Why Christian Mission Trips Don’t Actually Help

The video below, part of The Atheist Voice series, discusses Why Christian mission trips don’t actually help:

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the project — more videos will be posted soon — and we’d also appreciate your suggestions as to which questions we ought to tackle next!

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Josh

    Hemant, even many Christians are starting to see the folly in short terms missions: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2012/06/18/why-you-should-consider-cancelling-your-short-term-mission-trips/

    • alfaretta

      A very insightful article.

    • Periphrastic

      I don’t think it’s even “starting to”. I used to be friends, years ago, with a couple who’d done extensive mission work in Africa, mostly working on building a school. They were frustrated to no end with the fact that while they were there, they’d had to give over a sizable chunk of their time and resources every year to hosting mission groups, especially teenagers, who were totally useless and just a colossal waste of time, because if they didn’t do it then the churches that sent those groups would send no donations to help support the other stuff they were trying to do. All to do labor that the local unemployed adults would have happily done for far less than what the Americans spent in airfare.

      They described it as basically being a quid pro quo: We will fund you if you will give us a place to send our kids so they can have something to require their college application essays about.

  • Set van Kouwenhoven

    I understand what you’re saying, and I agree, but remember that these people REALLY believe that, unless you become a Christian, you will spend eternity in the worst torment imaginable. Yes, that is a ridiculous thing to believe, but you’re just preaching to the choir. How can one convince a *Christian* that what they need to do is supply people with water, food, and beds, etc., when life is just a blip on the radar of eternity and no one wants to fry forever and ever? I don’t think you can.

    • Art_Vandelay

      Right, but there are plenty of people already all around them that they think are destined for Hell that according to their theology need saving as well. I don’t necessarily try to hide my atheism yet I never have any Christians knocking at my door desperately trying to rescue me from my impending doom. It’s not like they have to go to Somalia to find apostates. They go to places like this because poverty-ridden places with low education levels are an easier target for indoctrination.

    • Blacksheep

      “I don’t think you can”
      I actually don’t know of any mission trips that don’t provide some version of water/food/beds/etc. Every Christian mission trip that I’ve ever been involved with or heard about has spent the bulk of its time helping with here-and-now physical needs. The Gospel is not a substitute for food and water. I have close friends who build schools, support (and spend time on) fair trade coffee plantations, travel to provide medical care… they share their faith while helping.

      • spitzs

        ” I’ve ever been involved with or heard about has spent the bulk of its time helping with here-and-now physical needs.”

        It’s not actually possible to do anything else. They have the options of actually helping people or failing to help them “spiritually”, they do the former for the same reason they drink water rather than ambrosia. Controlling what is useful for people makes it easier to sell them on what isn’t(or at least, play along with what isn’t if it helps them get water/food/beds/etc), and that applies to the missionaries as well.

      • Anna

        But they wouldn’t be there if they couldn’t share their faith, would they? No matter what else they do, the primary goal of these trips is to get people to adopt the missionaries’ religion.

        If it weren’t for the ulterior motives, it might be easier to have respect for these people. But they don’t offer help with no strings attached. It’s all about them and what they want to promote. What the local people want for their own lives doesn’t matter.

    • James Stevenson

      I can’t really believe that they honestly think that unbelievers suffer for eternity. I mean… anyone with any sense of what that means and with any feeling of empathy wouldn’t act anywhere near as callous as most believers tend to. If I really felt that this was the case I think it would destroy me emotionally to realise that all these millions if not billions of people would have such a state inflicted upon them.

  • Abbé Faria

    ‘God Loves Uganda’ is a good documentary about young people who goes on mission trips to Uganda, and because they are young and come from conservative churches they end up restating what their pastors say to them and not thinking for themselves.

    • Anna

      I know! I was hoping that Hemant might post about this film. It looks like a great documentary, and the trailer is certainly chilling.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m3_hKv4pEM4

      • Abbé Faria

        It’s not a great documentary. The best part’s is when you see the missionaries in Uganda and how naive they were. And how they at the same time tried to distance themselves from the growing homophobia and take credit for it.

