Mission Trips have caught the scrutinizing eye of church elder boards, and church staff for many years. For those churches and Christian school groups who have come to know the importance of seeing first-hand the work of God in the U.S. and abroad, a mission trip that is organized with a mix of education and service has become a regular occurrence, valuable in understanding, by some small experience, the meaning of being a "world Christian."
I was recently reading the blog of an U.S. missionary based overseas. He was complaining about a group that came his way, served for a few days, did half of the work assigned and then went on a safari. Locals finished the work. No indication of who paid for the balance of the work, but it had to be hired out to be completed. The missionary complained about the amount of money being spent for the group to attend the trip. Our mission trips across the Atlantic Ocean are expensive. Round trip airfare alone is excess of $2,200!
After 20 years of leading trips, here's where I have come to rest. I really find it almost comical to hear complaints of about mission trip expense. Here in the United States we find it easy to write check for a trip to the beach or Disney World and there is no uprising about those dollars spent. Attach "Christ" or "mission trip" to travel and the battle seems to be "on". Some might say that's good stewardship, no I think it's worship of money.
Most of my recent experience with groups going on mission trips is that they are no longer allowed to write support letters for help with the trip. I actually like this direction. While those who do write letters really appreciate the generous hearts of those who support them, the person who works hard to earn dollars for a mission trip might just get a little more out of it! "For where your treasure is so is your heart," the scripture says.
I am always touched by a persons willingness to 1) give up a week of vacation to go on a mission trip, 2) that he/she would sacrifice the dollars to go on a trip where lodging and food my not be to the standards that a vacation option offers, and 3)that they would be willing to sit, and listen intently to the stories of God's work by dedicated full time vocational missionaries on the ground where they are serving.
There seems to be some thought that money spent on mission trips "could be better used somewhere else." This is actually called the "limited pie" view of money available in the Kingdom. The "view" is basically that there is only so much money/resource in the world and you just spent it on a mission trip. Do you really believe that? I don't. I believe that God has unlimited resources that are available for His good purposes.
I like Bulembu Ministries approach to our Mission Discovery teams. The missionaries there see our teams as ambassadors for the story of Bulembu. They also see this: here is a group of 30 to 60 people who have invested big dollars to get to their base, they were passionate about the destination enough to gather the dollars to get there, and so they may just be willing to give more! Our teams have produced thousands of dollars in donations to the ministry there in Swaziland! Some of this is regular monthly support. These missionaries get it! Our teams notice from the start of the trip how they are part of an unfolding story of God's work in Swaziland!
"Mission Trip Complainer Missionaries" loose a potential resource for prayer and income that a team can potentially offer. Hey, I know that teams and team leaders can be so insensitive. I know that they can say and do things that could bring harm to your work. I will say this though, I have noticed that most of the teams I work with don't mind a stern talk from a host missionary about how the week will go.
When we arrive in Swaziland one of the staff addresses the group on our first evening. "Welcome, we know you have traveled a long way and we are so glad you are here.....we want you to know we are not in need of your pity, we do not want you to give things to our staff or people working in town, we don't want you to pick up and hold the children, limit your pictures to those you have built a relationship with."
Throughout the week the staff of Bulembu Ministries develops the story, entrusts that story to our team and sends them back as a voice for the cause! Can you imagine what happens on the airplane ride back? Yes a lot of sleep but 60 recruiters are on board for the cause of a dying nation!
As for me, I'm happy to rescue some of the dollars that were gong to be spent on a Caribbean cruise and move them towards a trip that opens the eyes of an individual to the work of God in the world? Call them "vacationaries" as an insult all you want. I'll take them any day! Some of these individuals may just become the next vocational Christian workers we need in the world.