Monday, March 28, 2011

#211 Taking pictures with poor foreign children during missions trips


Christian culture’s preoccupation with third-world countries has fostered many a missions trip. Homelessness and hunger are right under everyone’s nose but the social dichotomy in North America allows you to stay reasonably oblivious to it. Besides, it would be a little obnoxious to conduct a slideshow for your church using pictures of yourself with the vagrants in your own town. But Africa…now there’s a slideshow worth mentioning in the bulletin.


So the earnest Christian sets about raising support to travel to Togo or Kenya or Guatemala or what have you. The trip is around $2500 per person. That could go a long way to help the hungry in their hometown, but they want to experience a different culture, like that of Africa or Tijuana or Central America. They want to visit a culture that has drastically fewer possessions and heavier pigmentation than they’re used to. You couldn’t do that in your hometown. Or could you? Staying in a shelter or on the streets with the needy in your zip code would be a giant culture shock to your privileged ass. But still.


Back from the odious mission field, the earnest Christian brandishes the trip photos online and displays them to the congregation via church service slideshow. The impoverished people in the pictures appear overcome (understandably). The missions-minded gringos appear well-fed and dressed to play golf.


Now that they’re home they seem really interested in talking about the Great White Hope they presented to the unsaved savages and the schools they built out of cinderblocks. They seem so invested in your knowing what they’ve been up to it seems they’ve had nary a second for self-reflection. But who really knows.


Meanwhile the local needy, the hungry and impoverished and lonely and scarred remain just down the street from the megachurch that sponsored the pricey missions trip. Admittedly, it’s harder to drop that demographic into conversation when you’ve just spent time helping them, whereas an overseas trip is good for a Facebook photo album and the aforementioned slideshow. We can’t know for sure what their motives are, but something seems a bit off. When Jesus said to help the needy, what did he mean?

116 comments:

Kevin said...

My buddy just went on a mission to build a school/save some souls. The photo evidence is all up on his facebook.

BTW-nice new digs.

Hollan L Read said...

It was the big question that I asked when I went on a mission trip as a teenager. "What exactly are we DOING here?" Everyone seemed to be comfortable with being there except me. This mini Spanish inquisition-like trip is ultimately what drew me away from it all. People in third world countries need clean water, food, and possibly a government that is less corrupt. Handing out tracts and little Bibles does not do anything practical. But I can't really fault missionaries. I mean, some of them really do amazing things...medical care and education and all that. Its the whole early 20th century 'convert the heathen' thing that creeps me out. What about embrace the cultural differences and honor another's belief system?

Chris Keller said...

Is that who I think it is in the first picture? I think you love him.

stephy said...

There's a thin line between love and hate.

Billy said...

Every time our church has a big offering, they always show some footage of their trip to Kenya. The trip was nearly 2 years ago, but they still show some unseen footage, feels like a guilt trip. I'm going to give regardless of the footage, but the video is usually a turn off for me.

Billy said...

@Chris Keller... yes, that is who you think it is in the first picture.

Jenna said...

I think it has a lot to do with the idea that poor people in Africa did nothing to "deserve" their poverty and yet "they're so happy with so little! We can learn so much from them!" Meanwhile, American poor have the gall to be unhappy with their situation, on top of the idea that poor people always "deserve" to be poor, or that they messed up somehow and are just not trying hard enough to be un-poor.

It's more of the "doing things and avoiding true relationship" issue you've talked about. If they go to Darkest Africa to spend a month throwing Bibles and food around, they can leave after and have nothing to show for it but pictures of ~all the lives they changed~. If they volunteer at the shelter up the street, they (and all their congregants) are going to have to walk past it every day, seeing and knowing that they didn't help everyone. They never have the chance to discover that even though you can't help everyone, consistent attention can make a difference in the community and in people's lives, and possibly actually win people for Christ. But, you know, effort.

Valerie said...

Are those designer jeans he's wearing over there in Uganda?

Jessica Jones said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
stephy said...

Yes, we should definitely BE CAREFUL about whom we revere.

amy said...

@Jenna - Don't forget, if you volunteer at a shelter down the road, people may actually get to KNOW YOU and therefore call you on you BS if you say one thing and do another. VS the cute brown kids across the globe will never see you again and you can continue being a douche for Jesus.

Knowing that the ladies at the shelter I volunteer at KNOW ME and will talk to me if they see me on the street makes it even more important to walk the walk. And they give me reason to be a good example - if I dress or act any differently for when I'm with the ladies vs when I'm out with my friends, what does that say about my life and what I think of them?

Tony D. said...

OK, for those of us who've never been part of "Christian" (i.e. white American Evangelical) culture, who is the guy in the first picture, and why does he evoke...responses?

Kevin said...

The guy in the jeans is Jesus, right? He can't be questioned because he's holy, right?

David said...

He is Steven Furtick, pastor of Elevation (edgy! Like the U2 song!) church in Charlotte, NC. Check him out at stevenfurtick.com. Don't try to leave comments there. He won't let you. But he will let you see the pictures of him in his spiky hair and hipster apparel raising his arms in front of thousands of people. And he will be more than willing to tell you about how AWESOME his church is, by virtue of how fast they have grown, and how much stuff they have accomplished. He won't say anything about the many thousands of dollars he is purported to have dropped on office furniture recently, but he would like to tell you about his book "Sun Stand Still," about "audacious faith" which he publicized by preaching a 24-hour sermon. He once celebrated Easter at his church by dropping prizes from a helicopter. His church made a movie for their 5-year anniversary. This movie focused on the INNATE AWESOMENESS of Steven Furtick. His vision, his leading, his this, his that.
For obvious reasons, he seems to be this blog's bread and butter, the boy-prince of Christian Culture (over and against Christian Faith). Don't call him out or he might make another misty snowscape spoken word video calling out "haters."

Steve said...

So what's Furtick doing in that picture? Is he preaching to a captive audience?

Tony D said...

"He once celebrated Easter at his church by dropping prizes from a helicopter."

I don't know whether to laugh or cry...

reborn1995 said...

Stephanie,

i resonate with your criticism of doing good while away but neglecting doing good while at home. But i wanted to asked you a related question. i'd say the biggest ethical challenge i've faced in my adult faith is how to help the needy without enabling. i don't want to refuse help to those who really need it. And i also don't want to do something analogous to buying an addict another drink. Yet i've met a few people who were quite admittedly professional panhandlers. i've almost never felt completely conscientious either way when encounters happen. What are your thoughts on this?

--guy

stephy said...

