Conclusions I have reached on the pros and cons of mission trips throughout my experience.
I have had the opportunity of seeing my parents and siblings go on mission trips while I was growing up and going on a few myself throughout high school and college. I have also been able to go with different church groups that have done things very differently. Throughout my experience with mission trips, I have drawn conclusions on the pros and cons of them, and how to prevent doing things wrong. I believe that mission trips can, unfortunately, be done very badly, but it is also possible to do them very well. Here is some of my insight on the pros and cons of mission trips, and how to prevent doing them the wrong way.
One very unhealthy mindset to have when going on a mission trip is that you're going on the trip to be a superhero and fix the people's problems. This mindset can lead to babying the people, pitying them, and even making their situations much worse. Here's why. In 'When Helping Hurts,' Steve Corbett says "Until we embrace our mutual brokenness, our work with low-income people is likely to do more harm than good. I sometimes unintentionally reduce poor people to objects that I use to fulfill my own need to accomplish something. I am not okay, and you are not okay. But Jesus can fix us both." This point was said so well. When going on mission trips, it is so important to not look at the people as in need of us because we're so much better than them, but rather people who are on the same level as us, just in a different place in the world with fewer resources and different lifestyle. When we go on mission trips, it is important to go not hoping to fix them but to lift them up and encourage them. If we can keep our mindset fixed in humility, our actions will follow in a much more healthy way than just pitying the people.
Another thing that can make mission trips unhealthy is going just to give handouts. With this, it is always relative. For example, if you are going to a city that was just hit by an earthquake or tsunami and they have lost all their resources and are dying without them, yes, of course, go and bring them what they need. However, if you are going to a more low-income place like Haiti or Honduras where people don't have as many resources but they are surviving well, don't go just to give them things you assume they need because they look poor to you. Sometimes people who look poor to us feel rich and enjoy their life. Just because their living looks different doesn't mean they need our money or nice clothes.
Instead of going to give them things you think they need, go with the intent to ask them what they need. Ask what their goals are. Ask how you can work with them to continue to help them towards their goals in ways that are sustainable and are going to help them to progress after you leave. One of the worst things people can do is go to a country, give them food and candy, then leave a week later. All that does is show them they aren't capable, they need handouts, and it creates a mindset and lifestyle of dependency for them. The most helpful thing will always to help them in a way that is sustainable. Teach them to make concrete, teach them how to be better business leaders, whatever it is they need to continue progressing after you leave. Sustainability is key.
If people you know have given you an ill-view of mission trips, I hope that you see that there is a correct way to do them. Like everything in life, mission trips can be done wrong because we are flawed and prideful people and we think we know what people need. In reality, we need to ask people what they need from us. I also encourage you to go on a mission trip. It's so helpful for expanding your horizon and seeing that there is so much more in the world and so many beautiful people who are strong and capable and live lives so different from ours. It's extremely encouraging if it's done right.