are mission trips worth the airfare? (part 2)

Catch up on Part 1 here. Or if you’d like the nutshell version, we’re discussing whether or not short-term missions are worth the plane ticket and what kinds of things make up a “worthwhile” trip.

And friends, as much as I hate to play my “local missions martyr card,” I am soooooo wiped out from Day 3 of Somali Club. I so want to formulate amazing sentences and make convincing arguments, but my eyes are burning and my brain is mush. I’m going to give you my best, but I apologize in advance if it’s lackluster. Please know that I’m way more passionate about this than I can articulate at this late hour.

Diving right in with Question One from yesterday: Why spend $12,000 on a mission trip when you could just give the money to the poor in Cambodia?

Well, for starters, I want to say that spending that much money on a trip might not always be the best use of one’s money. On the other hand, I think sometimes it absolutely is. And I’d love to just say that “God told us to go, so we’re going,” but I feel like that’s a cop-out in this situation.

And since I’m all about not copping out on this one, I’m going to make a gut-honest statement. I wish I could tell you honestly that if God asked us to take our Cambodia Fund and pour it all into the needs of that country (or any other country) and stay home this Christmas instead, that I would obey in a heartbeat–and willingly.

But that hurts to even type.

I’ve begged God to make me willing, because I can’t come by that kind of selflessness naturally. So, this is something I’m working on–not holding on to my plans too tightly, just because I’m convinced it’s what God wants us to do. He’s God; I’m not. If he’s not in it, it’s a no-go.

And now I can share something positive without feeling like I’m tooting my own horn. I don’t have any figures on how much our family has given to missions over the past couple years or how much others have been inspired to give because of something I’ve shared on my blog, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s more than $12,000.

I love to give. To our Compassion child in Mexico, to mission trips, to Heartline in Haiti, to Asia’s Hope, to the Hard Places Community via TraffickJam 2011, to people who are adopting, to people in need in Columbus, and to all sorts of causes that come up in various ways.

And I love sharing those needs on my blog or on Facebook and watching y’all get so excited that you’re moved to give as well. I’m thrilled that God has given me a (not-huge-but-not-small) platform to raise awareness of his kingdom work.

All that to say this: we’re not going to Cambodia instead of giving to missions. We’re doing both.

Moving on.

A few of you reminded me today of the story in Radical where a dear lady asked David Platt why he didn’t just send the money to the people in Sudan rather than going and spending 10 days with them. He wrestled with the question, then had a conversation with his Sudanese friend Andrew that shed some light on it. Andrew said that even though various groups had given them so much, “Do you want to know how we can tell who a true brother is? A true brother comes to be with us in our time of need. Thank you for coming to be with us.”

If we are going to accomplish the global purpose of God, it will not be primarily through giving our money, as important as that is. It will happen primarily through giving ourselves. This is what the gospel represents, and it’s what the gospel requires (Radical, p. 198).

John McCollum, Executive Director of Asia’s Hope, is over in Cambodia right now with his wife and their three children (I’ll be talking more about that at a later date). He shared a couple weeks ago that one of the 11 orphanages in Cambodia (there are also 7 in Thailand and soon-to-be 5 in India) had visitors from their supporting church for the first time in 3 or 4 years. They had watched teams from other churches visit the other orphanages time and time again and had waited and waited for their church to come. When they did, oh the joy!

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. James 1:27

And I love 2 John 12–Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use pen and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete.

Okay, I’m fried, but tomorrow, I want to talk more about the fact that: we want our girls to 1.) see poverty firsthand and 2.) see the difference that Jesus and his followers can make.

John (McCollum, not the Apostle) blogged the other day about Battambang 6, one of the newest Asia’s Hope orphanages. He showed the pictures of the kids when they first came off the streets and what a difference a year has made. Praise Jesus!

Oh, the goosebumps.

I’m not even going to read back through this, but I’ll leave you with 2 quotes from Serving with Eyes Wide Open that I underlined (I underlined a ton). They’re convicting, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on one or both.

1. “I sometimes wonder if my drive to do the things I do cross-culturally is more a reflection of my desire for adventure than it is to truly engage in some more noble endeavor. Is short-term missions simply a way of appeasing wanderlust?” (50)

2. “Some studies show that while participants come home with lofty aspirations of buying less, praying more, and sharing Christ more, within six to eight weeks, most resort back to all the same assumptions and behaviors they had prior to the trip.” (54)

p.s. I was invigorated by your comments on yesterday’s post. I got teary while I was reading and pumped my fists a couple times and praised Jesus for using a little bit of persecution to get people talking about missions and bringing him glory.