Guy, thanks for asking my thoughts. Most of all I feel there's tension surrounding it. I feel there's no one way to handle it each time, besides being relational. What's funny is that after I posted this yesterday six people on the street asked me for money within 10 minutes. (Which is about 90% more than usual.) One woman said to me very quietly "I don't mean any disrespect, but could you help me? My daughter and I are on food stamps but they're not enough." I gave her what I had on me but she said to me twice "thank you for listening." She had so much pain in her eyes I felt it in my chest. She could be getting drunk with what I gave her, but I don't think that's my concern. She felt like I had listened to her and maybe she felt like she mattered as a person to someone that day. Because Christianity is above all else relational, and this blog is about how the main problem with Christian culture is Doing Things and Avoiding Relationship. Maybe buying an addict another drink will save their life, save them from withdrawal for that day and maybe one day they'll be emotionally healthy enough to get sober. I don't know. The point is, we don't know, and by virtue of loving Jesus we are brokenhearted by the things that break his heart. He said to give what you have to the poor. I am wary of giving money to Big Megachurches etc. because I feel that money isn't going to the poor, it's going to big buildings and church video production and shit. If you ask me, they they are the professional panhandlers.

Magdalene Serpa said...

Amen sister, professional panhandlers indeed.

Performance Consultants said...

From a recipient's perspective, do you still get aid if you don't want to convert?

Just asking.

stephy said...

ABSOLUTELY. Prospect of conversion should not even be on the radar.

reborn1995 said...

Stephanie,

What you say rings true with me. i used to have a job for about 7 years where i was regularly solicited (often by the same people).

i noticed in myself sometimes that i gave some of them money for the very reason of avoiding them--the quicker i just handed something over, the quicker the encounter was over. If i listened to them very long, i'd have far more details to mull over in my decision about what to do, so i'd just shove change in their hand. i definitely don't think i did the right thing there at all--as you say, avoiding relationship, avoiding getting my hands dirty, avoiding acknowledging them as people with dignity.

But i also found myself giving money because i felt pressured or guilted even though i genuinely believed it probably wasn't in their best interests to do so. --times when i did listen to them, and they very explicitly told me that this is what they chose to do for a living, or times when they were unmistakably tweaking or showing withdrawal symptoms, etc. i don't quite feel like i did the right thing there either for the very reasons you mention--failing to dignify them.

There were only two types of encounters that i ever came close to feeling okay about my decisions. First, there were people who came up and offered to help out with some of the work for a little pay. That felt like an easy one to me--i'd let them clean up the area (i cooked BBQ for a grocery store out in a smoking shed out in the parking lot) or that sort of thing for a few bucks. Second, if they said they needed something in particular, i went and got it for them. i've gone to the gas station to buy gas or into the store to buy groceries or even given them BBQ. (Sadly though, typically when i returned with requested items sometimes not even 5 minutes later, most of the people had just left.) A lot of the time that seemed to make clear who really needed the item they were asking for and who didn't.

i guess part of the problem is what you mention. Each case is different, and so i never feel like i have a reliable ethical heuristic practical enough to start the decision and discernment process in the moment. And as a result, i never feel morally settled after the fact.

Don't you think it's possible that some of these issues may play a role in why American churches tend toward third world country help *before* dealing with the same issues in their own backyard? Surely some of it is merely prejudicial. But i wonder if some of it isn't the fact that maybe the details i'm raising seem less apparent or not as relevant when considering foreign aid.

--guy

Sarah said...

Guy, that's a great question (and Stephy, I love your answer). I would add that our cultural disdain for the poor who ask for money is embedded in the Western capitalistic perspective, where you have to earn to have worth. Jesus didn't look at it that way, and non-Western cultural perspectives are a little different, from what I understand. Extreme poverty in other places is understood, I think, to be understandable, and begging/panhandling is an acceptable way to be able to eat. I don't come often into contact with panhandlers, but the few I do see on a regular basis have had a really rough life -- you can tell just by looking at them. And I feel for them strongly because some of them are unemployable, and suffer from acute mental disorders. How can we expect everyone to be self-sustaining and independent? That's far from the model Jesus taught. It is very close to the model that Western capitalism teaches.

Concern that someone will spend money on alcohol is interesting to me because it's the number one reason I hear for not giving money to panhandlers. I've only recently started to question that myself -- my policy was always to buy them a meal instead of handing them cash, but maybe I need to rethink that. I say this because it smacks of Victorian teetotaler morality to be so worried about someone drinking alcohol. Of course, alcoholism is debilitating; I get that; I've witnessed it firsthand in my extended family. At the same time it's interesting that we tend to think that we have some kind of moral responsibility for the choices that other people make. If I give someone a dollar and he or she uses it to buy a drink, that's not my responsibility. Also, like Stephy said, maybe that's the only thing keeping a person from death.

I think that Stephy's point about relationship and needing a context for everything is really important. It's a matter of seeing a human being as a human being -- not just someone asking for money, but a person created in the divine image. And our responses are always contextual as well -- and usually informed and shaped by cultural perspectives that we're not aware of. I'm trying to ask myself what I'm judging when I find myself feeling judgmental toward someone as a reflex, and then asking myself why I'm judging that particular thing. The reasons are often kind of surprising.

Again, awesome question, Guy.

Jen said...

Yes! I thought about this so often during my time in Evangelical culture. I would say that if you can't tell me the name of the person in the photo and one thing about them, you have really strayed from the relational example of Jesus.

I echo so many of the comments left here so far (with the exception of the passive aggressive biblical threat). I actually know of a church that sent a bunch of people on a mission trip to Africa while the same time here at home, they have the ushers guarding the doors during church events to make sure homeless people and prostitutes don't try to come in to use the bathroom.

What are we really doing!??

Ben Parsons said...

interesting- it looks like an issue that you may agree with MHC on- they have very little interest in international Mission.

context: i used to be a christian. i used to be a missionary.

i think one of the few things that american christians do that is worthwhile is to take some of their wealth and spread it around- digging a well, providing a school building, cutting hair so kids don't have lice every day, teaching the local language to cultural minorities so they can get a job, etc.

i'd also like to point out that the poverty experienced overseas doesn't compare at all to the poverty we have here in the US, so i think going to where the poor are is justified. yes, it's expensive, and there may be cheaper ways to do these things, but to take a 16 year old to a developing nation has the potential to teach that kid some global perspective and empathy that he/she might not pick up in the states. that perspective would come in handy for them as an adult.

steph- have you been in developing nations? do you know what i mean?

i may be missing the point of this post- if so, apologies.

G&T said...

outstanding blog. you're motivating me to get back at it.

keep up the great work, calling out the absurdity of christian culture.

G&T

Kevin said...

@Ben, how is the poverty "there" different than "here"?

Ben Parsons said...

i just mean that it's exponentially worse, using data like average life expectancy (32 in swaziland) infant mortality, available clean water, available medical services.

i don't mean to downplay what is going on for america's poor. i want that alleviated as well, but our poor would be "upper middle class" in a lot of african nations. the worst 10 for life expectancy are all african, and range from the above up to 44 years in the Central Af. Republic.

here is a telling map put out by the UN of its member states:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Life_Expectancy_2005-2010_UN_WPP_2006.PNG

and here is a chart showing gross national income, showing that in about a dozen countries, people are living off of (what could easily be) one month's SSI check in the US but making it last for a year.

i hope this doesn't sound snotty. thanks for asking.

stephy said...

