If you read Part I (and good for you if you suffered through all of that), you probably saw that my reasons for going on mission trips has always been the same, a desire to help my fellow man in a tangible way. I was far more interested in cleaning out a garden then I was about winning someone to Christ. It is important at this point that we look at the types of missions work that exist in order to delve more fully into whether they are needed.
These days missionaries seem to fall into several categories:
Missionette Mary - This is your classic missionary. He, she, or they work for a well-established organization that has things like retirement accounts and health insurance. They go to conferences throughout the year. Churches send them money and they fundraise the rest. Their work is a mixture of goodwill, community service, outreach, and preaching. Although their main work may be to run a school or help abuse victims, it is fully expected that they will witness to those people and everyone knows the reason why they do it.
Undercover Spy - These people may work for the same organization, but in a country where it is illegal to prothelitize. Instead of obeying the law, these missionaries see it as their Godly duty to lie to the governing bodies and disguise their true intentions. Besides God would be okay with this type of lying. These people say they are there to help with a literacy program, but secretly read Bible verses whenever they can. Their lives are in danger and so there is secrecy surrounding their whereabouts.
Deeds not Words - These are missionaries who don't share the gospel. They believe it is more important to show the love of Christ rather than tell people about it. They don't fear being in countries where prothelitizing is illegal because they aren't. These are often health care workers, construction workers, and teachers.
Short-term Vacationer/Prothelitizer - These people shell out $1,600-$6,000 each year to go for a week to a foreign country where they get play with little kids (usually brown ones) who they don't bother learning the names of. They hand out glow sticks and Beanie Babies and maybe help fix up a pastor's house, build a hut, or do health clinics. At the end of the trip they go on a safari, or to the beach, or visit a popular tourist spot for some relaxation.
Ministry Minister - This is the person/church who have convinced themselves that children's church and youth group ministries count as missions work. Their church website is sorely lacking in any Outreach or they collate ministry with outreach, as if they are the same thing. This kind of missionary doesn't have to leave the confines of their church building because God will surely bring people in who need him.
Awareness Guru - This is your classic Facebook spammer who floods your feed with articles about missionaries and missions and not being ashamed of the gospel. They have never been on a trip anywhere, they probably have never shared the gospel with anyone, and so they make themselves feel better by giving money to those who do. Some have been on a trip once, twenty years ago, and now see themselves as a missionary and so they are always posting things about the country they went to. As if one trip to Kenya now makes them an expert on that country now.
When I was a kid, missionaries were like the superheroes of the Christian world. They were willing to die for Christ! They went into countries where they were not welcome and saved them. We read stories about martyrs and told as young children that there was no greater calling then that of a missionary. Of course, we are all called to be missionaries, pastors tell their congregations, but not everyone is meant to work overseas. This seems absolutely ridiculous now that I look back on it, because obviously not everyone can live in another country and be a missionary. The church wouldn't function if this happened. In fact, in a five-hundred person church, you were lucky if you had one or two full-time missionaries and then a handful of short-term ones. Interesting how Jesus tells his disciples to go into all the world and preach the gospel, but seems to do so infrequently with his modern followers.
Now, I am all about doing good things for other people, which is why I am sometimes torn on this subject because I am also firmly against doing things at the expense of other people. Many missionaries go to other countries and do jobs that are already being done by locals. My first trip to the Dominican cost $1600 per person and there were fifteen of us. That is $24,000 and this trip has been repeated for seven years now with larger and larger groups. At this point, these missionaries have spent well over $160,000 on trips to the Dominican. Wouldn't it be better to have found a group that is already well-established in the Dominican and help support that group financially with that money? We live in the digital age. It's not like we have to travel to these places, or least not all fifteen people, in order to make those connections. Let us also not forget that the group we originally traveled with sends at least a dozen teams of mostly teenagers every year as well. This is big business people and the people profitting are not the ones who need help.
Here's the conundrum, people don't just donate $24,000 a year for nothing though. They want something to show for it. A nice feel good story, some pictures, a personal account, a conversion or two. It's actually rather understandable. Why send a stranger $24,000 when you can send 15 of your fellow church-goers? Besides, Christians are told that doing missions work is the highest calling, which means that by doing this, even if it is for a week, you are fulfilling your godly duty. Parishioners are far more likely to support sweet selfless Jessica Morris and her efforts to stop child marriages than they ever would help unknown Kamelah Malik and that's the honest truth.
I have a friend who works as a tutor for missionary kids in a country where it is illegal to be a missionary. The parents she works for continually lie to the country and local government and secretly hold religious meetings on the regular. They could be killed for this and at the very least, deported. Each year my friend returns from her home in wherever wherever and tries to raise enough money to return. She has to get pledges and support from churches and friends. The girl is just barely getting by in a country where it doesn't cost much to get by, yet people also feel like, because they donate they get some kind of say in how she spends it. When she went on a vacation to Thailand with other missionaries, people called foul. How dare she go on a vacation and to Thailand no less? But they forget that it is cheaper to fly to Thailand from where she is. They forget that because the missionary organization they are with has connections in many countries, they can stay somewhere for almost free. They also forget that yes, even missionaries deserve vacations.
An old friend of my husband's recently, out of the blue, contacted my husband asking for money. The money is to "support" him while he works on becoming a pastor. The internship he has taken at a church is unpaid and so he needs to raise money to be able to work as a pastoral intern. And it's bullshit. If my husband wants to support his friend because he is a friend, that is fine, but seriously? We are now raising money so that people can be pastors? How about this, if your church can't afford to pay for a second pastor or an intern...then you don't get one. You don't force a pastor-in-training to raise their own salary. And if you are forcing him to work for free, then it should be part-time so that he can work another job on the side.
Money does make the world go round, but I can't quite figure out why so many people think that spending thousands of dollars to visit a foreign country and do health clinics is so much better than sending that money to already established groups that do the exact same thing. Or at the very least, already established missionaries who are willing to live in a place full-time and commit to the people on a regular basis.
This is a personal, but secret, blog archiving my deconversion from a Christian to a non-believer.