39 thoughts on “are mission trips worth the airfare? (part 2)

  1. Pingback: oh, short-term mission trips. {smh} | Marla Taviano

  2. Sean

    I appreciate the post. Personally, I had grown weary of all the money that was spent on airline tickets for the mission trips I had gone on in the past. As a result, a few of us founded the organization Project Pueblo ( as a way to reach out to others in need without forking over thousands to the airlines. Our trips typically run under $300/person/week, and we have been focusing on an area in the Navajo reservation called the Bennett Freeze where only 25% have adequate shelter, 10% have running water, and 2% have electricity (out of ~8000 families). We are hoping to eventually help connect other individuals across the globe with their nearby communities in need with a typical service trip experience (new culture, immersion, group bonding, some travel, etc.). Thanks for taking the time to write this article!

  3. Shanda Oakley

    This is a huge issue now. I grew up a mk in Africa and spent most of my adult life overseas. I see how much money is spent on trips and how much is lacking on the field. I think at least one trip is good for everyone…but when it becomes a yearly thing, I wonder. We returned to the US 4 years ago and my husband is now Global Outreach Pastor at a large church and a large part of his job is organizing mission trips. It is a huge struggle for me. No easy answers.

  4. Kelly S

    I am loving this series you’re doing! Short-term missions (and considering the good, the bad, and the ugly of them) is something dear to my heart. I LOVED Serving with Eyes Wide Open… a couple years ago in college I did a BIG project/paper on the value/detriments of short-term missions, and I got to talk to Dave Livermore a bit via email for my research – he seems like a really solid guy.

    While I was doing that project, I looked at a lot of the negatives (many of which you’re touching on)… but for me, the biggest positive, and the reason I’m continuing to do STM three years later, comes from Romans 1:11-12, where Paul writes: “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strongβ€” that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.”

    That’s basically a Biblical rationale for the answer many of us come up with just by thinking about it – there’s value in visiting and going that can’t be done simply through a check. (Pardon me if someone else has already mentioned that verse… I haven’t read all the comments).

    On a side note, for the past two summers, I’ve led mission trips to Poland to lead English camps through our church. This summer, we’re staying home, but yesterday, one of our friends who we met in Poland arrived here in San Diego for a two month visit. He’s a college student and paid his own way, but we get to host him for the summer. That’s definitely something that wouldn’t have happened if we wouldn’t have “gone” there first! πŸ™‚

  5. Dean

    I think a John Piper quote is appropriate here, though I’m paraphrasing because it isn’t in front of me:
    When it comes to missions, we can either passionately go OR passionately support those who go OR we can be in sin.

    I appreciate your passion for both going and sending. When God gives that kind of passion for His glory among the nations, He can work out the details for what it will look like in your life and you don’t have to worry about what other people think about it.

  6. Jen Hanson

    I had similar questions raised about the money we raised/saved/earned for our Uganda trip – why not just give it to the orphanage? But when we got to Uganda, Pastor Isaac told us over and over again how much it means to the leadership and the children that we CAME.

    Because we CAME, we were able to encourage the leadership face-to-face. Because we CAME, we were able to lift their burden for a short time by giving them a “vacation” as we spent time with the kids. Because we CAME, the kids got some much-needed one-on-one “mommy” and “daddy” time. Because we CAME, we were able to hold those kids and love them and look them in the eye and tell them they are never orphans because God is their father.

    These are things that sending a check (while equality important, but in a different way) can never provided.

  7. Kelly

    One thought on the “why not just give the $ rather than use it for travel” question:

    This will sound old-school of me, but the more I go along in the life, the more convinced I am that “just give it to them” (especially $) is rarely truly helpful (a hand-out v something earned). Giving to a place where others can access their needs is far more beneficial than giving directly. The reasons are numerous, including these: 1) the ability for someone in need to maintain his dignity and motivation in life by working to earn (which is something mankind was created to do: to work, which contributes to health and wellbeing); and 2) the greater the ability for the giver to remain anonymous before others (protecting against that darned sinful tendency to get prideful).

    So is it better use of $ to give to a charity/organization rather than to visit? How could this be measured? What does it cost, exactly, to provide encouragement v. a plate of food? How much does it cost to capture the attention of someone long enough to share the gospel v. providing them access to clean water? Should we all send a Bible and school supplies, or should someone give them physical touch, hug them and smile at them and say to them personally, “I love you”?