I've only been to Canada so I have no idea what it's like.

Ben Parsons said...

but i thought you were from texas-

Billy said...

echoing what Ben said, I've been to Dominican Republic twice on mission trips. I'd have to say, that the impact on our youth was much greater than the impact on the locals. A lot of the stuff we did was pointless (I thought), but we did some things like feeding local villages, which were pretty much sugar cane slave villages; they didn't let them leave. By they, I mean men on horseback with shotguns. Their poor is not comparable to our poor. Families living in 10x10 cinderblock homes, dirt floors, etc. I remember seeing one barefoot and pregnant teen who's feet were so swollen her toes didn't even touch the ground. She walked on gravel like it wasn't nothing. I agree with Steph, but Ben has a valid point as well.

Tony D said...

Wow, Billy - - your report reminds me of a quote from a priest somewhere in Latin America, something along the lines of, "When I feed the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they're poor, they call me a communist."

All of us Gringos are those guys with the shotguns...as long as we clamor for our cheap sugar at the MegaloMart.

Kevin said...

Well Ben, I gotta disagree with you. Using aggregate data to say that the totally subjective and personal reality of poverty "there" is worse than "here" is just faulty reasoning. Poor people the world over have the same low life expectancy. Don't fetishize those numbers without putting them into perspective first.

People are literally starving to death minutes from where I'm sitting.

Kevin said...

@Tony- great comment. What connects the poverty there and the poverty here is the fact that "we" (the not poor) feel that it has nothing to do with us. But if we investigate the "why" it comes down to the fact that my luxuries require their poverty.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the intelligent discussion, I have been re-challenged by the comments on giving. I remember reading Brother Andrew's first book "Open Doors" and how he was challenged when staying in Glasgow. He had an open pockets policy from what I remember.

Sarah said...

Tony D., Kevin, yesss, thank you.

Billy made a comment that I like: "the impact on our youth was much greater than the impact on the locals." Ben, maybe this answers your question as to why this obsession with short-term missions trips is questionable. In the end, the benefit is mostly to the people who go on the trips, not the people on the receiving end of the mission. And there's something really self-serving about that.

I think sending aid to other countries is a good thing (sometimes), but I think as Americans we tend to go about it in unhelpful ways. Is it really that helpful to build a cinder-block church? Is it really that helpful to paint kids' faces?

Domestic volunteering can be just as un-useful. A friend of mine did volunteer coordinating at a homeless center, and she talked frequently of the extreme frustration of the phone calls she'd get from youth pastors wanting a day project to work on. "Do you need walls painted? Do you need cleaning done?" they'd ask, and of course she'd say yes and try to find something for them to do, because you don't turn away a volunteer, but what they really needed were diapers and people to make regular weekly commitments to bring in meals. She also said that people were really resistant to doing anything other than what they already had in their minds that they wanted to do. It almost didn't matter to a lot of people what the homeless people in that building actually needed; what mattered most was what the volunteers were willing to give, and how that impacted their image of themselves.

In the end, the question is, What do the people we want to help NEED? Not, what do I want to do for them? I think that a lot of the things we the privileged try to do for the impoverished only makes us feel good about ourselves, without really benefiting anyone else. And the problem with saying, "But at least they were exposed to another culture and another place" is that the exposure often takes place screened by a particular lens. People who smile and look grateful might have to smile and look grateful. But what good does a particular missions trip or volunteer project really do?

And that's not to say that all short-term missions trips are bad. Just that there are a lot of useless things done for a lot of them, where the money could be better spent if a little more thought and research were put into it, to find out long-term effects and see where need really lies. I think if a lot of people reevaluated the effects of what they do, whether domestically or overseas, the activities would change.

There's a lot of avoidey-ness in short-term missions trips. I'm with Kevin on that one. With short-term missions trips you get to go somewhere new and exciting and exotic, "experience" the "natives" like you experience exotic critters in a petting zoo, take a lot of pictures that make you look good, come back feeling pious (one of my family members went on a missions trip to the Dominican and came back claiming a completely changed perspective, and she was right: She became, temporarily, really smug, callous and insufferable) and ignore the suffering a few blocks away from your house, office and church, of which you are an integral part and to which you cannot help but contribute. Which does little to further the mission of Jesus.

Of course, I say that as someone who still buys the cheap sugar, which makes me just as culpable as the next person. Actually I feel sick now because of that, and am now going to go look up Fair Trade in my area.

Joe said...

this blog is irrelevant. The blog should talk about how many christians arent actually doing any missions instead of pinpointing people who go overseas for missions and trying to make a mockery of what they are doing. If more christians really lived out missions work you would have both people who were ministering to the homeless and less fortunate in America and people going overseas. The criticism should be given to the churchs who arent trying to reach both demographics. This blog was in my opinion a waste of a read and my time. A rather nice try to poke fun at christians in a satirical way though. Too bad it wasn't humourous.

sarah.hennagin said...

I agree that I am often frustrated by the "showy-ness" that can go with people's efforts at ministry, whether it's pictures with African children or bragging about having a friend who's homeless. At the same time, if it's part of how someone figures out how to love others and be a good citizen, perhaps that can give me more patience for it. People don't automatically lose their need for affirmation and recognition when they become Christian...as much as perhaps I think they should. I haven't lost mine either, just found ways to be sneakier and less obvious about it.

I don't necessarily think it's bad to spend money on a big, un-helpful mission trip if it results in education and exposure, especially for young people. I also think one-time noncommittal youth group service projects can be valuable, even though I facilitate a lot of them at the nonprofit where I work and they can be a huge pain and not very useful.

I think the catch in both of these cases is that it would be way less obnoxious if we were all more honest and humble about what we're doing...like by saying "we are here to learn from you, and be helpful if we can" instead of "we are here to save you because you need what we have." Thoughts?

Jen said...

Joe, glad you know now not to waste your time here. Peace.
Stephy, love this post. While I do have fond memories of taking my youth group kids to mexico 12 years ago, the trip had way more of an impact on me and my high schoolers than it did on the kids in the orphanage. In that way, I'm glad I got a trip to Mexico out of being a youth leader. Later, I wanted to live in Sri Lanka, so I saved up money to pay a children's home rent (ended up being about $900); I stayed for 6 months, and it certainly was life-changing. It was a relief that I didn't have to 'answer' to anyone about how many souls I rescued (i.e., in the case that someone else from some church had paid my way). There certainly was crippling poverty there. The thing about pain and sadness though is that it's all relative. I work with lots of young people who don't have either parent (one's in jail, and the other one's on the corner smoking crack), this pain is as intense for them as the limbless beggar who sleeps on the street in Colombo every night. I have to be honest with myself now when I travel or move elsewhere, that it's more about my desire to see the world and grow than it is to spread my americany christiany goodness to all.

