mission trip or vacation? (part 1)

I’ve read recently (and in more than one place) that time spent defending yourself is time taken away from being focused on Christ (and being about his kingdom work). My life is not about me and my need to be right; it’s about him.

So please read these next words in light of that.

I’m sharing a criticism I received last week, not to defend myself, but to explore the whole thing a little deeper–to extract the truth (and toss the rest) and adjust my thoughts/actions accordingly.

A woman e-mailed me saying she refused to buy my e-book because it was becoming quite obvious that our Cambodia thing was no mission trip, but “more like a vacation.” When I offered to give her a copy for free, she said, “If I wanted a copy, I’d buy it. I’d hate to cut into your vacation fund.”

It stung at first, but I’ve added her to my prayer list and moved on. 😉

Here’s what’s right about what she said: our trip to Cambodia over Christmas won’t be a typical mission trip. For one thing, the amount of manual labor our girls can do (especially our 5-year-old) is limited.

And I’ve been poring over books and blog posts lately that invite the reader to take a serious look at mission trips to see if they might be (at best) a waste of money and (at worst) doing more harm than good to the recipients. (When Helping Hurts and Serving with Eyes Wide Open are two really good ones that I want to discuss in depth soon.)

One big reason we aren’t asking people to donate money to the trip is so we could feel the freedom to plan a more flexible agenda for our time in Cambodia. Then no one would feel like they weren’t getting enough missions-bang for their buck. (I don’t consider buying a $2.99 e-book a “donation” to a trip–you’re getting plenty for your money there.)

Other reasons include: we want the girls to feel the “pain” of sacrifice, hard work, and patience. There’s no instant gratification here. Much of our Cambodia fund has been earned 25 cents at a time. We’ve already gone to Cambodia once on somebody else’s dollar (100+ people’s dollars). I have no guilt or regrets about that, but this time we felt strongly that we needed to do it this way.

My e-mail friend, when asked if she’d ever been on a mission trip, said no, and she’d never go on one because 1.) there are so many needs right here at home and 2.) everyone who goes on mission trips comes back with photos of their safaris and all the sights they see.

I addressed #1 briefly on Monday. And #2? I see her point, I do, but I can’t judge someone’s heart. If they see a famous sight while they’re already halfway across the world, I’m not going to hold that against them.

And I’ll tell you right now that if we ever get to Kenya to meet the dear people my mother-in-law has spent a month with each of the past two years (she’s going back for another month in October), I’ll be darned if I come back to the States without seeing a giraffe in the wild.

But I can also honestly say that I’ve been on a mission trip where the only “sights” I saw were:

–a muddy river (viewed from a run-down boat)

–several orphanages

–a genocide museum filled with human skulls and torture instruments

–a market

–a poor village notorious for child sex trafficking

–several grassroots organizations that help rehabilitate women who have been trafficked

–a school/church

–several airports

Cambodia (at least the part I know) is not a vacation hot-spot, unless you’re an evil and perverted person looking for sick pleasure in a child brothel–the exact thing we’re going to Cambodia to combat.

And a typical family vacation usually involves something other than delivering supplies and care packages to orphanages and sitting in the dirt holding children who aren’t yours.

But here’s why our trip to Cambodia is, in many ways, a selfish venture. We fell madly in love with many, many people while we were there, and we’d give anything to be able to hug them, hold them, talk to them, and play with them again. And we desperately want to give our girls the opportunity to meet face-to-face these kiddos they’ve exchanged letters with, seen a thousand pictures/videos of, and prayed for every night for over a year.

And it’s not just the precious kiddos in the orphanage. There’s Panha and Veasna, two teenage brothers we Skype (and laugh) with often. And their family. And their dad’s new tuk-tuk.

There’s Yvonne, who has become a dear, dear friend, even though we’ve never met in real life. And Pastor and his wife. And Bun Ny. And Mike. And Alli and her girlies, Ruthie, and all their amazing teammates at Hard Places. And a slew of women/girls working hard to make a new life for themselves at Daughters and Bloom.

We miss them. We can’t wait to see them again. So, this thing is personal. And maybe that does fit the vacation descriptor. When I was a kid, vacation meant just that–visiting friends and family who lived in different parts of the country than we did.

But I digress.

And I knew I wouldn’t accomplish much in this first post, so tomorrow’s will actually answer a few questions (to the best of my ability), instead of just asking them. Questions like:

1. Why spend $12,000 on a mission trip when you could just give the money to the poor in Cambodia?

2. What exactly will you be doing while you’re there?

3. What makes a mission trip worth the investment anyway?

Feel free to respond to anything I’ve said, but keep in mind that I’ll be answering this stuff^ tomorrow (and that I’ll be gone most of the day here).

Semi-related question for you:

Do you love someone who lives (temporarily or permanently) across an ocean from you (spouse in the military, family/friends serving as missionaries or on business, people you met on a trip, etc.)?

Tell me about them and how you use technology to keep in touch.

94 thoughts on “mission trip or vacation? (part 1)

