Skip the mission trip: they can cause more harm than good

Juana Garcia/The Cougar

Juana Garcia/The Cougar

Faith often calls people to humanitarianism. They love God so much that they want to spread his generosity everywhere. 

Mission trips may seem like the answer to this call since they involve helping people in poor conditions, but they are not as humanitarian or selfless as they seem. They are typically self-serving, racist and can even be directly harmful to the people in the regions these trips go to. 

It’s important to understand the connection between missions and colonization. Spanish missionaries were instrumental in America’s colonization, displacing indigenous people into missions, converting them and stripping their indigenous culture.

Similarly, in Africa, missionaries promoted western culture with Christianity so that European countries could gain power and strip the region’s resources, hurting the African population. Faith was used as a justification for this colonization.

Europeans needed to “save” these people, so they took their land and culture.

European missionaries believed they were doing the right thing and it’s no different today. However, mission trips are self-serving. 

Boasting about selflessness

A mission trip attendee will often post pictures of themselves in Guatemala or Uganda surrounded by locals with a caption about how inspired they are and how the trip changed their life. The attendees’ posts center around themselves.

The locals aren’t named or talked about individually, but instead serve as props for the missionary’s self-promotional post.

Mission trips are also self-serving because they only treat symptoms of poverty without targeting the cause. This is usually because western nations are behind the cause. 

Haiti, for example, has been hurt by the U.S. since the beginning. From the trade embargoes, to the military occupations, to the U.S. exporting their products ruining local Haitian businesses, the U.S. has always pushed Haiti into more poverty.  

Targeting the cause could look like supporting Haitian businesses and lobbying politicians to stop exports to Haiti. But missions don’t have incentive to do this since that would mean no more trips.

Mission trips aren’t only self-serving, they can be downright harmful. All the money spent on sending missionaries could be given directly to people in the region.

If they need a new school, churches could use donated money to hire a local contractor to stimulate the region’s economy instead of sending missionaries to build it.

Mission trips don’t promote self-sufficiency, which impoverished regions should strive for.

Abusing power

Missions can be harmful in other ways. Renee Bach was a U.S. missionary with a faith based charity in Uganda. Her charity acted as a children’s hospital, but Bach had no medical training. This led to the death of 105 children in five years.

She felt entitled to help these children because God supposedly called her to it, but she killed them in the process. 

Unfortunately, there’s also many instances of missionaries who turn out to be pedophiles and rapists. They use their image as godly, selfless people to get away with abusing those very children they claim to help, just like Bach did. 

Mission work prioritizes western enjoyment over Black and brown people’s lives. It allows exploitative photos to be taken and posted online. It allows unqualified people access to “help” children, like Bach’s “hospital.” 

Even if money helps more, it isn’t simply donated since that would take away the fun of a trip. In being self-serving, mission trips harm. 

Some mission trips do educate members on respecting different cultures and try to protect locals from exploitation, but that doesn’t change the fact that mission trips are rooted in the harm of Black and brown people.

It also doesn’t change the fact that mission trips also aren’t the most effective at stopping poverty.

If you want to help people, maybe organize in your own community for the local people in need. You can organize fundraising events like car washes, bingo nights and auctions, so that fun, a reason people choose to go on these trips, is still a factor. 

If you really want to help people in other countries, raise money and send it to people or organizations in that country. Real humanitarianism may not be as “Instagram worthy”, but it’s better in the long run. 

Anna Baker is an English junior who can be reached at [email protected]

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