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

I understand the essence of the blog post and the criticism of many (most??) of these mission trips. At one time, I saw some literature for a mission trip company that emphasized the fun and shopping aspects of the trip as much as any of the evangelistic aspects. Mission shouldn't be just about feeling good or collecting pictures, etc.

However, my husband has gone on 5 Habitat for Humanity trips and one for The God's Child Project. I also questioned the concept of spending the money on this instead of just sending the money, which could then pay for local labor. He said that a large portion of the money that one has to pay to go on these trips actually pays for the building materials for building the houses.

He convinced me to go with him to Uganda for a Habitat trip.

The difference with Habitat and God's Child is that it is about DOING, not spreading the Gospel. They are Christian based, but anybody can be part of it. They are about service and living with the people served (with Habitat, that depends on the leader, however.)

There is no other way, I'm convinced, to really understand what these other countries are like, the oppressing poverty, and the pride and generosity of the people. Only by actually observing this can a person understand that poverty isn't just because a person is lazy or drinks too much. There is no other way to experience the sense that there are people living great lives, having lots of education, yet they may have to live in huts. There is no other way to experience the caring and service of the people being "served".

In our case, we have made deep friendship, lasting 8 years now, with some people in Uganda. And because of our trip, we've been able to help provide educational opportunities for hundreds of students there.

So while I might shudder at some of the images that people might post from a mission trip, these pictures may only tell a small part of the story.

Not all these trips are done just to feel good. Not all the trips are about giving a few Bible lessons so one can say "I did some evangelism." In most cases, I would guess that God is at work in the visitors' hearts.

In any case, they would have to be evaluated on the merits of each trip.

And how many of those posting criticisms, saying, well, serve the people down the street have actually done just that?

Mark DeYoung said...

Looking back on my fundie days, it seemed most of the missionaries we sponsored were either in the third world or the parts of America that resemble the third world. There were few if any missionaries to Western Europe, Canada, the Ivy League, Portland Oregon or Vermont.
Fundies know that best places to find converts are among the poor and uneducated. If the natives believe your cell phone is a magic device, then it’s easy for them to believe in the magic of Jesus.

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

To Mark DY: It does certainly seem that the majority of missions are to lower income areas of the world and in our country. But one needs to figure out, are these missions to "serve" the least of these or to convert people. There is a big difference in intention and action, depending on the answer to that question.

As to cell phone, times have changed. In many third world countries, as well as in more developed countries around the world, the cell phone systems have been more advanced than in the US. It is far easier for the government/or companies to supply an area with the infrastructure for cell phones than for land lines. In many cases, the capabilities and uses of these cell phones was more advanced than in the US, before the IPhone came out. Two examples I've encountered: In Korea in 2000, literally everybody had cell phones, and these were more advanced than the phones here until just a few years ago. In Uganda, we could be sitting with a group of people, out in the countryside, eating food cooked over an open fire, and hear the Nokia ring tone coming from somebody's pocket.

Don't assume that just because a country is "poor" that it doesn't have technology, education, or communication.

This type of thing is exactly what these trips teach: our stereotypes are crumbled.

Ben Parsons said...

Kevin- those numbers are the answer to your question about how poverty is different in different places. It is worse in some places. I assume you agree.

Chrissy said...

Joe, Just because a post does not say what you would like it to say does not mean it's irrelevant. Nonetheless, here's a post that "should" be more relevant to you:

http://www.stuffchristianculturelikes.com/2010/04/144-word-should.html

Ben parsons said...

Kevin- I'd also really, honestly like to know where/who the peole are that are starving to death in Seattle. I'm pretty sure that could be remedied in some way.
The safety net we have here is certainly flawed, but I think most people would rather have AIDS, be homeless, etc in Seattle than in, say, Angola.

Kevin said...

Ben-I work with an anthropologist who works with the mobile-homeless. I've done the first hand, honest-to-god, research. He and I have gone out to them, talked to them. Literally dude, I've seen 'em. They exist.

And you're right, their plight could be remedied. My question is, why isn't it? Why are the people dying here somehow less worthy of your attention than the people there. Why is someone who is trying to help, also trying to say that the suffering folks here not worthy of their help?

And I'm pretty sure that the hypothetical that has AIDS might be better of here, I'd rather not have AIDS while being a NON-elite in this country. Similarly, I'm sure the Portugese in Angola are doing fine while the natives die of AIDS.

The Rodney said...

Short term missions are mini-vacations... period. They are meant to develop the "missionary" but as a result the targets of the mission benefit a little from their efforts. The $2500 is better spent sponsoring a fulltime missionary or, as Stepy said, some local efforts. Short term missions are a good way to learn how fortunate you are as an American but when you go your enthusiasm should be tempered knowing you are the student... not the savior.

Anne-Jayne said...

@ Ben Parsons
I can't speak for America but I can speak for Hamilton Ontario where the richest and the poorest neighbourhood in Canada are right next to eachother.

Population demographics look at national or provincial/state trends and don't look at individual neighbourhoods.

Regional population demographic studies have shown the life expectancy in the poorer regions of Hamilton is WORSE than third world countries. And that there ARE kids starving.

This makes me cry!

I have friends that purposefully chose to live in the worst neighbourhood and form relationships with their neighbours. They are examples of what I would like to be like.

Mon said...

This is really great, especially in conjunction with observation with #204: Not giving money to the homeless.

Cynthia said...

Domestic Missions= Liberalism
Foreign Missions= Evangelism

I had written a rather long, well thought out post expounding upon my experience in both the foreign and domestic mission field along with some observations about how we as Americans struggle to allign our American ideals with our desire to be the hands and feet of Jesus...then I hit "post" and it was all deleted. This is all I have the energy left to type. Alas.

Annie said...

Wow. I understand your point but I just can't embrace it as much as most commenters.

I think of all the people who followed Jesus around. So many wanted something from him...healing, fish & bread, a new government. Surprisingly, He gave them what they wanted (except the govt) for a good long time. Why? Maybe because He hoped they would stick around long enough to hear what He was calling them to--something higher and deeper. When he finally told people to "hate mother & father" and to "pick up their cross and follow" Him, he suddenly lost a lot of his fan base. Those who were left were the ones who changed the world.

But you couldn't say He didn't offer the real deal to the multitudes.

Maybe that's what these trips are. People go on them for all sorts of reasons--a lot of selfish reasons--but at some point Christ is going to call them to make it real. Give yourself heart, soul and mind to Him. Many mission-goers get that and pursue the Great Commission from their first trip onward. Others don't. Jesus never expected everyone to get. That's how it works. We get to choose.