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

  2. Sharon K

    Marla, when I read that you had been criticized for your mission trip, I wanted to write something right away. There was MUCH on my mind, but I waited to make sure that it was God who was speaking and not me. I think I am ready to respond in writing. Please forgive me (readers and “e-mail friend” do NOT hold anything I say against my friend Marla!!! These are MY words and MY heart). If I offend you while trying to help you understand this better from the perspective of someone who has just arrived back in the states from Cambodia, then I am truly sorry. What I am about to say comes right from my heart.
    Marla, if your “e-mail friend” refuses to buy your book because she thinks that your upcoming trip back to Cambodia is “more like a vacation” then it is only HER LOSS, not only on what I am certain is a good book, but in the real reason for our mission trips to Cambodia. I think that she was both snippy and completely wrong ~ and she would know that ~ if she truly knew your heart. “E-mail friend”, you should really take the time to know her heart. Marla has (nearly) a pure heart (I say nearly because none of us truly have a pure heart). You would do yourself a favor in getting to know her and you would be a better woman because of it. I took the time and I know I am blessed because of her and I have only known her barely a year.
    When I went to Cambodia last year for (the first time), all I saw was the devastating poverty. There is nothing like it in the US that I know of. It is amazing and one cannot understand it until they have gone and experienced it for themselves. My brother told me that you’ve not truly visited a place “until you have smelled it.” That is a very true statement. I have smelled Cambodia several times (via tuk-tuk and walking). I have experienced it and I invite everyone to do the same. Then you will understand the draw to help the work that is being done there. You simply cannot go there and be unchanged. Go, listen to the people, see the need… it will do you good.
    When Marla and her family go back, I hope that it won’t all be mission trip and it won’t all be vacation. It is my hope that it will be a good mix of both. Both are needed. For instance, it was quite the day when we listened (for the first time) about child trafficking. OK, I am no spring chicken, but I had to go to Cambodia to realize that it happens (and it is happening right under our noses, not just in a third world country). It broke my heart to hear about 4-5 yr old children having their innocence ripped from their bodies ~ literally. When I was just there, I visited the actual building where this was previously happening. There was actually a “virgin room” ~ use your imagination and you will never be the same. One cannot stand in that sort of evil presence and not cry. It broke me. After we experienced that ~ because it truly is an experience ~ we got to visit places that are making a difference. If God is willing, I will one day work toward abolishing this horrendous act. I don’t care if He uses me here or there, just as long as I am in the center of His will for my life.
    During our last trip we helped to have a kitchen built at our orphanage so that they are no longer forced to prepare all of the meals for 25 people out in the elements. This time I got to help clean a 5 story building (with no air conditioning!) to be a Boys Center in the near future. Do you think that was more mission trip or vacation? Whatever it was, it was worth it.
    This time my photos are centered not on the broken down homes with tiny dangerous walk ways over a foul smelling river, but on the beauty, the hope and the work that is being done to help these precious people. I see hope. Don’t get me wrong, I saw the devastating stuff this time too… my focus was not on that, but on what is being done to combat the root of the problems. I would like to have “safari” pictures and you better believe that when I was standing on the balcony of our new school building right next to the building that formerly housed the “virgin room” – I looked for an elephant like Aaron saw last year! I even looked for a monkey while I walked around Wat Phnom where a team did a daily VBS as part of their mission trip… I have no wildlife photos except for the cockroach (as big as my toe!!) that visited me on my first night there… and his guts splattered next to him in the photo. That is what you get when a lady has to take care of something like that alone. But if I get the chance to go on a mission trip AND a safari, you better believe that I will have some cool photos! I have photos of the Killing Fields with a museum filled with human skulls and mass graves – who wouldn’t like a cool photo of an elephant or a giraffe in the wild too?? I would!
    Yes, there is a lot of need right here in the Good ol’ USA – I agree, and there are several organizations that are helping those in need; and God bless them for doing it. However, there are those of us who have been called to help in other ways, to help other people. I would like to ask “e-mail friend”, what are you doing to help those around you… that question is more me than God. So I will simply ask you to search your heart and ask God if maybe you need to pick up a box of Kleenex and help to wipe the nose of a child in need because the harvest is plenty but the workers are few.
    When the young Taviano girls go to Cambodia they will experience many things; good bad and ugly; and they will be forever changed. I want to support them because I just might be supporting a future missionary and that is worth so much more than money. I am proud of the Taviano family for raising their own funds ~ as a family. That is a lot of money and if God wants them to go; He will provide their way through those He chooses to use. God bless anyone who helps them on their endeavor to do God’s will. Let no one stand in their way.
    Now I feel like I can go back and read part 2 and 3 and see what others have had to say about this… thank you for hearing my heart.

  3. Rosanne

    Oh and I think I might pick up those books you mentioned in this blog. I would love to read them and understand more. 🙂 Btw, I love reading this blog – it challenges me which is a good thing.

  4. Rosanne

    I really don’t get how people can criticize someone for going on a missionary trip. Honestly, who goes to CAMBODIA for a comfy vacation??? It really irritates the heck out of me when someone else presumes to tell me God did or did not tell ME something. If people were following as hard as they could after God, they wouldn’t have time to send snarky emails to others and worry about their motives. Just saying…

  5. sarah montanye

    interesting topic, I have enjoyed reading. We support and love missionary friends in Afghanistan & have missionary cousins serving in Brazil. Skype, blogs and facebook have been awesome in keeping in touch. I am thrilled your whole family gets to go back to Cambodia and I think its awesome how you are showing your girls what a sacrifice it is to get to your goal. You are one amazing family!

  6. Mary B

    Loved reading this post after our family just returned from a mission trip w/ middleschoolers on Sunday.
    Tuesday a co-worker asked me how my vacation was. Tuesday night I read this.
    While pictures may depict some silly times I noticed that the ones I took were mostly of “free” time. While we were doing ministry the thought of taking a photo was not on our minds.
    The cost? Well lets say getting back to normal just isn’t happening at my house. My mind keeps going back to the sweet kids we ministered too and the insignifigance of doing the mundane we normally do at home.
    I whole heartily agree we need to serve missions at home. But, I think taking a step away and serving elsewhere can open your eyes more to what is needed at home.
    Don’t lose faith Marla! Keep on listening to God. He guides your ways not a bunch of naysayers 🙂

  7. Krysty

    Hey girl…i am with all these other friends of yours that are super excited to watch what God does thru you and your precious family on the other side of the world. And i dont know your daily life details but i do know that your passion is also to pour out your resources on this side of the world too. No one has a right to judge how you spend your money for God, your time for God Or your talents for God. You don’t have to defend yourself and i am sorry that your motives are even being challenged here.
    Press on my friend! Miss you!

