A High-Priced Mission Trip Mistake

Mission trips, shoes, toothbrushes, and t-shirts.

It’s getting close to “that” time of the year…

Mission trip season is right around the corner. Lots of folks will leave the comforts of America (and other places) and travel to some far off land in hopes of loving and serving the “poor.”

Mission trips seem so right, so good, so noble, so missional. Unfortunately, they can also be so wrong, so thoughtless, and terribly damaging. Not to mention expensive, really, really expensive.

Over and over again these past few weeks, I’ve heard folks proclaim that they are going on a mission trip soon, and they want to bring some, “shoes, shirts, and toothbrushes,” with them to give away to the “poor” people. Well, they did not say, “poor” people, but we all knew…

Some of these tweets are coming from experienced missions aficionados. And yet, we still seem to make the basic mistakes over and over again.

Why is this?

Compassion is a powerful emotion, but compassion without wisdom and insight can actually be more “hurtful” than “helpful” in the long run. The truth is, many times, going on a mission trip is more about the person who is going than the people they’re going to serve.

But it’s so hard to admit that.

Whenever you give something away, especially in non-emergency scenarios, you’re doing some kind of damage.

  • Whenever you give away a t-shirt, you’re taking business away from a local t-shirt vendor.
  • Whenever you give away a pair of shoes, you’re taking business away from a local shoe vendor.
  • Whenever you give away a toothbrush, you’re taking business away from a local retailer.

Giveaways always shrink the local markets. And this is never a good thing. Not to mention, giveaways also create a “lazy” culture. More often than not, especially in places like Haiti and Mexico where so many American groups take mission trips, giveaways create a culture of dependency.

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Chris Marlow
Chris Marlow started Help End Local Poverty in May 2009. He also co-led the !C//Orphan Conference with his good friends Mike Rusch and Charles Lee.