        • tubi11

          Wait, so IS it a great documentary?

          • Abbé Faria

            It’s interesting, but mostly the parts that are a character study of the missionaries. A big part of the movie is spent on homophobia and the ban gays law that got so much media attention, but if you have read anything about the subject, you didn’t get any new information from it.

  • David

    In Africa, Christian and Islamic missionary groups discourage safe sex practices. This is one reason AIDS is so bad there. The religious groups claim condoms and whatnot will make the situation worse, despite all of the proof to the contrary.

  • sam

    Those who are resume-builders & those who make very short-term, small sacrifices to relieve their white, middle class guilt are worthy of some criticism, sure. I could see some value in travelling to poverty-stricken countries to see firsthand what real poverty is. Seeing starving children in person must be different than seeing it on TV. So I can imagine someone, religious or not, doing short-term work for the purpose of broadening one’s horizons with the full awareness that their 2 weeks of unskilled labor isn’t really going help much. That said, I think your idea of sending mission travel money to committed humanitarian efforts is a more effective strategy.

  • RuBall

    Reminds me of a conversation I had with my physical therapist:
    Him: So just wanted to let you know I won’t be here for the next 4 weeks. I’m going to Ethiopia.
    Me: Oh that’s nice for you
    Him: I’m going on a mission
    Me: I know
    Him: You do?
    Me: That’s usually why white people go to Africa, haha joke. In any case I hope you get what you need from it.
    Him: It’s not for me, it’s to help the people.
    Me: Come on now.

    • Sunnyhorse

      I’m an atheist, and I have a big problem with folks who go out simply to proselytize, but I have to speak up in defense of your PT: How do you know he’s not going over there to do PT work with underserved people? Plenty of medical professionals give up their time to use their training for people who can’t afford care. My teenage niece, who belongs to the United Church of Christ, went on a mission trip this summer, and she and her friends spent their time entertaining and caring for young low-income kids and doing home repairs. She came home with a better understanding of people who live differently than she does. I can’t see anything wrong with that.

      • spitzs

        Sure you can. It’s why your positive statements are detached from any religious activity: the problems are removed by making the mission non-religious. Alternately, if the accompanying religious activity is fine, then there shouldn’t be anything wrong with people who are just proselytizing. It’s not a bargain where one good deed means proselytizing is overlooked, anymore than proselytizing means a repaired-home is actually in disrepair. But it’s that bargain that they’re counting on.

  • Priscilla Parker

    In regard to Teach for America, I think it’s a good idea but I think it should be more tutor based rather than ppl with no experience jumping into the fold. But then again, in poverty stricken areas there is a shortage of teachers for several reasons and this program is at least trying to fix that problem.

    As far as mission trips go, I went on 3 when I was a teenager all in the U.S. While I agree these trips don’t have any long term benefits, from the churches perspective it’s a way to get young ppl involved in outreach and ministry so that when they are older they might consider becoming a missionary in either at home or in another country. I don’t know, I guess I see it as at least these kids are getting involved and learning to help others in need. I get the premise is misguided but as you said, their hearts are in the right place and they’re well intentioned.

  • Virginia Moreland

    The only short-term mission trips I think may do some good are medical mission trips. My father in law, who’s a doctor, travels with a team of doctors, nurses and dentists from his church to South America, and they spend two weeks providing medical care to a remote region. That, at least, seems to provide some actual tangible help to people. But otherwise, you are spot on that mission trips are for those who go rather than those who are supposedly helped.

  • Ashley Nasello

    I worked with a couple of young Christians who were very excited about going on a mission trip to a country where preaching Christianity was illegal. (Don’t ask which one, it’s been 15 years and I do not remember.) My question to them was “Doesn’t the Bible say to respect the laws of man? So wouldn’t going to a country and deliberately violating their laws be a direct violation of what your Bible teaches you?” Their response was this “God wants us to spread his message to those who need it most.” No actual answer to my question. /eyeroll

    • Anna

      Not to mention the disregard these people have for their potential converts. Sure, certain types of zealots might be willing to die or be imprisoned for their beliefs, but what about the people they’re targeting, the ones who actually live in those countries? What about their lives and their safety?