I got enough to deal with when it comes to whether my own heart and life are sincerely living out my faith. I think we'd all do better to look inward at our own motives then to try to pass judgement on why we think others are doing what they're doing. You do a great disservice to all those who are working their butts off to help the poor wherever they may be.

Kevin said...

Anne-Jayne is right on the money. Facts and figures are great, but aggregate data about "here" and "there" is misleading at best when it comes to the personal and entirely subjective nature of severe poverty.

Ben Parsons said...

i understand that poverty is both "subjective" and "personal".

it is also quite systemic.
i don't know about what's going on in ontario, but let me use seattle as an example.

if a poor person falls down on the sidewalk and has a seizure because they haven't eaten in some time, or they have some other medical issue, someone will call emergency services, and if they are in need of medical attention they will be hospitalized. because a hospital exists. and ambulances. and doctors.
we also offer free food all over the place in downtown seattle, along with free housing (although it's pretty full) free treatment programs, and all manner of job-getting assistance.

in a lot of the places that i've been, (i'll make it personal so that these pesky statistics won't be distracting) there aren't hospitals. or doctors. or free food. or drug rehabilitation. if someone falls down on the side of the road, they will probably die. there's no infrastructure.

US cities, with the myriad of challenges they face, especially right now during this recession, in no way compare to the lack of resources available (at a systemic level) in much of the developing world.

we have homeless camps in seattle, for example, that you could easily visit every individual in one day. contrast that with the urban slums of major cities like Mumbai, which you could not walk across in a day.

is this making sense? the reason it concerns me so is that often christians tend to overpersonalize issues- like racism for example, and deny that it is a systemic issue.

as poverty is both personal and systemic, it must be dealt with on both levels.

an example- digging wells. there are several organizations that just want to dig wells in areas where there is no clean water (is everybody ok with that?) it makes very little sense to dig wells in seattle, because seattle has a water system. there is water everywhere. we shoot it at our cars, we give it to dogs, we flush our pee with it.

if you wanted to dig a well for someone, would you look at data about where clean water was? or dig one right next to the homeless guy you met that day? i'm fairly certain that every city in the US has clean water readily available, while there are millions of people in developing nations which have none.

i'm not saying neglect the guy you met. i'm saying that money from the US that is being used to dig wells is money well spent.

hypothetical- if you were given 100 tons of rice, and you could place it anywhere in the world (i assume you would want to give it away, because that's carbs, and nobody wants to get fat) where would you give it? would you air drop it in to seattle? of course there are all kinds of problems around this "air dropping" mentality, but when your whole town has had nothing to eat for a few weeks, it's a big help.

would you use any statistics to decide?

i'll use a generalization that i think is completely accurate: the real difference between what is going on in N. america and much of the 3rd world is this: when people in america are starving, or having other serious issues, it is because they are not accessing existing services. when people in the 3rd world starve it's cause there is no food.

i'm starting to wonder what's really going on here- it seems that several of the posters do not want to admit that there is a level of poverty existing internationally which really can't compare to here.

i have very little doubt that what i'm writing will garner any response other than what has been given already.

i just wanted to take one more shot at advocacy for those who don't have hospitals, or doctors, or water.

thanks for listening.

presentlyhuman said...

The church I attended, interestingly, never made any attempt to hide the fact that going on mission trips was about the person going. All the talk surrounding it was always "You need to go on at least one mission trip in your Christian life to see how God will radically change you!" It was about what it would do for your faith, your relationship with god, and being accepted into the club of Christians Who Were Mature and Cool Enough to Go on a Mission Trip.

Anonymous said...

Dear Ben Parsons

Just a separate aside when you mentioned " i'm fairly certain that every city in the US has clean water readily available "

Maybe not. I've just seen the documentary 'Gasland' and I think the fracking process will be something that "you reap what you sow"...

But don't worry, we're trying to keep up here in Australia, busy trying to poison our finite 1,000 year old filtered Artesian basin water.

You do have a point about life quality or lack thereof in other countries. But don't negate the extreme psychological pain for those who have had, and then lost. And who then to try to exist alongside a national ethos that preaches wealth and success. Will Smith's movie "The pursuit of happyness" [sic] just revolts me.

CC said...

I agree that the pictures are cheesy, but there is a difference between hunger and starvation. I hate that children will miss a meal here in the states, but there are little to none that are not guaranteed at least one meal a day. Overseas, however, that is not a guarantee. In some places, starvation is a reality, where, depending on the source, anywhere from 12000-18000 children die every day from hunger or hunger-related causes. Of course the entirety of it is ridiculous since global food production has never not been a problem in almost a century and will never be beyond this point. It's the distribution that is painfully mind-blowing.

And, of course, that's where the army of golf shirt-glad white men come in.

Rob said...

I just got back from West Africa and I met more professional panhandlers there than I have met living in the US. Except the West African panhandlers wore suits and drove nice cars and either worked for the government or for churches.

Anonymous said...

To be fair, Blood:Water Mission, started by Jars of Clay (pictured at the bottom) is responsible for raising money and awareness concerning the HIV/AIDs crisis, as well as giving thousands of people in poverty-ridden countries access to clean water. Pictures of Diesel-wearing ministers/showboats aside, not all trips are hollow publicity stunts.

stephy said...

I would bet my pinky finger that Dan Haseltine left the above comment.

There is a lot of tension around this subject. There's so much untold need around the world and missionaries do some good sometimes. I'm trying to showcase how people outside of Christian culture see people who call themselves Christians going into these countries and how self-aggrandizing and exploitative it seems of them to use pictures of them with those living in poverty in their church's or band's propaganda. It's very "left hand, look what my right hand is doing." I hope people will see my angle, and also be upset, because I believe Jesus is upset about it.

Tony D said...

Good point Hostess (w/the mostess). It's very unbiblical to *publicize* our good works.

(test to see if I can do html: publicize)

Kevin said...

"I'm starting to wonder what's really going on here- it seems that several of the posters do not want to admit that there is a level of poverty existing internationally which really can't compare to here."

Ben, there is no need to make vague conspiratorial aspersions. I disagree with your point. I disagree because I have seen poverty here in Seattle that will melt your face. I disagree with you because I study this and I know that there is brutal, crushing, and lethal poverty here and it is just as bad as it is there. That said, there is no other motive, I simply disagree with you. That's what threads like this are for, working through disagreements.

I don't think you are a bad guy. You seem to care about poverty and that is commendable. But what you are saying here is myopic at best, and dangerously dismissive at worst. The worst part is that you're line of reasoning is SO close to accurate.

Stephy just tried to refocus this conversation and perhaps we should listen. I tend to think that when commenters start casting aspersions ("certainly something MUST be going on if those pesky curmudgeons wont agree") then the thread has turned into a pissing match.

