t shirts?

“You know you’re living in a ghetto when the church vans come in for spring break.”

And then there is the irony of groups parachuting in to “bring Jesus to the country of _____” when they are being hosted by churches growing at a much larger rate than their church back home.

If summer mission trips are so life changing for the young people, what do those they are going to “serve” get out of it? And if the servants are more impacted than the community, might we be using the community for our own transformation?

I won’t be so presumptuous as to speak for communities. I encourage you to ask them. But it is an important question, because after all, summer mission trips are not just about you. I encourage you to consider the entire picture.

For further reading: Honesty and Short Term Missions

 

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Good post.  Mission trips can be done well.  I have critiqued them a lot, and rightly so.  But on the other hand, they were formative in my own life, and they can be formative for the communities as well if done well.  I hope that the Western churches can plan half as many or less short mission trips, but then those that they do could be done with very good preparation, a good strategy, and done with real partnership of the community.

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