Mission Trips: Myths and Misconceptions

Guess who’s back, back again. Cici’s back, tell a friend. *sings in Slim Shady voice*  

This time we’re going to talk about something that is much different from my previous lifestyle related blog posts. As my faithful readers already know, I’ve been a Christian for as long as I can remember. I’m an active member in my congregation, I play and sing in the praise team and I am also a youth pastor. I have never shied away from speaking or writing about my faith but I have yet to dedicated a full blog post to it. To my readers who are either atheist or to my readers of a different faith, I encourage you to read further. I specifically want to talk to you about my recent mission trip to South Africa. The mission trip to South Africa was announced in our church about a year ago and I immediately knew that I wanted to be a part of it. So, I committed to saving and planning for what I knew would be the trip of a lifetime. If you ask Sharif, he’ll tell you that I can get quite obsessive when it comes to planning and research. I will scour the internet, read every blog post and pin every interesting picture just so I can feel prepared. This time wasn’t any different. While doing my research I “magically” stumbled upon a thread on Twitter, where mission trips were being discussed. It became clear to me that there are a lot of misconceptions regarding mission trips. This made me want to shed light on what a mission trip really is, in a way everyone could understand, without all the “Christianese”. If you are curious to find out what these mission trips all are about, please keep reading! Myth 1: “Mission trips are about saving the lost.” I believe the interpretation and execution of this is where people get it confused. When our team goes on a mission trip, we do not go into the jungle to find unbelievers and then force them into serving God. Sometimes, the countries are already mostly christian, so that would not have any effect. What we ended up doing instead was to spread the values and concepts that are tied to our christian faith (hope, faith, love, kindness). In South Africa we went to a secondary school where kids from different faiths attended. By sharing our individual stories we attempted to give some kids hope for a brighter future, where they can achieve what they set their minds to, with hard work and dedication. Myth 2: “(short-term) Mission trips don’t bring lasting change.” I think what you should ask yourself is: What type of change am I looking for? One person or small group of people can’t solve world hunger, poverty or homelessness on their own. If that is the change you are expecting out of a mission trip, then you will be gravely disappointed. What mission trips often focus on is not just the physical aspect but also the spiritual aspect of things. The ultimate goal of a mission trip is to bring a lasting change in communities, whether it be physical or spiritual. By working together with local organizations you guarantee that you are helping where the help is truly needed and you can also make sure the work is followed up even after you leave. Myth 3: “It's all about meeting physical needs.” Oh boy, if there is something I learned from this mission trip is that we are not only meeting physical needs. This is not a glorified charity programme. The truth is, the people we met were happy that we provided food and clothing, but they were also touched by the fact that a group of strangers from some place far away was willing to listen to them, invest in them, spend time with them, and show kindness to them. In our materialistic society we place so much value on our material belongings, so we often times forget that the soul and the heart have needs too. Myth 4: “You need to be perfect to participate.” There is this idea that in order do mission work you need to be perfect. I will agree that your life shouldn’t be a hot mess, but perfection is an unrealistic ideal. Everyone has a story to tell, everyone has different experiences, everyone has lessons they’ve learned and it is with these various backgrounds that a team can inspire and bring change. We all have weaknesses as people, but when we are aware of our strengths and we bundle them together we are unstoppable. With our imperfect stories we can encourage others not to make the same mistakes we made or we can inspire others to push through their trials. Myth 5: “You need to have a special calling.” Everyone can make a change. In fact, the bible tells all of us to feed the poor, to care for the orphans and the widows and to love one another. These basic principles are not exclusively reserved for those with a “higher calling”. We are all called to be and do good. When Jesus picked out his disciples they were just ordinary men, fishermen, nothing fancy. You may feel like you’re too ordinary now, but God is in the business of making extraordinary things out of what people consider ordinary. Myth 6: “Just some westerners invading.” Contrary to popular belief, it so happens that all missionaries are NOT westerners. People also assume that missionaries just go into a foreign country and boss people around while they take pictures with poor hungry babies. We do not invade the space of others. It’s important that missionaries are properly trained in understanding the culture, historic background and how that has affected the communities, the different projects and sometimes even the language. Missionaries should be aware that if they are not properly trained or have the right information, they will do more harm than good. Luckily, this is exactly what a lot of organizations are doing before sending their teams out. Myth 7: “You need to leave your own country in order to serve” Don’t give to a mission trip or go on a mission trip to a foreign country and then you do nothing in your own. There are plenty of people around you that may need your help. If you live in a country like The Netherlands, where I live, you may even think that there are almost no poor people around. But unlike in places that may seem like a third world country, our poverty is different and it is often hidden. My pastor said it so beautifully, he said “In the physical South Africa may seem like a third world country and the Netherlands a first world country, but in the spiritual it’s exactly the opposite”. We must learn to serve in the broken physical and spiritual places around us. There is so much more I wish I could share, because mission trips really have people confused, but this post already ended up being lengthier than I initially intended it to be, so it’s time I wrap it up. I hope this post has helped you see mission trips in a different light and maybe even encouraged you to join the next one or serve in your local community. Thank you for reading and if you have questions, feel free to asks them in the comments below.