Chrissy said...

The problem I have with it are the feelings such slideshows used to conjure in me. The work overseas looked romantic, sacred, and important to God. Whenever there is a slideshow, with sappy music, attempting to prove how "powerfully God is moving" in another place, it ends up discounting the work of an average person. It assumes God is not working in more comfortable places. It assumes that daily tasks lack value. You never see a romantic slideshow of office workers hugging each other, surrounded by cubicles and coffee mugs. However, people have relationships with coworkers, and they help each other through their daily lives. Many are very close friends, but it's simply not romantic enough to showcase in church. Truly loving your coworkers of equal income is simply not viewed as much of a self sacrifice compared to fulfilling the needs of strangers who you can't barely communicate with.

The manipulation factor elevates overseas work, and cheapens domestic work, neither of which, deserve any recognition. If people need help, we're supposed to help each other. When we say "Look how much I'm/they are helping!" My response tends to be "Well, duh. We're supposed to help each other." It also assumes that those offering the help are somehow more sufficient than those in need. Rich people are equally as human as poor people. When the rich are assumed heros, they miss out on receiving help. Essentially, they become fakers. This is merely a different type of poverty. Poor people don't need rich people. They need the stuff rich people have. When rich people assume they don't need poor people as friends/human beings, it creates a barrier. You come away feeling good about yourself for helping, but bad about yourself for having. If you are truly connecting with others, giving and receiving according to the depth of relationship, the self-centeredness is not part of the equation. You're just friends.

There is more intimacy between me and a friend watching TV on my couch than I have had with any of the people I have photos with from various countries. Why don't they show a slideshow of that? Because it's not about relationship. It's about religion. I believe that is what "seems a bit off."

Tony D said...

This week I've been reading Pope Benedict XVI's (AAAAH! RUN! IT'S THE WHORE OF BABYLON!!!) 2009 encyclical Caritas in Veritate (Charity - - or Love, I think the Latin means both - - in Truth), a lot of which I think is germane to this discussion. Chrissy's insightful remarks remind me of something he says. He's discussing economic development in the age of globalization, and the interplay between rich and poor countries in that context. (And Benedict has a very broad definition of economic development, which he pointedly insists must include economic activity which is not motivated by profit. This includes, if I'm reading him correctly, what he calls "gratuitous" activity, from the root meaning "grace" or "gift;" in other words, what most of us mean when we say "charity.")

Anyway, what Benedict says is, "According to (Pope Paul VI), it (i.e. economic development) was not just a matter of correcting dysfunctions through assistance. The poor are not to be considered a "burden," but a resource, even from the purely economic point of view (emphasis mine)."

Now, Benedict is talking about the role of "the market" here (which I personally consider to be this country's dominant idol right now), so maybe I'm taking him out of context; but maybe he's also saying much the same thing as Chrissy's thoughts: "It also assumes that those offering the help are somehow more sufficient than those in need. Rich people are equally as human as poor people. When the rich are assumed heros, they miss out on receiving help. Essentially, they become fakers. This is merely a different type of poverty. Poor people don't need rich people. They need the stuff rich people have. When rich people assume they don't need poor people as friends/human beings, it creates a barrier."

PS Another vast improvement over B'net: A preview option!

stephy said...

Chrissy...beautiful.

Ben Parsons said...

Yeah- I mentioned in my first post that I may not be getting the point, but steph made it pretty clear to me now (above) It looks like I'm off topic.

stephy said...

Y'all can go off topic. Really...go off topic. I won't be mad.

Ben Parsons said...

well, ok. i guess i asked some questions in my super long post that could be addressed.

my thoughts on this are based on my experience with the poor in the philippines, india, china, thailand, and seattle.

the majority of my time was in seattle, and my statements about infrastructure and systemic problems are drawn from that.

doing my best to share my opinions based on my experiences.

i do consider it a real bonus that i'm "so close to being right". thanks for that.

Tony D said...

Kevin, can you say more about how the Seattle poor you're talking about have no access to food? I, like Ben, don't quite understand how that's possible in the United States, what with food shelves, food stamps/"nutritional assistance," etc. Please be as specific as you can.

Anonymous said...

As a missionary in Guatemala, let me point out you spelled it incorrectly.

stephy said...

Thanks! Sorry, I'll fix it.

Chrissy said...

Ben, I don't think you're missing the point. I was going to say something similar but you had already said it so I didn't. You're basically saying that helping those in need is good no matter where you help them or how much it costs to do it, right? That poor countries are filled with poor people so we might as well go there? I agree with that. I don't think it's wrong to go to the poor in other countries, even if it would be less costly and more efficient in our own. Helping people is helping people, and wanting to help and following through with it is noble. For me, the evangelism factor makes it tricky. I mean, I would never argue that the Peace Corps should stop their work because the money could be better spent on ridding America of poverty. If needs are being met, I say go for it. Christian or not. What really gets me is the hype. What Christians lack in practicality they make up for in hype. If they lost the hype I probably would overlook the impracticality all together, but because the hype exists it effects the way we view and help poor people here. I think that's what Kevin's mad about. That the church implies that foreign poor are more worthy than our own. IDK. Am I onto something?

Chrissy said...

Thanks Stephy and Tony D! I try... :) You may now refer to me as Pope Erickson I.

headscratching said...

One thing that I'm not sure has been addressed directly in the comments is the sense of entitlement Americans have about even something as intangible as personal spiritual transformation. Saying it's OK if we spend a ton of money to go on mission trips because they change us by showing us what the rest of the world is like is a tacit argument that we deserve to be able to buy the opportunity for that kind of growth. It's no wonder Americans have such a reputation for cultural imperialism when we assume the right to dip our bacteria-laden fingers in any pie to gain a sense of 'perspective' or 'understanding' in order to be properly motivated to give a damn about the very things Jesus commanded his followers to care about.

Why not spend the money to send a smart kid from Guatemala to a school to learn how to engineer clean wells, or to pay the salary of a Haitian pastor so he doesn't have to work three jobs on the side and can actually focus on full-time ministry? Because then we don't receive the feelings of importance and epiphany we get when we artificially buy our way into sharing the glory of the experience. If American Christians can't be cast as the heroes in a particular scenario, they'll move on to one in which they can. It's their right for distributing the little green tracts with "In God We Trust" printed on the front.

Jesusphreaq said...

I've been reading "The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical" by Shane Claiborne, and he asks a lot of the same questions about Christianity and the mission to the poor. Unfortunately, I'm coming up on chapter five and I'm worried about whether he's ever going to answer them.