  8. Pingback: Marla Taviano » are mission trips worth the airfare? (part 2)

  9. Cathy

    I don’t know if I have ever commented here, but I just feel the need to affirm. I will never know if God is truly calling your family to this trip, but that’s not for me to judge. Regardless, you are still teaching your girls amazing lessons. You are teaching them about hard work to achieve a goal, and your goal is to go to a terrible place to minster to the forgotten. You are showing them the ones that Jesus came specifically to save in Luke 4:18. It’s not as though you asking people for money so you could pass out tracts at Disney World.
    And on top of everything else, unless you are somehow using someone else’s money without their consent to fund this trip, I don’t see how anyone has a right to judge.

  10. meghan@Spicy Magnolia

    Oh, friend, I have loved your posts lately about missions/giving. They have been tough, and personally, I’m glad I’m not the one writing them. God is giving you the words to write and His heart to share. And I trust there will be much fruit from it. I can echo your words to a ‘t’, having been transformed by the missions trips I’ve been on since I was 12.

    Jesus’ love and heart for the nations is throughout Scripture, and what a blessing to have His eyes and heart for the world…something that needs to be shared humbly yet with the passion that is His, which is what you’re doing. I hope to have our family involved in an overseas trip as we grow together. Love to you!

  11. Leigh

    I fully understand and support your family’s decision to go back to Cambodia. While I can understand why some people feel it would be better to send money than people- and it may be the case at times- nothing compares to the relationships that are built and how we can encourage faith when we are face-to-face. This seems all the more obvious to me because you already have those relationships there! When I was in Ecuador for a missions trip, we did a variety of service projects and led services. But what stood out to me was hearing the Ecuadorians’ stories and helping the church. Would the money have helped? Sure, but that experience can’t be duplicated and I think we would all have missed out otherwise.

  12. Mari

    Since I have just returned from a mission trip, I would love to address the previous comment about mission work being a vacation. My response, personally my group worked our selves into a tired stupor everynight. We cooked 120 healthy meals and delivered them to what was basically a refugee camp, two days, and then went back around and shared the gospel. Then we returned to have a party for the children, to help bring a little of Jesus’ love and some happiness. The other days we taught English, bible and computer at the church. In addition there was a lot of fellowship and relationship going on with the people there. Added to the prayer time. Missionaries work hard. Did we take a day off and go for a hike? Sure did. We needed an emotional reprieve. And I don’t think any of my sponsors will be disappointed in me. I’m very sorry Marla that someone was so insulting. I myself would be honored to go with you.

  13. Cheryl

    Oh sweet friend! I hate when people are mean.

    I truly believe that if you love people, the way Jesus wants us to, you will have a love for those who live near AND far.
    Whenever someone makes a statement like, “there are enough people around here who need to hear about Jesus” I always say (lovingly of course) yes, there is, tell me about the last person you share the gospel with?
    That pretty much shows you where there heart is.

    And remember, it was Judas who made the statement that we could have used that money for the poor. Just saying….

    1. Fabiana

      Hi Jagaa,Thank you for your very warm welcome and kind offer. I reeplid to your message yesterday, but cannot see it today. Therefore, I’m replying again.Please let me know when and where I can get books.With kind regard,Amar

  14. Janelle Taviano

    I am the “mother – in – law” smile…that goes to Africa….
    All I can say….is OBEY GOD ALONE….. period.

    If HE tells you to stay in the states….stay
    If HE tells you to go to Cambodia/ Africa …. go….

    Fear GOD over man any day, minute, hour.

    I got thrown the comment from family ! Who knew me for years…doing over 25 yrs. of ministry with children / teens, etc. in the U.S. ~ ” isn’t there enough problems in the U.S. to worry about”…..I didn’t ask God to send me to Africa….nor was I thinking or even desiring to go to Africa…I was desiring to PLEASE GOD, to SEEK GOD…to hear from GOD….to go where HE TOLD ME TO GO = Matisi , Kenya….it is there….that HE IS MOVING with ME…..in the STATES, no one asks me to come and speak….minister…etc. but in AFRICA….game over.
    SO…..it is not our choice…….”take up your net and follow ME/ JESUS..” last time I checked…..I do not follow Joe or Sam….. not even Billy , or Charles….but GOD HIMSELF who gave up HIS SON….to give the ones we are called to eternal salvation…..what is that worth….?
    call it a vacation, call it a mission trip…
    but please call it what it is…: THE CALL OF JESUS CHRIST ON OUR LIVES…for their ETERNAL LIFE.

    1. Rhonda

      Amen! God knows the plans and purposes He has for each one of us. There are people to serve all over this world and if each of us would heed our calling the whole world would be a much better place for all His creation.

  15. Gina

    One of my dearest friends is a missionary to Peru. I had the blessing of visiting with her during a recent missionary trip there. It was my first trip out of the country ever so I wondered if I would truly “get” what missions was all about if I was with her, or would I be catching up the whole time and hardly realize I was out of the USA?

    What I learned was that I came home more prepared than ever to tell everyone I know about what God was doing in Peru. Raising awareness of the needs, hardships, blessings and other fields stuff is a huge benefit to missionaries…and even more so when it comes from the mouth of someone who has seen it firsthand. I also feel so much better equipped to really pray for all our missionary friends. The challenges they face on the field are unique and often too difficult to describe in words….you need to see it. When we understand the power we have in prayer, perhaps we will understand the importance of placing a priority on it. The missionaries depend in it…..this trip helped me understand why.
    My family is already putting a plan in place to go back to Peru with our kids.

    Blessings as you plan for your own adventure!

    1. Marla Taviano

      That is soooo awesome, Gina!! I’m hoping to address in my next post (or the next) that if you come back from a mission trip unchanged, then that’s not cool. But if you help raise awareness and spread the word and pray and give and so on and so on, then WOW, your $ was worth it, huh? I thought I knew about poverty until I saw it for real.

