By Rick Bundschuh / Kauai Christian Fellowship / Kauai, Hawaii
Let me assure you that taking students to third-world countries for exposure to missions is a very valuable idea on several levels. The trips get them fired up about missions in general, and make them very appreciative (at least for awhile) of all the things they take for granted at home. A mission project infuses the kids with a sense of responsibility for the poor that they will never shake and often brings a wonder sense of purposefulness and comradeship.
There are lots and lots of great reasons for going on mission trips – which is why I take a group of kids to Tijuana ever year.
But seldom – very, very, seldom – are mission trips truly effective in reaching those in far-off lands for Christ. Yes, by our presence and efforts we may be supporting a ministry that is active in evangelism, but let’s get really honest with each other here; mission trips usually do far more good (in the short run) for our kids than they do for those in foreign countries we visit for a week or two.
Oh, I know that sometimes, after the skit or presentation (if you do that kind of thing), lots of hands went up or people came forward. But, most of the time we have no idea if the locals are just being nice to the Yankee kids, or if they have a culture that responds in this way to every invitation. (No, I am not denying that God can move, but as one who has lots of friends in foreign missions who host youth groups, lets just say I am aware that all is not always as it seems.)
And then, there is the money.
Usually, thousands of dollars per student are spent to go to a place – where the money spent by our youth group to get to this place could feed and fuel the economy of an entire village for a year. Most of us are aware of the huge discrepancy between wages in poor countries and the USA. Many of us have, sitting in the midst of poverty, felt acute embarrassment at our own over-the-top wealth and careless spending habits when just a few less luxuries at home could put the village kid we were playing soccer with through school.
So here is an idea: this year, don’t go. Don’t have a mission trip at all; have an Un-mission Trip.
Do your fundraisers, get the bucks together, make a goal that is exactly the same as if your crew were jumping on a plane or doing the road trip to Mexico on the bus. And then send all the money to the mission that you were going to work with. The money can be used to hire a local evangelist, to feed a family, to buy Bibles, to pay bills, to send a hardworking local missionary couple on a surprise weekend trip to the big city and their first-ever stay in a hotel with some spending money in their pocket. Or, bring someone from the mission you visited last year to your town. Help them get their visitor visas, buy them Wal-Mart or even Macy’s gift cards and let them go nuts. Give them the vacation of their lifetime. Let them try to minister to your church this year.
True, some kids will not be motivated by this idea. (You may have better luck with kids who have already had their eyes opened in prior mission trips) Some are only willing to work hard if they benefit from it. But it won’t take much in the way of math or graphs to make the case that perhaps this year, unlike other years, the goal of your mission efforts is to get as much Kingdom bang for the buck; and that by staying home, working hard, and sending the cash (okay, okay, pick one kid who worked super hard and send him or her down with a staff person to present the gift), the good things that can be done are multiplied.
And we all can still have fun working toward that purpose.
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