This post and the comments to it together have begun to go a ways toward answering my own questions. It's great to get the perspective of so many thoughtful people. :) Thanks everyone for having such an interesting and educational discussion!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for permission to go off topic Stephanie, 'cause um actually already did!(I sensed a frazzled mother tone there though!) See I just like that word "fracking" it just sounds so, so...fracking! Just needed a temporary reprieve from the hefty debate, in which all parties succinctly laid out such thought provoking points. Now to deviate again...and suggest perhaps a future 'Christians and the environment' post? (if you haven't already covered it)ie the "don't bother - the rapture will come first" mentality as opposed to the great commission in Genesis to care/tend for the earth.

Kevin said...

Getting specific is too much to do. Here’s some traces of what I know. Some is history, some is empirical. All of it is stuff I study as an anthropologist. I’d be happy to provide sources for those things that are not empirical.

Thirty years ago America went through something called “deinstitutionalization,” we closed almost all of the state mental hospitals and planned to replace them with “community mental health centers.” Those never happened. We instead just dumped a bunch of sick people onto the streets. This was bad all over, but especially bad for schizophrenics, many of whom either end up in jail, or they end up hidden in the streets. They do not find help (when there is help to offer them) because they cannot get the drugs that take away the fear that prevents them from help. So they hide, they eat trash. End up as unclaimed bodies.

Twenty years ago Bill Clinton “changed the face of welfare as we know it,” by dismantling it. One of the things that he did was to further decrease the amount of benefits the duration of allowable benefits. So, people who were tenuously getting help through benefits were dropped. In anthropology, not that y’all care, we call this class of entrenched, long-term poor, “lumpen” or sub-underclass.

Now, of course, all of these folks could get benefits, if they were counted. The (insultingly small) amount of money allocated for (insultingly meager) benefits is based on unemployment rates and visual counts. Sadly, those counts don’t take into consideration hidden poor (like those schizos), and hidden homeless. These are the folks my friend studies. Folks who live in cars, folks with rap sheets. Etc.

These folks rely on charity (the kind that we’re saying is not as necessary here as it is there). Charity, sadly, is not doing so well. Our ideology in this nation is so anti-poor (they’re either lazy or enabled by charity) that charities are getting less and less money. A friend of mine who works at a food bank is actually getting hate-mail.

Is there poverty “there”? Certainly. My wife (also an anthropologist) does her work “there” and I know it exists. Is it worse than “here,” any less systemic, any less deserving of our help. Certainly not.

Kevin said...

@Chrissy- I'm not mad about anything, besides the extreme arrogance of wearing a high-fashion bedazzled hat to do charity work.

Why not wear a damn tuxedo?

Ben Parsons said...

Or a bedazzled tuxedo! Next level!!

Kevin said...

Damn, I got served. Bedazzled tux FTW!

Chrissy said...

Kevin, I guess I was projecting. Oopsy!

B said...

Certainly some short-term mission trips, especially with youth, have questionable benefits to the supposed recipients. However, on balance, I'm glad that my church seems to take a balanced and responsible approach to missions.

Yes, we have teams that occasionally to go Africa, but it's usually less about evangelism and more about providing medical care and the like. We also have developed a deep bond with a sister church in Cuba that has been mutually beneficial to both sides.

Finally, we also support local missionaries within our church--one family lives and works with disadvantaged youth in a poor part of town, and the other works with homeless youth. Overall, I wish more churches would strike a reasonable balance of foreign and domestic charity/mission work that is intentionally beneficial to everyone involved--certainly, there is need everywhere.

Aaran said...

I often wonder how much our desire to aid developing countries stems from materialist, capitalist thinking. “Oh poor things, they have no shoes, cell phone or air-conditioning, we are so blessed here in (insert Westernised country), we must go and save them”. How much does this materialistic view influence the depression of our own homeless? Perhaps Christians in the west should better establish what it means to be content with whatever we have. We should be modelling what it is like to be satisfied with our identity in Christ so that we don’t feel the need to wear designer clothes to make a statement, to own a house with a pool to be adequate. I think if we can achieve that beyond a smugness in our excess and a platitude towards those who don’t, we will be in a better position to reflect the character of God, be more relevant to our own culture, be better able to reach the homeless in our own culture and have more stuff (willing) to give to those in need in third world countries.
I think wearing designer clothes can be telling of our own values, and when Christian leaders feel the need to wear those in order to be relevant I think we have lost our saltiness.

jeremy said...

That about sums up my feelings for the whole thing. Even in my post-Christian days. I had a boyfriend who went on and on and on about the Peace Corps. I just sat around waiting until he figured out that perhaps he could have put that energy into doing something around town.

P.S.: Love the new site!

Ondrea said...

I agree with this article, to a point.

What about non-religious people who adopt children from other countries versus adopting an orphan from America? Or think of how many ads you see on tv for helping orphans or villages in other countries? Now think of how many you see for the US.

Charity applies to more than just Christians. Helping poor people in other countries is the 'trendy' thing to do, regardless of your religion. Celebrities are always doing it too!

leif said...

I like this blog and I see your point... BUT... as someone who's spent a little time with US homeless people and a bit more time in developing countries(expat kid) it's pretty glib to compare the life of the US poor to that of people in sub-Saharan Africa, etc.

I believe Christians etc. should focus more on the local poor because it's easier for us to do so, but in terms of money for the poor I think it's much better spent helping the majority of mankind who lives on less than $2 a day.

And while very poor people in the US often have some issue (addiction, criminal past, mental illness, abuse) which seems to easily explain their state, the vast majority of the world's poor lack that. Their poverty is based on history and politics, which in my opinion is far more necessary and uncomfortable for first-world people, Christian or otherwise, to deal with.

emillikan said...

Frederick Buechner said, "The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet." I happen to come from a family with one adopted child from an Eastern European country, and various members of my family are still involved in ministry there. My sister is a ministry director overseas, my mom is the get-everything-done person here, and I'm the administrative/promotional guru. We get as much non-family help as we can, and we're gradually working toward a board with fewer family members.

I believe firmly in spending as little as I can on myself and my physical needs, which are few. I just moved to a little town in MA (den of evil liberals!) a few months ago, and already I've run into a local gentleman, older, who clearly needs help of some sort. I'm not sure where he lives. But I've bought him coffee and cigarettes and a haircut, because he asked for them, and I had the resources to do it. My church works with the local food bank, and we have an apartment in the church building where families in need of housing used to stay.

I also have the resources to spend hours every week this summer putting together a website and promotional materials for Last Bell (lastbell.org), which provides Ukrainian family - houseparents and staff - for kids who graduate from a particular orphanage in Ukraine at 15 or 16 and would more than likely end up in prison, a psychiatric ward, as sex slaves, or dead.

The Ukraine thing grew out of short-term trips - Americans partnering up with Ukrainians to provide month-long camps for orphans. Some of those Americans went for the experience, and some went because they cared about people. My sister happens to be gifted to love kids no matter how terrible their behavior is. Her deep gladness, and that of the Ukrainian houseparents, is meeting a great need in Ukraine.

It's complicated, us Westerners going elsewhere. I'm repulsed by the idea of rich fundies going to Africa for the experience, to feel good (and I love this post). But I think God's working in the world is bigger than the rules we can set for it either way.

I'm not sure the question is where the greatest poverty is, but how each of us can serve others with the talents and strengths we've been given. Though I would tend to think that there are some universals, too, like choosing a lifestyle that will allow us to really give. There's a reason for the parable of the rich young ruler.

This sounds kind of individual-centric, doesn't it? I guess I just mean that some people are meant to help feed thousands of starving people; some are meant to help one or two people heal from trauma and abuse; some are meant to adopt kids in their own city, some from overseas, ad infinitum.

stephy said...

emillikan,
thanks for everything you've written here. You're totally right.

Anonymous said...

May I suggest a book? The book is The Road to Hell: The Ravaging Effects of Foreign Aid and International Charity, by Michael Maren. It is mostly about secular aid organizations in Africa, though there is a chapter on the organization Save the Children. The book raises a very important point, namely:

It's not just here in American cities where your efforts to help - say, giving someone a dollar on the streets - might end up hurting instead - by enabling an addiction, for example. A lot of foreign aid in Africa has lead - inadvertently - to disastrous outcomes: worsening droughts and starvation, the destruction of arable land, encouraging corruption and crime, and even starting and perpetuating horrific wars.

It is a hard book to read. It challenged a lot of what I "knew" and made me feel bad, but I think it the book provides a very strong support for Stephy's larger point: If you really want to help, you have to be humble, listen first, and take the time to really understand without judgment - as opposed to rushing in full of enthusiasm, self congratulation, and arrogant, preconceived ideas of what's best for poor people.

Shaun Somers said...

At the end of this month I'm scheduled to go on a mission trip to Haiti that is going to cost...$2500.

The trip is going to be for the purpose of construction - building a church and school. I think both will be of benefit to the community, the school in particular. I fear they may indeed be made of cinderblocks. We will be working alongside Haitians and providing material support, not doing the work for them.

I'm NOT trying to be snarky but I'm trying to express my response to this post - these questions are the best I've got:

-If I go, but don't take pictures nor speak of it upon my return, is that better?
-Is there a minimum amount of relationship needed before I am in a photo with someone (name, conversation, shared a meal, more?)
-I'm raising much of the funds (link with photo of Haitian children: http://bit.ly/wXaDJp), so it's not like I'm deciding what to do with my own $2500. Should I be asking my friends and family for money to help the poor in my own city?
-If, at a later date, I'm asked for money from someone going on such a trip, do I deny them and tell them to do more at home?

Sorry if that got long-winded

stephy said...

Hey Shaun,
I can't answer any of these questions for you. Only you can. I'm not trying to be slippery or anything. I'm just not in a position to tell anyone what to do.

Brandt Dotson said...

Shaun, let Matthew 6 1-4 answer your question.

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before men (A)to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.

“So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.'

In other words, you will have greater reward and satisfaction if you just go build the school instead of telling people what you pay for it, and instead of bringing back 'proof' of what you did. Just do it. Showing others pictures might make you feel good, and hearing a church applause your good works might make you think you are Captain Awesome, but is it really important?

Shaun Somers said...

@stephy: Thanks, I wasn't really expecting answers, just expressing my thoughts.

@Brandt: I very much agree with you. Any thing I'm doing to make myself look awesome (hopefully nothing) after the fact isn't important. But some people who donated to me might like to see pictures; a church might want me to speak, pictures might encourage others to go in the future...

I think there are pros and cons to pictures, a lot of it is about the attitude when showing them. At any rate, the team leader will be the one taking (lots of) pictures, and I know they'll end up in slide shows somewhere.

Chrissy said...

With that, the verdict is in! Christian Culture likes taking pictures with poor foreign children.

stephy said...

That does seem to be the verdict.

Charity said...

I have now defined the phrase 'missions trip' as: An excuse for a 19 year old to claim world travel, self importance and to get pictures holding little black babies to help boost their scholarship applications. Boom.

kevin said...

so funny and true at the same time. this idea that you can go and help a person, when really it is YOU that must be helped and changed, and preached to. but that whole empirical mindset is so dangerous. we want to speak but not listen...change but not be changed... thanks for sharing.

Wine in the Water said...

The other thing that I find troublesome about the mission trip phenomenon is the number of mission trips that go to Christian countries to convert other Christians to their brand of Christianity. That's the mission, to save those heathen Christians from the wrong kind of Christianity. All the mission trips I hear about around here go to South America in order to "convert those Catholics to Christianity."

Jonathan said...

I don't remember what I searched on Google that brought me here, but I am so glad it did. This website sums up everything that has caused my disillusionment with the church today.

As someone who grew up in a very conservative branch of Christianity, it's interesting to me to see the practitioners of evangelical Christianity condemn the churches I grew up in for legalism and say that we were sending people to Hell, while promoting their Pharisaic agendas and boasting what their church is achieving and shoving their lifestyle onto other people. It just feels kind of like the pot calling the kettle black, and I think more than anything that bickering is what destroyed the Church for me.

(And then when I tell people these things, they warn me it's the devil coming to attack me and to fight him or that they'll pray. Maybe it goes back to that whole avoiding a relationship thing?)

Gina Armstrong said...

I am a Christian...and I am going on my first mission trip to Thailand next month. But, I felt the need to clairfy somethings first.

My church, Water of Life Community Church, has international outreach trips every year...to Kenya, Cambodia, Thailand, Nigeria, Malaysia, etc...we send teams there at least 2-3 times a year. however, we have monthly outreaches to our local community, we feed the homeless twice a week at a local park (my family and I have been involved in these many, many times), have fundraisers to help with local schools, Goodwill clothing drives, collect shoes for the poor drives, Food baskets and toys for Thanksgiving and CHRISTmas, we work on cars for FREE for local single moms, etc...we also have outreaches to the poor in Detroit and run a couple of orphanages.

And if the people we aid are not Christians themelves, so what! Not all "Christians" are as pathetic and clueless as you claim. We are out there, working for the Lord and loving others, regardless of race, creed, religion, sexual choice, etc....

Christ loves everyone...and we are called to as well. If any of you, have at any time, felt that Christ does not love you because of a person that calls himself/herself a christian but does not treat you as one....on their behalf, I am sorry. Please forgive them.

Please do bear in mind though...we are humnan, flawed, screwed up individuals, just like every other human being on the planet...we are NO different from you... We are ALL made in God's image and are ALL loved by the Lord. Christ died for every single person that ever lives, whether they choose to love Him back or not....

just wanted to clarify that not every Christian is a fraud...and NOT all Christians choose to help those in other countries while ignoring the need fo their family man right in their own city, county, etc

Anonymous said...

i wuv you stephy

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