  16. Danielle

    It seems like people feel the need to freely speak their minds to you despite not knowing you at all! While I think that is strange, and would fall into one of those (if you have nothing nice to say then keep your mouth shut categories), I will let you know what I think! I think it is a super awesome thing to have your children invest their time and money in something other than a video game or baby doll! I think it is God that would bring an entire family together to love on and pray for people thousands of miles away. I think you and your husband’s obedience is inspiring to a young mama like myself, and that doing what you can to be a part of God’s work here (which if she read your blog she would know that you were involved in ministry here in the US!) and oversees is an uncommon thing for a generation of people who spend most of their lives trying to be safe and comfortable! To say that God’s heart, therefore our work, should be only in the place that we live…..is to say that most of Paul’s life in the NT was lived in disobedience and selfishness! So…my thoughts on this…since everyone seems to feel the need to share so freely is that, God is at work in you and your family, and I think God’s work is awesome, and your obedience takes courage, time, and what seems to be a good bit of sacrifice!
    (and I think you should go get you a Nook, and read away !) 🙂

    1. Marla Taviano

      Thanks so much, Danielle. And I really don’t want a Nook right now, but I appreciate the sentiment. 🙂

      I don’t like the fact that the anonymous, public internet gives people the “license” to be mean, but I do know that God has used these comments in a huge way to grow me in just a week’s time, so I’m not going to complain.

  17. Jennifer

    You have to remember as well that any time or money you spend doing “touristy” things is actually helping the local economy. And I’m assuming that in some place like Cambodia, they welcome the business and the American dollars. I lived in a community in Namibia that was largely fueled by German tourists — none of them there for humanitarian efforts — and all the money they spent during the summer season. Businesses grew and thrived, created jobs, and gave people all kinds of opportunities. The whole town was basically there for the tourists, and Namibians benefitted because of it.

    1. Marla Taviano

      That’s a really, really good point, Jenn. I gave two of my friends each $100 from our Cambodia Fund (they just spent 10 days in Cambodia) to spend at really awesome Fair Trade shops. I love that our $ is going to help women who were trafficked make a living doing something beautiful. We’re going to sell the goods here and put the $ back in our fund. Win, win, win.

  18. Denise

    Wow, knowing you like I do, I would never question your heart and your decision to go to Cambodia. I just think that a lot of people don’t get it. Its very sad. This was a wonderful post…thank you!

  19. Ali

    I was 13 when I went on a missions trip – EIGHT weeks in Europe. I saw 6 countries and tons of sites. I was young. And so were many of the other people on my team.

    But when I think back to the most life-changing events in my life, that trip ranks near the top. I grew up in the ‘burbs – a white girl with white friends in a white bubble. Though Europe is still predominantly white, what I experienced in Europe that I was not experiencing here was culture. Those 8 weeks changed who I was during a formative time in my life.

    I can’t say that the money spent to send me to Europe could have been better spent elsewhere, but I can say that that experience put a fire in my soul that still burns almost 20 years later. I know that it was God-ordained. There is no doubt in my mind.

    And as I’ve followed your blog, Marla, I have witnessed a family who knew very very little about Cambodia evolve into a family who has been called to serve God on the other side of the world, in a country desperately different than our own. I am blown away by your obedience and passion. And I can only imagine how great God’s plans are for you and your family as you continue on this journey. Ephesians 3:20

    1. Marla Taviano

      I need to know more about this trip, Ali. You have this horrible habit of turning our conversations back to me. Enough already. And when do I get to see you again? Next week please.

  20. Jen Griffin

    I am thankful that all of this is action is going on. This means that you all are growing and that God is growing you through all of the words, comments, etc that are coming at you. He wouldn’t have placed it in your lives if it wasn’t good. I believe He is just rooting the desire for Cambodia and missions even deeper than it has been.

    I have been on missions trips…4. None of them were a vacation. I left sobbing..wishes I could take children back with me. Wishing I could stay. Anyone who has not been on one and speaks as they did to you should just shush.

    I have a few dear ones in other countries. We cannot talk about it further as they might be in danger. WE pray…we talk on the computer.

    My MIL started a ministry called ,”A Child Lives”. She goes to Uganda every year to work, love and minister to people. She just got back from a trip a few weeks ago.

    My heart hurts when I read many comments on here. I can’t imagine how yours feels. Just know that this is all filtered through God’s hand. Adversity..well Satan is hating all of this. He’s stomping mad that you are writing about marriage. He hates that you all are loving people and trying to instigate growth. Put that armor on before you hope out of bed!!!

    1. Marla Taviano

      Thanks, Jen. So much. I would love to hear more about what your MIL is doing in Uganda. I’m thinking of having a day where everyone can link up to some of their favorite missions organizations. Kind of spread the word about some awesome stuff God is doing and give people a chance to get involved.

  21. Sharon W

    I cannot believe someone actually said that (or even thought it)!!! It is enlightening though that they’ve never been on a missions trip. I did a year long missions stint (initially went for 7 weeks, but couldn’t stand not to go back for the rest of the year). Selfish? I don’t think so. While I wasn’t living in poverty like conditions in that instance, the schedule kept was extremely exhausting and my health took a major hit. So much so that when I was asked to stay on for an additional 3 months, I had to decline.

    I also visited some missionary friends in another country for a couple of weeks. Let me tell you, the conditions I was living in on that trip was nothing like any vacation anybody would pay for!! How anybody could equate a missions trip to a vacation is beyond me. You give of your time, money, heart etc. to go on such a trip.

    I just wanted to encourage you, Marla. It’s amazing to me that you are putting so much time/effort into finding a way to get to go to Cambodia, versus outright asking for money. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think there is anything wrong with supporting missionaries. At all. But the fact that you are willing to put your own sweat, blood and tears into getting to Cambodia again blows me away.

    PS I wonder if your email friend asks other authors how they intend to spend the money they’d get if she bought their book. No? I didn’t think so.

