People talk about mission trips all the time, we debate about whether they are positive or negative. We hear horror stories, like volunteers practicing medicine in Africa despite not having any medical training (one particular story says a Virginia woman is responsible for over 100 African children’s deaths). We hear about our donations killing the local economy. We hear about the good done too, the water brought to remote villages. The vaccines we get to people who need them.
It’s a mixed bag, but whether or not you agree with the practice or not, I want to know why churches and other communities have shifted their focus overseas when there is a lot of pain and suffering in our backyard.
I’m not claiming that these organizations or churches aren’t also helping people in their local community, but in church the guest missionary speakers are always the ones returning from overseas. Their stories are more exciting to us. The teenagers doing missions or other volunteer work would rather go to Africa than the neighboring state. You hardly ever see a go fund me to volunteer upstate. It’s easy to understand how it’s happened, but it’s hard to process why it is still happening in such volume when we know that these trips don’t always have positive effects. When we know that all the money we’re spending on plane tickets could be spent to clothe and feed children that need it in our backyard.
There is an argument to be made about levels of poverty, and how poverty in the United States is nothing like it can be in certain communities and villages abroad, but there is also an argument to be made about overlooking the poverty in your area because you’ve grown used to it, or because other poverty seems more exciting to you which is terrible to say, but is a real reality.
We write off people in our own community because we think they all have had similar lives to us and if we’re making it work they can. In some cases that might be true, but in many it’s not. No two lives can compare that easily and there are all sorts of terrible struggles that people can face. We have become desensitized to local troubles, we see gang crime and turn the news channel. We hear about people dropping like flies from overdoses and brush it off. We hear about children in foster care and think it’s too bad, but few act on anything. And those who are being called to donate their time and money, they’re sending most of it out of state, out to country, with questionable organizations where much of it goes to waste.
I don’t think everyone who goes overseas is looking for an Instagram picture, I think that people who think that are narrow minded, because generally speaking the people they are slandering had good intentions, some that may be realized and some that may not. Overseas missions can do a lot of good, and I’m not calling for a stop to them. I’m just saying that local communities need more than the few cans of food you put in the cardboard box labeled “donations” every year.
I’m saying that the people in our backyard need help too, the ones we turn our noses down at, the ones we write off because their brand of suffering isn’t what we have in mind when we think of ourselves making a difference.