    Then the question becomes, should we send $ to people already there as a more efficient way of providing these personal needs, rather than take a trip ourselves . . .

    People involved in direct service need ministry, too. I know many missionary families in permanent cross-culture service who were refreshed and encouraged to go on through visits from friends and teams. Now, that’s not a reason for everyone to do it. But God does use it. So I guess I’m arguing that it is a VALID use of $, irregardless of the amount.

    Despite being valid, when is it wise? To me (and here I go being old-school again), that question comes more into play when the funds are sought outside personal earnings. I guess I do believe that makes a difference. Yes, it’s all God’s $ and blah blah, but when other’s earnings are sought & collected, then those others become tangible participants. So decisions cannot be made, in a sense, apart from these who are also participating.

    On the flip side, a family choosing to use $ they themselves have earned does have the right to use it as desired, and I mean this in a very practical way (as in, I understand that we never have “the right” to be selfish, but others also don’t have the right to judge and decide if your use of $ is selfish). By your own master you will stand or fall. We are each accountable to God alone, ultimately. So – how great it is when the family’s desire is to use their $ to provide a service and encouragement to others!!!

    Oh, dear, my deepest apologies for the length here . . .

    As for your last two Qs:

    1) Personally, I think a nice practical way to discern this (not perfectly, but best we can) is two-fold: patience and jumping through the hoops put before us. Time wears away at infatuation. Working hard toward something tests our desire for it. So, being willing to answer others’ questions, taking the time to earn the funds, filling out any paperwork, going to meetings, one more week for processing . . . etc, etc – and being patient through it all – just a great way to check motivations.

    2) Personally, I don’t think missions trips are for the purpose of changing the individual. Never. Yes, they CAN change a person, and Lord willing, for the better. But the purpose (I’m a very pragmatic person, I like to keep it real) of a missions trip is to do the work for the benefit of the others. So maybe you will have a high, and maybe you will feel interested in doing “more” for the Lord once you get back home – but so what if you don’t? While you were on your missions trip, you did the work, you encouraged others, you met their short-term needs. It is still a VALID trip. And God used it.

    1. Sharon K

      Kelly, this is a great comment… I especially like “Should we all send a Bible and school supplies, or should someone give them physical touch, hug them and smile at them and say to them personally, β€œI love you”?” Thank you for sharing!

  8. Teresa Henry

    God calls each of us to “do and go”. And “do and go” will look different to all of us. I believe He calls us to “go” (wherever that may be) so that we can be His reflection. How can we be His reflection if we only send money? God sent Jesus to live among us so that we could be in his presence. And God calls us to be “like Jesus”. God knew we needed someone to come in our presence so that we could witness what God’s love looked like. God may call one person to do that right in their neighborhood, another in their city, another state, another country. I don’t think we can question whether one person is called to go somewhere or not. It is only God who knows that answer and He reveals it to the person. All through the Word God sent people to other towns, cities and countries to share His message, His love, His compassions, His hope, His grace, His forgiveness. He sent them to “go”. And he asked others stay and they did the same thing. If Marla’s family is called to “go” then I don’t think one person should question that or debate that. It is only God who knows their heart and their desires to serve. The cost to get to where they need to go is just the way it is. They can’t help that. It costs people in biblical times to travel and it costs us money to travel. But the pay off for the love the children and the missionaries who they will serve is far greater than the money that is spent. God calls us to love the widows and the children. And some are called to love them right here and some far away. Paul sent his faithful brothers and sisters in Christ out to share the Word all through out the new testament. And people say why are we going to other countries when people here are suffering the same….God created one world…and he calls some to stay here and some to travel far…to serve HIS people. We all all HIS people.
    I am grateful that Gabe and Marla have listened to God’s call to serve close to home and far from home. I am thankful that they are willing to show their children that God calls us to serve no matter the cost.
    That’s just my opinion.

  9. Mandy

    As far as 1 goes: it’s wonderful that God gifts us to do things that we enjoy. There’s no reason that a person shouldn’t enjoy traveling around the world ministering to others. Maybe some people have the gift of traveling! But seriously, as someone else has already said, it’s the heart condition that matters. When we abide in him, we bear much fruit. When we don’t, we don’t. No reason we shouldn’t enjoy bearing that fruit!