  22. Emily Kay

    I’m one of those people that is always a bit skeptical of short-term mission trips. (A few I went on in high school left a bitter taste in my mouth.) HOWEVER, I will never question a person’s motivation and heart behind wanting to go on one…that’s between them and God. Our family’s tithing conviction is to give money to organizations or people that have permanent roots, so to speak, instead of families or individuals who are only visiting for a short time. That doesn’t mean I won’t give my prayer support to short term missions or encourage the person going to minister, but I do personally feel like families and individuals would appreciate the trip more if they worked hard and sacrificed to raise the funds. Which is why I completely support the way your family is raising money to go. It’s a sacrifice and y’all are passionate about your desire to reach out to this country. PLUS I love that y’all are going as a family…the fact that your girls will be able to see the hurt in Cambodia in person is so incredible. I hope that someday my family will be able to do the same; whether it’s ministry here in the U.S. or in another country.

    1. Marla Taviano

      Thanks, Emily. I can feel your love and support (and have for a long time!). I definitely see the value in letting other people “help” you go on a mission trip, but this has been an amazing experience raising it ourselves. I say “ourselves,” but in all honesty, there have been plenty of people who have given over and above what their necklaces, books, or Scrabble magnets really cost. 🙂

  23. Jessica

    Well said, Bethany. I can always count on you to back it up with Scripture.

    I think a misunderstanding is that missions should be a “sacrifice.” That we should sacrifice what we really want (The American Dream) and go where we don’t want to be (poverty). But a sacrifice is really giving up the BEST thing we have. So mission work really isn’t a sacrifice if it’s the best thing we can do. It’s a delight!

    1. Marla Taviano

      I love that about Bethany too. 🙂 And I agree about the sacrifice. Going to Cambodia is no sacrifice for us. It’s something we want more than anything in the world. However, sometimes we have to give things up ($ that could be spent on other fun stuff, time spent making necklaces when we’d rather watch TV, Christmas presents… stuff like that) so we can go. So that’s where the sacrifice comes in. Thanks for sharing, Jessica!

  24. Cory Z

    Whether or not it is your money, money you have earned or money that you have been given (raised, donated or gifted) once that money has been pledged to be used by someone to go on a “missions” trip it is no longer up to the person that gave the money to make a judgement on how it is used (God will judge who used it and how it was used). That being said that person should pray that the money is used in a God honoring way. By my understanding that money was put toward the “missions” trip in whatever mannner because it was put on the heart of that person to give to that “mission”. We as Americans always want to take ownership back when we think that it was used in a manner we see as unfit (a safari, trip to a castle, a beach visit is it possible that at one of these places that someone might share that they are there because of Christ serving). What most folks don’t see is the greater good that has been done. Hearts are changed on both sides of the equation, the people that went were change because they saw and did things they have never experienced here in the states, the people that were served were blessed in ways we don’t understand because we do not know true poverty. I think it is sad that the people that give money toward these endeavors are not changed or at least touched because they helped change hearts.

    1. lauren johnson

      I so agree and am sickened by the American way that we feel we have the “ownership” of money we give people. I can’t stand to see someone bless someone only to critize the way they used they money.

    2. Marla Taviano

      Thanks, Cory. I think we do have to be wise about where we invest our money, but you’re right–we have no guarantees. We pray for wisdom, give the $, and trust God to do what he wants with it.

  25. Lori

    You guys have amazing hearts!!! Only thing that matters is that you are listening to where GOD leads you guys. And Savana loved the necklace the girls made for her for their Cambodia trip that they gave to her for FREE 🙂 🙂 That also shows their heart!!!!

  26. Warren

    Many, many years ago, at a missions conference at Liberty (where I was a student at the time), I ran into something a lot like this. One of the presentations was going to be from a missionary to Hawai’i, and the running joke on campus was about how many single guys were going to be “called to the mission field” in Hawai’i. They had the biggest room on campus because of the demand.

    I went with the same expectations as a lot of my friends. I left ashamed of myself. The pictures we saw, the stories we heard — I learned a lot about what missions REALLY is that day, and I’ll never forget it.

    It sounds like your email friend hasn’t really learned what missions are about yet. And that’s a shame.

    1. Marla Taviano

      Thanks, Warren. I spent three months student teaching on the island of Okinawa (known as the Hawaii of Japan). I can testify to the great, great need for the gospel in beautiful places. 🙂

  27. Missy June

    I feel that as Christians, truly seeking to live an authentic life, there is little distinction between a vacation and a missions trip. We cannot compartmentalize ourselves and we can be light, salt and savor at Disney or in the third world…the light may just have more impact in a darker place where needs are more obvious.

    Whether others choose to join in a support or help finance the trip is purely God-directed and self chosen, so there is no reason to be critical. If you don’t want to support/sponsor, then don’t.

    It is simple to me. The need to judge others when one’s own actions are not affected is pointless and only detracts from credibility.

    Marla, I think I would call yours a “family trip.” It is in keeping with you family values/purpose statement, funded in the working way most of us fund family trips and can also be a very real part of your children’s educational experience. The fact that the Holy Spirit will be with you and working alongside your time there is true of whatever trip you choose or not. It is part of being a Christian.

    Have a fantastic day!

    Oh, my mother said she met you some years ago (Sharon Hoffman).

    1. Marla Taviano

      Thank you, Missy June! And I had no idea you were Sharon’s daughter!! Yes, we met in Bellefontaine OH several years ago and have kept in touch off and on since then. (So, do you know Heidi Cortner-Holdridge?? She’s a dear friend of mine!)

  28. John McCollum

    Perhaps it would be helpful for me to weigh in, as I’m the Executive Director of Asia’s Hope, the organization that runs the orphan home that Gabe and Marla will be visiting in Cambodia.

    This is an important issue, one I often struggle with personally.

    It’s true, many missions trips are really what I would call “voluntourism.” We have many people contact us wanting to “spend some time at an orphanage.” I turn those types of people down all the time.

    Asia’s Hope doesn’t really need people to come paint fences. We can pay a thousand Cambodians to paint a thousand fences for the cost of a few round trip tickets.

