Why You Shouldn't Build a House on Your Next Mission Trip

“We are not here to build a house this week.”

That might sound like an unusual thing to say to a missions team on their way to a construction project that they’re funding. But why else do you go on a mission trip? You go to work, right? You send your own (and other people’s) hard earned money to buy supplies, add a little extra to cover your plane ticket for a little overseas travel, and you arrive to do something awesome that apparently the poor local people can’t do for themselves.

I know this might sound overly simplistic, but that pretty much nails it on the head for most of our church’s mission trip projects. We are a results-oriented culture that feels like we’re not making a difference unless we have something tangible that we can point to and say, “Look at what we did!”

It’s tough to not do something.

Even after getting this counter-intuitive instruction from our trip leader, Chris Marlow, many on our team felt like they were useless if they weren’t busy making something happen. But that’s exactly what Marlow said to us, and he meant it.

Chris is the founder of a non-profit called Help One Now. The goal of the organization is rescue orphans by meeting the immediate need created by extreme poverty, restore their hope by meeting basic needs through child sponsorship programs, and renewing their communities through long-term, sustainable growth.

When a team goes on a mission trip, each person is responsible for raising an extra $500 over and above their actual cost for the trip. The extra money is used to fund housing and other building projects, but not so that the team can go down there to do the work, too. More importantly, the money is used to hire locals to do the work.

The goal is to create jobs. And quite honestly, if we’re doing the work, then we’re taking jobs away. That only creates a reliance on our help and doesn’t actually break the cycle of poverty. We think we’re doing a good thing, and we get even more excited when the locals come out and volunteer their time to help us on this “charitable” project.

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Dan King
Christ-follower. Husband. Father. Author of The Unlikely Missionary: From Pew-Warmer to Poverty Fighter. School of ministry and missions instructor. Facebook channel editor for thehighcalling.org. Social media dude for Help One Now. Chief instigator at bibledude.net.