      • Stev84

        They’d just be sure to go to heaven. Their physical lives don’t really matter.

      • spitzs

        “Sure, certain types of zealots might be willing to die or be imprisoned for their beliefs”

        Generally, if you’re going to be jailed or executed, what you’re willing to do becomes irrelevant. People unwilling to die for their beliefs will still be killed, and they’ll be turned into noble martyrs for the faith to help inspire a new generation of potential victims.

        What’s especially silly about that is that historically, they were often killed by people of the same religion. Catholics could fill a kid’s head with their superstitions, play a role in their later execution, and then turn them into a saint so that their death can be used in the service of the church.

    • JoeyD

      Basically the biblical answer would be that the bible tells people to follow the laws of man up to the point they disagree with gods word. An example would be in the book of Daniel were Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refuse to worship Nebakanezer’s Idol. Worshiping the idol would be going against god law, so when the laws of man and god conflict you must always go with gods law. This is why Christians preach in countries were it is illegal to do so, because they are commended by the Bible to preach to the whole world. That is the answer I would have given when I was a Christian and I was going to preach in another country. (Which I did do, I spent a whole summer in Vietnam, which has restrictions on proselytizing)

  • JT Rager

    I went on a mission trip 10 years ago to Kenya when I was in junior high and was definitely a Christian. I personally re-insulated a house that had no insulation. After a hard days work, we all got together and sang songs about Jesus and God, etc. I don’t know how much I was an exception to the rule, bud looking back on it I still think it was very worthwhile to the locals that I went and helped out.

    • SabsDkPrncs

      Isn’t it possible that the money spent on traveling expenses and food for you or your group, plus any other spiritual accoutrements might have gone farther if it had been a monetary donation? I understand how people who go might get a benefit and even the target of the mission can benefit (and sounds like it did in your case). I think the issue is: is it the best use for that money? In my opinion, and I think Hermant’s, the answer is no.

      • Texan

        But, if they were already going to buy an expensive plane ticket because they wanted to travel, and if they choose to incorporate some kind of human services while they are there, isn’t that better than them going to spend a week in Club Med?

        • SabsDkPrncs

          If that were the case, but I don’t think it usually is. People ask for donations based on the fact they’re going to another country to help people. They generally aren’t going on entirely their own dime, and going to Club Med on your own dime is much more honest than soliciting money for an evangelizing trip which will do more for the person’s resume or “spiritual growth.”

  • Anna Guiltner

    I went on two short (ten day) mission trips to central Mexico when I was in high school. I would have to say, I felt completely unnecessary. We delivered Sunday school materials to churches who were already well established in towns and villages, we put on puppet show Vacation Bible Schools even though were also delivering VBS materials and our Spanish was totally crap. I didn’t feel like the trips were a complete waste of time because it did allow me to see Christianity in a different culture and to see that American Evangelicalism did not need to save the whole planet.I just wish we could have offered something more useful in our time there.

  • David Kopp

    I like how there’s a “Want to be a Minister?” ad banner on the video the whole time ;) Great video

    P.S. – Took me forever to get a screenshot without Hemant’s eyes closed or weirdly open mouth or something. He’s welcome ;)

  • Jamiefnews

    Helicopter Projects – We know these all too well in the Native community. Imperialism continued in the current era. Don’t come unless you are willing to help us in our struggles and successes. Not on your terms, but ours.

  • the moother

    I really love this series… have done since the first flight.

    And so appropriate that Mehta has his focus on adolescents who will, invariably, turn to these videos for insight.

  • Guest

    If people join a programme called “Teach America,” are they sent off to Columbia or Jamaica?

    I thought not.

  • Lovely Finney

    The only issue with part of what you said is that when Christians go over to do mission trips the whole process is to sell them jesus. Leo Igwe did a video about “Taboo of Atheism in the black community” and one of the speakers told about how in her country Christians and Muslims owned the hospitals and the schools and were in most cases the largest or only employer in certain villages and towns. So when Christian churches go to do missions and if they are there for a long period of time, the condition they place on those people are accepting jesus in exchange for food, clean water, health care, jobs. Essentially colonization hasn’t ended.

    The conclude that speaker(it was a female at the end whose name I can’t recall), said that she didn’t come out as an Atheist until they left the country(Continent), and that her entire family had to subscribe to religion because they had to depend on religious institution for their sustenance.

  • LesterBallard

    I have a friend who is a very serious Christian. We’re not that close anymore, of course, but we were friends before he became a Christian and before I clarified my thinking on atheism, so it hasn’t died completely. He’s been on a number of mission trips, the last several to Kenya, and the Kibera slums. I once asked him what the airfare was for him and his wife to travel there and back. I then asked him couldn’t that money be sent to Kenya and used in a better way? He said god told them to go. We’re really not that close anymore.

    • Abbé Faria

      My Great Aunt was a missionary in China around 1930, in the middle of a famine. In the end she managed to get out of the country, but two of the missionaries with her died because they wouldn’t leave behind the bibles they had brought with them at the side of the road. When she came home, and although she still identified as a christian, she never went inside a church again.

    • Mario Strada

      Has he visited Obama’s birthplace?

      • LesterBallard

        Yeah, he tried to do some kind of exorcism.

  • Gringa123

    AGREED – if you want to give them clean water, give them water, not water with strings attached. Also, I hate when people tell me they’ve “traveled” because they’ve gone on a mission trip for a week.

  • rwlawoffice

    Having been on mission trips and not just criticized them from afar with a clear secular bias, you really should learn more about the mission field before you talk about things you know nothing about. Without information, you simply say that a student would provide more by simply sending money instead of going there in person. This can only be said by someone who was never there. (If I am wrong let me know).

    You should talk to people who have been on them to see how it has changed them and to see what they have done to provide help and support once they came home. Frankly, through a Christian organization or through a secular one, I believe that most teenagers that you describe would benefit by going to see a third world country. It would open their eyes to what they have here and provide them with a new insight to what it looks like to live off a dollar a day like most of the world. They come back with a new understanding and empathy that can only be gained from seeing it first hand and talking with the people.

    To imply that mission trips are not part of the long term efforts of Christian organizations that are in it for the long haul in these countries is in error. Arguing that through mission trips they don’t provide shelter, clean water, food, orphan care, healthcare and education is simply wrong. These organizations started with missions trips and are supported by them. I can vouch for this personally. In addition to meeting the physical needs of the people, they meet the spiritual needs. You of course discount this spiritual need but your opinion of whether this is important is certainly not evidence and is irrelevant. The churches in these countries are the social centers of the communities and the local pastors are looked to as leaders to provide for these needs as well as the physical needs.

    I just returned from a trip to Liberia where the organization I went with does health clinics, micro-loans, school scholarships, builds schools and libraries, repairs and digs water wells, and does pastor training. They have literally distributed hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of healthcare, services,loans and scholarships all coming from Christians who have donated to their cause. All of this is coordinated through local pastors who have stepped up to help their people. It all started at a crusade where pastors from America were their to evangelize.

    Now that we are back we are set up to provide additional funding and help in an ongoing basis which we will do.

    • Mario Strada

      1) One doesn’t have to experience everything first hand to have an opinion about something. We can rely on reports from the field, friends accountsd, magazine and newspaper articles, research etc. In amny cases that wil give a better overview than a single person experience.

      2) “You should talk to people who have been on them to see how it has changed them and to see what they have done to provide help and support once they came home.”

      I think that was one of Heman’t points: They seem to be more beneficial for the missionary (in general meaning) than for the people they help.
      How these people change and are rewarded has no bearing on whether what they did was useful or better than an alternative.

      • FTP_LTR

        Theoretically…

        If a Mission costs $X, and a missionary is inspired by their experience to raise $(X+Y) through work when they return home, the net benefit is $Y. (Assuming $Y isn’t swallowed up by the next missionary’s expenses – then you’ve just got a missionary Ponzi scheme; and assuming that the missionary wouldn’t have been inspired to raise $(X+Y) without the personal experience).

        Not in support of religious missions, just playing the deviled avocado.

  • KEHalfaker

    Ah, goodness. I got into a debate with a student in my dorm about stuff like this. He is an evangelical Christian, and I asked him, straight out, “Do you honestly think that spreading knowledge of your religion, your dogma, is more beneficial than helping indigenous people’s maintain sustainable agricultural practices and the like?” I asked that question in a variety of forms, really stressing the point.

    His response was, “Jesus. Every day of the week.” His discussion partner shook her head, and looked as if she wanted to intervene. She made this face, as if to say, “No, you told her EXACTLY what she wanted to hear!”

    I sort of just stared at him.

    Before we had gotten into the mission trip stuff, he told me about how he went into ‘inner city’ schools to ‘help.’

    I asked what he did.

    He was only there for, what, a few weeks, maybe the summer, or a portion of it.

    He told them to have faith.

    That’s it.

    And I thought to myself, “What good will this ever do?”

    Christian Evangelism is something I really dislike, mainly because:

    1. Evangelists assume that the cultural practices and religions (or lack of religions) of those they are flocking to are a) insubordinate b) require changing.

    2. Nothing the people really need is provided at a level required to be considered ‘successful.’ For example, my old community’s church sent our chapel’s pews down to a somewhat demolished church in the south, after Hurricane Katrina, which just put them into the category of pews+ and us pews-. That doesn’t count as relief. I think a crew did go and try to help, but again, they didn’t stay for a length of time that would really be beneficial to everyone.

    3. There is always a focus on ‘the third world’ when that’s already an extremely classist term to use. There are poor people right here in the US that can be helped. There are children who need to be adopted.

    TL;DR ain’t nobody need that Jesus Christ.

    • KEHalfaker

      peoples*

    • Texan

      There are people here who need help, yes. There are children who need to be adopted, yes. But who are we to decide where others direct their efforts? I am not in a situation where I can adopt a child, but I can help build a well in a rural village. Why is that not valuable?

      This seems somewhat akin to saying a doctor is more valuable to society, so those people who merely work in retail or fix cars are poor citizens. We all do what we can, within the framework of our own interests and desires.

  • Al Dente

    The way I see it the problem in poor countries is largely population. In countries with a high standard of living, families usually limit themselves to the size they can support while in countries with a low standard of living families don’t. The biggest thing we could do to improve the lives of the poor is promoting birth control. Giving the poor food, water, and shelter without birth control allows them to have more children and makes a bigger problem in the future. Catholic missions oppose birth control even in the poorest communities and AFAIK Protestant missions don’t promote birth control.

    • Anna

      AFAIK Protestant missions don’t promote birth control.

      I’d be curious to know if there are any conservative evangelical missions that support and promote birth control. I’m guessing not. These groups are typically strongly affiliated with the anti-abortion movement, which is almost uniformly anti-contraception as well.

  • Texan

    Some of my family attends a church that goes on missions like this. They drive across texas to Mexico, rather than flying to Africa or somewhere likè that. They have built facilities for a rural village that seem quite useful (though, on their most recent trip, they were working on a church). So they have an ongoing relationship, they return around twice a year, and they provide services. Do they also proselytize? I don’t know. They are in Mexico, so it’s a safe bet their beneficiaries are not complaining if they do, but I’d guess (knowing my family and a little about their church) this is not help with “strings.”

    Anyway, I asked them out of curiosity for a counter argument. So far, only one response, but I think it is a good one: “I’ll read it later, but I can say now that efficiency is not the goal; relationships are the goal. It’s not about how much good you can do or how much you can help, it’s about showing someone that you care for and love them.”

  • EdmondWherever

    Hemant, this looks like the most recent post with your name on it, so I’m posting this here. It appears that I have a link allowing me to edit everyone’s posts. Does everyone else see that? I’m sure that shouldn’t be.

    • FTP_LTR

      I’m seeing the same, but it looks like edits don’t ‘stick’.

      [Edit - I can edit my own posts though, so that much is working.]

  • Mario Strada

    Here is a great TED on the topic;

    http://www.ted.com/talks/ernesto_sirolli_want_to_help_someone_shut_up_and_listen.html

    My favorite line is: “At least, we fed the Hippos”

  • Lori Delle Nij

    I have a little boy in my school. Misael came to church when a short term group held a vacation Bible school for the children of the village. Through that visit his family came to Christ and began to attend church. Misael was born with a congenital deformity and dwarfism. His both feet turned inward and it was very difficult for him to walk. A short term medical group came to our village, my husband the pastor brought Misael for the doctors to evaluate. They fell in love with his happy spirit made arrangements for a hospital in Dallas to do the necessary surgeries to correct his legs and feet. This same group raised the funds and flew Misael and his father to the states and provided for them during six months all the while sending money to the family in Guatemala because the father was with the child. Misael returned to Guatemala. Through this group he was registered for school at Morning Glory. I will never forget the joy on his face when he learned to jump for the first time. Then another short term group built a home for Misaels family that lived in a corn cane shack. Four groups, four mission organization. One families life was completely changed. If you don’t think short term groups are life changing go ask Misael. I sure he will debate you. Was the cost worth it? You bet, to see Misael praise and worship God is priceless.

    • KeithCollyer

      what’s god got to do with it? could these people not have done this without the need to congratulate themselves in front of son-killing magic sky man? if you had said “to see Misael walking and praising doctors is priceless” you would almost have redeemed yourself, but no, you reveal you and others only did all this to get another victim of your cannibal zombie cult

    • SabsDkPrncs

      If this boy and his family hadn’t converted, would they still have gotten your church’s help? Dollars to doughnuts, the reality would be no, although I’m sure your group would deny it.

      • Lori Pinney

        Yes they would have

    • skeptical_inquirer

      I’m not sure you’d be as cool with it if the group had been a different religion from yours. I really can’t imagine you’d enjoy saying that seeing Misael praise and worship the Goddess/Shiva/FSM is priceless.

      • Lori Pinney

        Well whenGod I see groups of ateístas, or Shiva worshipers or what ever talking medicine to The needy, building schools in thirty world countries or building houses for The poor. Perhaps then and only then your bitter comente would have validity.

        • 3lemenope

          Ignorance of the world is so tiresome.

          Do you really, honestly, truly believe that Christians are the only ones that go around and help people?

        • http://springygoddess.blogspot.com/ Astreja

          Lori, some of us prefer not to embarrass ourselves by standing up in the temple like Pharisees and announcing how good we are so that everyone can hear.

          Some of us, y’know, just quietly go around feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and ministering to the sick without screeching “…and I’m an atheist, bitches!” at the top of our lungs.

          I’m happy that Misael got the surgery, but hopefully on the way to adulthood he’ll have access to sufficient viewpoints and information to decide for himself what he believes. (And IMO, when a child has been indoctrinated into praising a god it’s actually an insult to the god in question.)

    • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

      Really? Why, after seeing this little boy learn to run and jump, is him praising God what gives you warm fuzzies inside?

      Couldn’t you have just helped, without all the god bits?

    • Discordia

      Why didn’t God just allow him to be born normal like the rest of us? And what about all the kids that are born with worse defects and die of them? Why does your God have to have so many people kiss His a$$ before He inspires people to send money so medical professionals can be hired to fix them instead of just doing the repairs Himself with His omnipotence?

  • Lori Delle Nij

    Btw. This short term group continues to pay for the education of Misael and his five siblings. They provide medical care for his entire family. There is nothing more lasting than the education of a child.

  • Carrie

    When I was being brought up in Fundamentalist churches, the preachers explained this missions to Africa thing multiple times.

    This is their reasoning: the Africans are poor because they don’t have Jesus and are being punished for it. If they turn to Christianity, God will magically solve their problems. Therefore, the best course of action is to convert them all.

    Connected to this line of reasoning was the belief that America is rich and powerful because we have Jesus. If America stops believing in Jesus, we will become like the starving Africans because God will abandon us. This is part of the reason why the fundamentalist fight secularism so hard.

    • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

      Out of curiosity, how did your preachers explain Western Europe, especially Scandinavia? Or did they just pretend it didn’t exist?

      • Carrie

        They pretended it didn’t exist.

      • IDP

        Or Japan, China or South Korea. Those places were never Christian.

  • MineApostasy

    A fair few of my friends have gone into the Peace Corps — an organisation for which I have tremendous respect — and many of them came back from their two-or-three-year tours with horror stories of well-meaning evangelists on mission trips destroying their hard work through ignorance or wilful defiance of procedure.

    There were also the stories of houses built by mission trips falling and killing the occupants in these villages because the builders had no background in house construction and had no bloody business playing carpenter.

    I realise this is anecdotal, and in this case a story related by a middle-man, yours truly, but I’ve heard so many of these stories from so many sources that I do not question their veracity any more.

    The thing is if the missionaries would just say they’re going to see another culture and perhaps try to spread the gospel I’d at least admire their honesty, despite my intense disagreement with missionary action.

    {EDITED for clarity and punctuation.}

    • IDP

      You know, I’ve read that it would be far cheaper for churches to just send money to pay for local people, who know the demands of the environment and the cost of local materials to build things than the far greater expense of sending glorified tourists who don’t know the language or culture to build things like houses and churches. Also, the latter pumps money into the local economy – indigenous painters, carpenters, bricklayers, etc. who probably have families to feed.

      • IDP

        EDIT: The former, rather. the former puts money in to the local economy.

  • Jared MacKinnon

    I love your videos, but please change the battery in your smoke detector.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      Done and done!

  • Al Dente

    I should mention a book, “Don’t Sleep, There are Snakes.” The author started as Christian missionary and linguist. He was sent to the Amazon rain forest to live with the indigenous Pirahã and translate the Bible to their little known language. His linguistic work lead him to question some of the theories of Noam Chomsky. He was also influenced by the Pirahã’s philosophy and began to doubt his faith and later considered himself an atheist. I thought it was cool that he went to the jungle to convert the natives to Christianity but in the end it was he who was converted.

    • Anna

      I agree! That’s a great book. I wish the author had talked a little more about his deconversion, but his story was fascinating.

  • Tim

    As a teenager, before my deconversion, I went on a two-week mission trip to Peru. Happily, I don’t feel awkward about that to this day, because we were actually there to build for a community, and that community was already more emphatically and proudly Christian than any of us were, so it was doing good with some sight-seeing tacked on. Most mission trips, however, always creeped me out.

  • skeptical_inquirer

    I’ve never liked missions/missionaries on principle. My brother reads anthropology books and one book talked about these tribes people in New Guinea where the guy in head of the church had been handing out bits of tobacco because it’s highly prized among them. He stopped handing it out so attendance crashed. He asked them why they stopped coming. They told him, “No tobacco, no Hallelujah.”

  • skeptical_inquirer

    A major problem as noted by someone else is that sometimes you work at cross-purposes with a group that’s there 24-7. I remember hearing one group who was on the ground 24-7 complain that this group dropped in, did some vaccinations, but didn’t keep any records then flew off after a short time so they had no idea who was vaccinated with what. This is some serious stuff considering how some areas have outbreaks.

  • IDP

    So much this! So many Christians I see go on these mission trips as free vacations that give them big time street cred with other Christians. Do people in Austria (no joke, that’s where one person I know was going) REALLY need a bunch of American Christians to come and “help” them? Couldn’t that money be better spent in say, Haiti or Syria? What? No ski resorts or castles there? Well….

  • ConureDelSol

    As much as I hate defending some of these mission trips, I have to say that you are making a huge generalization about what goes on during these trips. It is true that there are some churches that do these trips solely to preach. However, there are plenty there that partner up with other organizations that build schools, homes, irrigation systems, etc. Some go there and help pass out food and purified water as well as clothing and shoes. There are even mission trips that are made up of medical professionals that go to give free treatment to the people that can’t afford medical care in their country.


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