    What we DO need, however, is to find a small number of churches, families and individuals who will become lifelong advocates for the work we’re doing, and more importantly, the people we’re serving. One of the things an orphan in Cambodia or Thailand or India needs is a voice. Someone who can get involved in their life and then tell the story in a compelling fashion.

    If Gabe and Marla’s trip encourages just one or two other families to turn themselves away from the American Dream towards God’s dream for his people to be fathers to the fatherless, it’ll be worth every penny. If the stories they’ll tell for the next decade get just one church to sponsor an orphan home, it’ll be worth to us every penny they’ve “diverted” from the direct care of children.

    And, as far as pure Taviano-family-self-interest goes, there are a heck of a lot of people in churches around America who spend way more on vacations or educational enrichment opportunities that net their families far less than this trip will provide for Gabe and Marla and their kids.

    The Tavianos have been passionate and articulate advocates for the work of Asia’s Hope and for orphans in general. I welcome their presence on the field, and honor their efforts to raise funds transparently and with integrity.

    Email me john@asiashope.org if anyone really has any substantive concerns about this trip.

    1. Marla Taviano

      Thank you kindly, Mr. Executive Director, chiming in from the aforementioned Cambodia.

      If there’s a paper to sign to become a Lifelong Advocate, just give me a pen.

      We so appreciate your support and encouragement and all you and your family do for orphans in Asia. We’re praying for you, Kori, and the kids.

      Stay tuned while I toot Asia’s Hope’s horn in the coming days.

  29. jess

    i didn’t read all of these responses…but i just wanted to say that i find in absolutely flabbergasting that if you would say, “hey everyone! we’re going on vacation this year, we’re going to disneyland, we’re going to see all the sites in the state of florida and we’re going to eat out every night and buy souveniers for our whole family! It’s going to be SO MUCH FUN!” no one would bat an eye…they would say, GREAT, have a great time–so good for you all to get away as a family! (and i’d venture to guess that they wouldn’t ask or care how you were earning money to fund this trip. And they would assume that since you are an author and that is your JOB that you’d probably use some money from you JOB to get there. And that maybe you had a garage sale and the garage sale money went in the vacay fund, and that maybe your girls are artsy, so they are selling their stuff to go in the vacay fund.)

    But as soon as you say “hey everyone! we fell in love with cambodia when we were there on a missions trip, and we want to go back! i’m WORKING MY BUNS off to write an ebook, and all the mulah is going to worked toward fund that trip. The girls are working hard on stuff, if you want to buy it, it’ll go toward that trip! WE’RE ALL DOING NORMAL EVERYDAY THINGS TO EARN MONEY TO GO ON A TRIP AS A FAMILY (like most people do–work for pay—, if you like any of it, buy it. If you don’t, don’t buy it. but just so you know, that’s what it’s going toward.” Then people get all crazy and judgemental. I just don’t understand. It’s money YOU ARE EARNING to SPEND how you CHOOSE. And you all worked hard as a family to earn it…

    my blood is boiling a little bit. I’m sorry for spewing.
    i might come back later to play nice…but right now…it’s all sass. so sorry. 😛

    1. Delaine

      I feel you Jess. I’m like you. 🙂

      My husband, however, would be a 2 on an Emotional Outburst Scale of 0-10 (10 being Chef Ramsey), and he’s even been fuming over what he’s been reading here.

      It IS upsetting.

        1. Delaine

          Oh my gosh me too! I totally live vicariously through him at times. 🙂 I love that he has THREE running shows on right now. That’s got to be a record.

      1. lauren johnson

        I agree too…. I talked with my hubby over this at lunch…some of these comments lately and the judgemental and legalistic hearts are getting to me….people that is what turn people away from Jesus! no one wants to a judgemental person and certainly dosen’t like them…i think we christians need to remember that and so often forget so i am right there with you with blood boiling and all 😉

    2. Marla Taviano

      Um, so you totally said so many of the things I’ve been thinking, but it would’ve been TOTALLY uncool for me to have said them myself. So, I love you. And thank you. And what do I owe you? 😉

  30. Delaine

    1.) Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” -Matthew 28: 18-20. Basically, and I think very clearly, God said, “Go.”

    2.) You definitely need to do what God has called you to do while there. That can, and probably will look different per individual. But I don’t think there is anything wrong with walking the Great Wall of China, safariing Kenyan plains, visiting the Taj Mahal or the Eiffel Tower because missionaries that LOVE the culture and history of the native people LOVE the people better. When we give or ear, or thought, and our time appreciating other cultures, exploring God’s amazing creations, it make us better Christians. And I can’t begin to quote all the Scriptures of Jesus traveling, enjoying the people that he loved. (He may or may not have visited famous, awesome sites, being that he is responsible for all thing AWEsome, and all.)

    3.) The mission trip is worth the investment, not because of the “results” that we yield, but because the Spirit of God is doing work through us. Even if “no one” receives Christ directly through your actions, GOD will plant a seed in them, and in your children, that the enemy cannot pluck away. “So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:11

    4.) We only know people here in the States, but our hearts are in India. We know no one there yet, but will soon, God-willing.

    1. Delaine


      As I’ve been reading comments to prior posts and reading this current one, I started to feel like the evil one is trying to silence you. When I read things like, “I won’t contribute to your vacation fund,” and, “Maybe you should keep [things] to yourself,” I felt that you have been under attack. but it just dawned on me! Your faith, your zeal, your intentions are being put through the fire by God Himself, not to make you hurt, but to prepare you and your family for what is to come this Christmas. I believe that this trip will be like no other trip you’ve taken before, and you can tell by the refining process that you’re going through right now.
      This is what I’m praying for you:
      1.) That your spirit is sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s love, comfort, direction, and power.
      2.) That you and your family will have a “sound-mind”.
      3.) That, even now, the hearts and minds of the Cambodian people will be tilled and cultivated by the Lord in preparation for HIS arrival in Christmas.
      4.) That you will see the criticism for what it is: Satan’s hate losing to God’s love.

