Mission trips, shoes, toothbrushes and t-shirts.
It’s getting close to “that” time of the year…
Mission trip season is right around the corner. Lots of folks will leave the comforts of America (and other places) and travel to some far off land in hopes of loving and serving the “poor.”
Mission trips seem so right, so good, so noble, so missional. Unfortunately, they can also be so wrong, so thoughtless and terribly damaging. Not to mention expensive, really really expensive.
Over and over again these past few weeks, I’ve heard folks proclaim that they are going on a mission trip soon, and they want to bring some, “shoes, shirts, and toothbrushes,” with them to give away to the “poor” people. Well, they did not say, “poor” people, but we all knew…
Some of these tweets are coming from experienced missions aficionados. And yet, we still seem to make the basic mistakes over and over again.
Why is this?
Compassion is a powerful emotion, but compassion without wisdom and insight can actually be more “hurtful” than “helpful” in the longrun. The truth is, many times, going on a mission trip is more about the person who is going, than the people they’re going to serve.
But it’s so hard to admit that.
Whenever you give something away, especially in non emergency scenarios, you’re doing some kind of damage.
- Whenever you give away a t-shirt, you’re taking business away from a local t-shirt vendor.
- Whenever you give away a pair of shoes, you’re taking business away from a local shoe vendor.
- Whenever you give away a toothbrush, you’re taking business away from a local retailer.
Giveaways always shrink the local markets. And this is never a good thing. Not to mention, giveaways also create a “lazy” culture. More often than not, especially in places like Haiti and Mexico where so many American groups take mission trips, giveaways create a culture of dependency.
I know it seems so “loving” to do such a great “deed,” but the ONE thing we all need to do to serve the poor is to help them lift themselves out of poverty, and the main way we do this is through jobs. We must help locals sustain the jobs they have and help them create more jobs for the community.
This is vital, necessary and important.
Everybody, everywhere wants to work; we all need dignity, and no one truly wants “handouts,” if at all possible.
So, what’s the solution?
Instead of boxing up shoes, toothbrushes, and shirts and paying to ship them, just bring money, go down to the local market in the country you’re serving in, and buy EVERYTHING possible from the local vendors.
If you do this, you will be adding so much value to the country that you’re serving:
– You’re helping the local economy grow.
– You’re connecting with local culture, and you’re becoming a natural friend to them as you help grow their business and invest in their community.
– You will have a better reputation from the local government and key leaders because you’re team will bring in much needed funds that will help expand the local economy.
– When you buy from a local vendor, that person can afford then to care for their own family, instead of relying on outside aid, or handouts.
– And those in need will still get some of the basic needs that will help them.
This way is more holistic, thoughtful and empowering.
Sometimes, the simple way- collecting free things in America, and taking them overseas- is not the best way. I’ve made that mistake many times. The more I go, the more I know. Which means I can apply that knowledge and wisdom and learn how to “go” better, be more thoughtful, and find ways that will encourage and empower the locals; which is why I’m going in the first place, and I hope that’s why you’re going too.
So please, do yourself a HUGE favor, do not bring “freebies” with you on your next mission trip. If you’re a leader of a trip, don’t allow your team to bring “freebies” either. Instead, teach them the power of being holistic, thoughtful, and wise.