Christians from time immemorial place great value in bring the “cup of cold water” mercy to those in need. Contrary to the human tendency to care first for self, Christians are called to take up their cross and follow Christ to love their neighbor as theirself. At this point in the summer, American Christians are going in droves for short and longer missions trips to their near and far neighbors. My own church has groups in Guatemala, London, North Philly, and several other regions in Africa. Sometimes the project is physical and other times the project is relational and spiritual.
But have you thought about some of the potential dangers in going to our far neighbors? Here’s some potential problems:
1. The wrong help. People who go on missions trips have a high desire to serve and help the other. But if the group going does not fully understand the problem, need, and solution to the problem, it could lead the locals to try dangerous solutions or discourage them from trying since previous group activities weren’t helpful. We need to do our homework first rather than assume we know what they need.
2. Stereotyping. The helper and helpee tend to play particular roles. One active with power, the other passive and waiting. Even when the helpee knows they need to be active they can become passive because they haven’t been allowed to be part of the decision-making process. Or, the helpee can become suspicious that the primary reason for the outsider is for their own benefit. They can add up the massive amounts of money spent on flying folks there and putting them up and imagine that that sum of money might be better spent if it were just sent without people.
Don’t mistake my raising these two problems as my opinion that we shouldn’t go on foreign missions trips. My life was changed on a summer missions trip in 1983. Lord willing, I hope to be going to Rwanda next May to explore the current needs of that country in regards to the genocide trauma. But, if we aren’t careful we do more damage than good. Our good intentions are not enough. We must learn as much as possible about the life and needs of the other (from their point of view!) and recognize that we do not yet know enough to help without that learning. Further, we must find locals who have dreams and desires for healing that can carry it out and can benefit from what we can offer. Otherwise, it may be better not to go than to go and raise hopes or offer superficial help that only serves to harden hearts from needed help.