      I look forward to the testimony you give on how all of these questions made you a better person.

      1. Marla Taviano

        Oh, wow, Delaine. Thank you. I just raised my hand in the air and prayed all those things for our family. Then I prayed 1, 2, and 4 for YOUR family. I’m already feeling completely awed and honored that God has allowed things to be said to me in a negative spirit and then turned around for his glory. PRAISE HIM!!

  31. Kelly

    I find this topic quite personal, too. It’s hard to sort through, because, it is true: resources are scarce which require wise stewardship, I do think there are those who go on mission trips without a right perspective (no, we cannot judge, but what exactly does that mean – I might not know “with certainty” that, for example, a particular youth is not ready for a missions trip, but perhaps I could see enough evidence in his/her life to make a wise recommendation – see what I mean?*), and there are plenty of needs right next to us, including all the “romantic” needs abroad, such as child abuse and neglect, orphans, AIDS, poverty, loneliness, homelessness, etc. I have to say, I have a healthy respect for the woman who gave you criticism, although maybe she didn’t communicate respectfully.

    All that said: I agree with you. So rather than repeating the points you’ve made here, I’ll just say I agree. 🙂

    *While on church missions committee, I remember a particular couple who came to present a ministry they sought support for from our church, and I was conflicted about their whole mission and vision . . . a story for another time, it is an excellent example of this whole issue, I think . . .

    1. Bethany Peters

      As a youth pastor’s wife, my husband and I have often discussed who we will “allow” to go on youth missions trips. We don’t want to bring teens who will do more damage than good, but on the flip side–maybe God will use this trip to completely change their heart around for Him! I know from personal experience that cross cultural missions trips are truly life-changing! Just something to think about if you ever get a support letter from a teenager who doesn’t appear to be walking with the Lord.

    2. Marla Taviano

      I get what you’re saying. We’ve given lots of money to people on mission trips and watched lots of people go, and I could point out some ones that I thought were going for all the wrong reasons (trying hard not to be their judge though). I’ve never been in a position to “weed out” people–a difficult, but probably necessary, job.

  32. Gabe Taviano

    We’ve been studying what it means to be a free Christian at church the past few weeks, compared to living a life of faith under rules and regulations. Going on a missions trip is exactly what Bethany said it is, delighting yourself in the Lord…..and if He intends to give you the desires of your heart – that’s His choice.

    If it were up to legalists, you’d probably have to be digging trenches every second of the day while they walk around with a tape measure to see how deep of progress you’ve made with your shovels. I would probably refer to that as Christian slavery more than freedom.

    Those that actually have the heart to serve and follow through with being the hands and feet will know the satisfaction of seeing their Father guide the work they are doing, and sometimes in return provide for them and give them opportunities to enjoy His world. Sometimes not, but legalists will find the speck in the eye of someone else well before seeing the plank in their own.

  33. Mandy

    I have a dear, dear friend who is going to move to France as a missionary. She is raising support now and has told me how hard it is to try and teach people about missions and why she is going and about the Great Commission, etc. It’s tempting for her to worry about people judging her – thinking she is moving to France just to see the sights or because she wants to live in a foreign country or that she is not putting enough effort into raising her own money to go, etc. We had a great talk this past weekend about how she’s not responsible for how people judge her or respond to her. She’s only responsible to do what God calls her to do. And that anyone who supports her in God’s work is blessed to participate in spreading the Gospel and furthering God’s Kingdom – they will get their reward in Heaven! Whenever anyone is raising money for anything God has called them to do, I love to remember that God has unlimited wealth. And that He knows better than we do – his ways are higher, his thoughts are higher than ours. So we can confidently follow God’s call, even when it involves raising money or asking for support from the family of God, because God’s never wrong. Thinking that we could possible be misusing money God has called us to use for a specific purpose, or that we are robbing the poor by going forward with a trip like your trip to Cambodia that you have prayed about and are seeking to follow God through, is wrong. And when we’re following after God, we can feel free to do as he directs regardless of what other people think.

  34. Shannon Wheeler

    Great questions, and I’ve been fielding that same stuff myself as my husband and I are raising money to go to Ukraine in a few weeks to visit a boy who we’d hoped to adopt but was not able to be adopted because of various time-frames pertaining to the legal systems.

    Some mission trips are based on projects you can see, like painting walls or building something, and there is certainly value in that – somehow people feel better when they can lay eyes on “something” and see what the money “did.”

    Our trip sounds like a mission similar to yours: a relationship-building, people-centered trip to share the love of Christ. Our trip is newly connected to Project HOPEFUL, so we’ll be working toward finding out how we (as Project HOPEFUL) can support orphan care in new ways in Ukraine. But before that link was made, our trip was a trip to one orphan. One boy who is our son according to our hearts. He is worth the visit. Worth the effort. We are travelling across our planet to look one boy in the eye and tell him “Jesus loves you and so do we, and you are worth all the effort of coming here just to share this with you.”

    When I look at our Father, I see One who understands the value of relationship, of “going in person” if you will – He put on flesh and came into our world, on our turf, to spend time and invest relationship. That’s the heart of Christ. God could have sent however many physical resources to earth to do all sorts of things, but He chose to come to us personally to share His heart and tell us about salvation and teach us.

    Certainly we could all send money to lots of places. And sometimes that’s called for. But in a conversation I had last night with a friend in Ukraine, tossing around ideas and trying to determine what is of most value, she pointed out that many are willing to put a little money toward projects, but the committed, long-term, RELATIONSHIPS people invest time and effort in building is of unparalleled value in the actual impact. So I believe your time spent in Cambodia will be of greater value than the dollar amount spent to go. It will impact the people there for the Lord, and it will impact your kids and your family. And enjoying it, even though it’s hard, is not turning it into a vacation – that’s having the joy of the Lord! It’s awesome, and we absolutely rejoice in serving!