    And number 2: I agree with Bethany. It’s like the seed that’s sown where the weeds grow up and choke it (the cares and concerns of this world). There can be seeds planted on missions trips that never take root and grow because the person allows the weeds of our culture to choke ’em until their dead or nearly so. Only by staying intimately connected to God and his truth can we fight off those weeds.

  10. ellen

    I think the who blog could have been wrapped up in – God told us to go!!! Really — there is no other explanation –
    You/We should never undertake anything that God has not directed and/or approved!!! We live in the U.S and we can’t/shouldn’t live like a 3rd world country here and find it hard to believe God would tell us to. Having an international focus doesn’t always mean going. I have been so blessed to be able to help send dear friends somewhere every other year for 20 years. The only ‘family vacation’ they took was to another country. 3 kids from the time they were very small. I have been able to ‘sow seed’ in Romainia, Mexico, Thailand and many other places. And teens are teens – really — there is seed planeted inside that really will take effect with the maturity factor.

    1. Marla Taviano

      Thanks so much for being such a faithful sower, Ellen. And I get what you’re saying about the one-sentence blog post. But I also think it’s helpful to get others thinking about things in a new way. And that takes several sentences. Or a few hundred as I seem to need. πŸ˜‰

      1. ellen

        I am just blessed to be able to have the opportunity to sow — and I will keep enjoying the few hundred sentences LOL πŸ™‚

  11. Gabe Taviano

    Question 2 really hits a nerve with me. Short term missions trips are not the only “Christian pilgrimage” that result in a crash for some people. I’d say that what we do to grow and serve in our own country can have the same result. Just look at teens going to church camp or adults going to church conferences (what I always call adult church camps).

    Sure, they have a purpose, but true progress is made when the passion doesn’t stop a few weeks later. That happens sometimes after camps or conferences, but not often.

    Thankfully, that’s happening for us when it comes to Cambodia. We’ve been there, but that wasn’t enough. The fuse didn’t lose its spark. This is exactly why those who haven’t gotten their feet wet with missions should pray hard about having an opinion. Their fuse hasn’t even been lit.

    1. Jennifer

      I was going to say the same thing! The problem isn’t short term mission trips not being “worth it” — the problem is that people lose their passion. There are 5,000 teenagers at Falls Creek camp this weekend (here in Oklahoma), and if that statement was the basis by which we judge the effectiveness of their ministry, we should just stop it altogether because it is certainly not producing 5,000 changed teenage lives for the long haul. It’s a shame that people lose their passion for Christ so soon after events and trips, but for those who come away forever changed, it’s TOTALLY WORTH IT. We should take that figure as a strong warning to be on our guard, stay in God’s Word, and keep following Christ.

      I love these posts that you’re doing! I can only imagine how God is using your words to change hearts.

  12. Shannon Wheeler

    Great words, once again! The sentiment about actually going in person being so meaningful is what I’ve heard from my friends in Ukraine as well, and not only is Jesus so intimate and relational in his approach to us (which is what we are to emulate, right?), but we are told to go into all the world and make disciples. And the type of missions trip that really stirs my heart are those people-focused, disciple-making, life-sharing trips, although I know that probably that’s because God made me a people-person, and there is also lots of value in a trip spent building and fixing and making.

    The questions you’re sharing are great. Since you want our thoughts, I’ll share mine. I see heart issues as being the central piece in both questions. We have to be seeking the Lord, and then when we know what He’s asking us to do, a lot of times it DOES feel like an adventure!

    As far as coming home not-so-changed, I think that the Lord – not a missions trip, not a cultural experience, not guilt at seeing someone’s lack – has to be the force behind change in us. And if someone expects to be changed long-term by anything BUT the Holy Spirit at work in their lives, they will not have sustainable change. These changes (living with less to give more, wanting to go where God sends us, having a heart for the nations) are only really possible and permanent as a result of knowing Jesus more, not because we have an emotional response to missions.

    That’s my first thoughts on it, anyway. I’ll be eager to hear what everyone else has to say! You’re generating great questions, Marla, and I loved your idea in your reply to me yesterday about doing a missions link-up! I am enjoying learning about the different outreaches and ministries people are working with, and I think it would be fun to read more.

    1. Marla Taviano

      Oh goodness, Shannon. You’re so right about the Holy Spirit being the only one who can effect any real change in us. Experience and guilt are so fleeting.

      And I’m a people-person too (and very inept at painting/building/cleaning), so playing with kids and smiling at people and telling them they’re loved is my favorite way to serve.