    To answer your question to us: We have our heart-son in Ukraine, and we use email to stay in touch, and we have friends who care for him and other kids, and we Skype and email!

    Many blessings to you as you follow the Lord into the mission field. I commend your obedience, and I think it’s great you are taking your kids. We plan to do that next time!

    1. Marla Taviano

      Thank you so much, Shannon. So much encouragement crammed into your comment. 🙂 I remember you sharing about your heart-son. I love that you’re going to go meet him. Love it. I’d love to hear more about Project HOPEFUL too.

      In fact, you’ve just given me a great idea. Maybe in the next couple weeks, I could do a link-up post where everyone can share their favorite missions organization–to give us more of a personal peek into what God is doing around the world.

  35. Wendy

    I’m not good at judging hearts either. So I leave that to someone who does a better job.

    I’m glad you’re going. In many ways, you’ve modeled beautiful things that have inspired my family.

    ~ Wendy

  36. ellen

    Wow -I will never get over how judgemental Christians can be in the name of Christ!!! I agree with alot of what Bethany says — I also go be to — What did God tell you to do – I love contributing to your mission trip in any way cause I am not called to Cambodia! So I will so seed into you your family. I have done mission trips and I think you need to see some of the country to get a good understanding of it. The mission we went to in Hait but air conditioning in our dorm — that felt weird but the head of the mission understood that most people aren’t use to dealing with Haitian heat and it’s very hard to paint and clean etc if you haven’t slept — plus it only ran at night when the generater ran — I quote Ps37:4 often — because God’s word is true — if we Christians spent more time listening to and following God we wouldn’t have time to judge one another. Some go and some send. If every Christian was sent — who would send them/???

  37. Shelly

    I’m not usually very vocal on here, but this post hit so close to home for me. I have been on the mission field for more than 12 years, and receive regular support for our ministries. In addition, we recently spent a week with a visiting American group of doctors and nurses in villages handing out medicines and care packages. We were gone from 7:45 am until about 9 PM or later. Me, hubby and our three kids. Our youngest is 9 and this was our first time taking all three for the day-long outings. It was amazing to serve together. But on Friday of that week, we did a quick clinic in the morning, then took the group to see a nearby castle. Each of us was exhausted, but everyone wanted to see a little something special before they left. And why not? Because their week-long service wasn’t worth of a 5 hour sight-seeing trip? Who’s to say?

    I guess it still astounds me that because we receive support from other people, that they view it as “their money” when really its God’s. Happy was the day I let that rest in his hands. It’s all his anyway. And though critics will come and go, the work that he’s entrusted us to do will go on in his time, with his provision. Anyway, all that to say…This just makes me wanna buy a 100 books! 😉

    1. Marla Taviano

      Amen, Shelly! I wholeheartedly believe God wants us to rest and have fun. Now, if we’re just giving OURSELVES gifts all the time and never serving, then that’s not cool, but I know God wants us to enjoy his gifts! And don’t we appreciate them so much more after some good, hard work?

      Thanks for sharing!

  38. Bethany Peters

    I’m looking forward to hearing the answers to your questions–I have an idea, but I would like to hear more concrete explanations. Number 1 is I think the biggest hang up for people, but as I’ve been reading “When Helping Hurts”, I’m seeing that money isn’t always the answer. People in poverty need to feel loved, special, and full of worth! They need hope, friendships, connections with others and Jesus–not just money! I think there is a place for both and we should always pray for God’s wisdom as to which one we should do for each particular situation.

    I feel sorry for the woman who sent you that email. I think she is under the false understanding that if it’s enjoyable in any way, then it can’t possibly be ministry. That if she enjoys something, then that obviously is not something God wants her to do because it’s not serving God if it doesn’t make her miserable, right? While we need to be willing to do the ugly/difficult/boring/dreaded jobs, God gives us joy in our service to Him! He gave us passions because He delights when we DELIGHT in doing His work!

    Psalm 37:4 “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” When we are walking and delighting in the Lord, our desires are in line with HIS desires! You DESIRE to go to Cambodia and I am fully confident God put that desire within you! Yes, ministry is a wonderful blessing and it can actually be FUN!

    1. Shelly

      Well-said! And what better example for our children!?

      “Yes, ministry is a wonderful blessing and it can actually be FUN!”

      I wholeheartedly agree! 🙂

    2. valerie

      Amen and amen! You said this so well, Bethany. And I sadly confess that I, too, once thought if I was doing anything I slightly enjoyed it couldn’t be possibly count as serving God. Thankfully, though, God is steadily opening my eyes to the truth that serving Him is the ONLY source of true joy.

      I just came home from a short-term mission trip to Uganda. Right after I signed up for the trip was the first time I heard about “When Helping Hurts” and it devastated me. I was heartbroken thinking I was making a big mistake by going on the trip and wondering if I should withdraw.

      But let me tell you, over and over and OVER on our trip people told us, “Thank you so much for COMING. Thank you for coming HERE to love us. Thank you for COMING to show us God’s love.” One pastor of an orphanage even specifically said (wish I could put this in bold), “You could have just sent money or supplies, but instead you took your time to come here in person and love us and show us Jesus. That means so much more.”

      And as to item #1 about never going on a mission trip because there are so many needs here at home? One of the ladies on my team was told that very thing about going to Africa. She replied, “You’re right, there are many needs here, too. And that’s GREAT that you are serving here in the states! How are you involved with helping people here?”

      There was no reply.

      1. Marla Taviano

        Sadly, your last paragraph is the rule more than the exception. People who are serving the Lord faithfully in America RARELY question those who have a heart overseas. I’m all for BOTH/AND, not either/or.

        And I looooooove what you shared about your Uganda trip. Just may have to quote you in tomorrow’s post. 🙂

    3. Marla Taviano

      So true–I’ve never had more “fun” than when I’m serving Jesus. And I can’t wait to take “your” orphanage some love gifts from my sister and her family when we go!

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