      I’m definitely doing the missions link-up. Let me work out some details, and we’ll go at it!!

  13. Dan

    I can vouch for the inestimable value of mission trips. As Americans we tend to think in terms of financial solutions rather than relational ones. However, when people struggle we want and need acts of love that cannot be delivered by an electronic funds transfer. At times God wants the “impractical” act of love. Matthew 26:7-13 illustrates this well.

    1. Marla Taviano

      Amen, Dan. And I can vouch for YOU and your heart and service on behalf of the poor and needy in your own city in America. I love it when people love foreign missions but are also hard at work where they live. Thanks for your example!

  14. Bethany Peters

    Wow. Those are some good questions. I’m going to comment on #2. We experience this same issue with the teens after they’ve come back from a youth conference/retreat. They live for the “highs” they experience twice a year, but they only last a few weeks after the event and then it’s back to normal again. So what is it about these trips that give us such a spiritual high? Here’s what I can come up with:
    1) You are in God’s Word everyday
    2) People are praying for you
    3) You are surrounded by like-minded Christians pursuing the same goal as you
    4) We are more attentive to God’s voice when we get out of our routine and do/go somewhere different

    I am interested to hear others’ thoughts and helpful solutions. I know for me that blogs are a HUGE help in keeping my focus where it should be. I choose to read blogs everyday that are eternally-focused (my #3) such as yours and Jen’s. Definitely reading my Bible daily helps. We are so forgetful! (Just think about the Israelites) When I was on vacation we had cable TV in our rooms and I watched HGTV every time I nursed Jack. I kept thinking of how I wanted a bigger house and all the redecorating I wanted to do when I got home. I decided to take a week-long break from the internet. Well, once I finally decided to check my email I read Simple Mom’s blog and she was writing all about her Compassion blogger trip to the Philippines and I was convicted about my discontentedness and selfishness. I knew right then how important what I fill my mind with, is.

    1. Marla Taviano

      The more I get to know you, the more I like you. πŸ˜‰ Those are EXCELLENT points, Bethany. Something I hadn’t really thought through. What we fill our minds/time with is so, so, so important. Wanna guest post on my blog sometime? (I’m serious.)

    2. Mandy

      Totally agree! What we feed our minds and hearts is so important! Often we feed our brains junk food without even thinking about it (at least I have in the past). I followed the Simple Mom Compassion posts, too. So convicting! Convicted me to write more to my sponsored kids and consider sponsoring more kids. Compassion and World Vision make it so easy for us to give to and even connect to kids in need.

    3. Kelly

      I would add to your list:

      5) Being surrounded by peers, maybe a whole new set of peers. This one is specific to a youth event. I think most, if not all, youth are hyper charged when in big groups with each other. Not necessarily a bad thing, it just is.

      6) Simply the newness, or a break from routine life. I think this one is huge and applies to all people (it might allow us to be more attentive to the voice of God, but maybe not always?). Seeing new things for the first time and/or having a change from daily home life is a natural form of stimulation/romance. Again, not necessarily bad, but it is a factor, I think, in people’s “high.” This holds true for almost any kind of trip.

      7) It’s easier to receive the passion and knowledge of others – and do good works – during these trips/events, because we can more passively receive them and passively follow along in the doing. This kind of goes hand-in-hand with the fact that there is usually more accountability during trips/events, too. People are almost always with you, watching you, going through a designated routine with you. When at home, however, there is more alone time, and you must actively choose your schedule and what habits you adopt and the attitude with which you do them.

      I dunno, just some neutral thoughts . . .

  15. Krysty

    Statement #1
    I have heard so many times about cross cultural trips that are predominatly born out of a desire to see the world. Yet the most powerful thing they brought home is a fresh vision of God and His presence in people’s lives throughout This world of His. So could that wanderlust actually be driven by God? I would think “yes.” He’ll do whatever it takes to move someone out of their comfort zone to see Him and hear from Him in a fresh way. God gives each of us a desire for adventure in this life He’s given us…not such a bad thing when that desire manifests itself in a missions trip!!
    So…desire for adventure OR engage in a noble cause…can’t both reasons be honoring to God and reasons to be part of a missions trip?

    1. Marla Taviano

      I definitely agree with you, Krysty. Great point. And I think adventure is a wonderful thing when you pit it up against staying in your comfort zone. The Bible is full of stories where God told people to get up out of their comfortable life and go have an adventure for him.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *