Why Your Short-Term Mission Trip Doesn't Matter

Today's post comes to us from Seth Crawford of Angel Oak Creative, who recently traveled to Nicaragua with SuNica. 

To everyone’s surprise I took another bite. And then another. Cow tongue is actually delicious!

It was my first full day in Nicaragua. I had flown in the night before with one of my clients, SuNica CEO Alan Wilser to check in on the organization’s various programs, get the ball rolling on a pending water project and hold a few strategy meetings with SuNica’s in-country staff.

Having been on several mission trips to countries like Haiti and Kenya, I was excited about the opportunity to observe a nonprofit executing its day-to-day operations without having to worry about entertaining a group.

From mundane tasks and errands to exciting celebrations and adventures, I noticed that I was just a better person in Nicaragua than back home. It’s a phenomenon I’ve experienced before, and if you’ve ever been on a mission or service trip, you probably have too.

I was more introspective, journaling daily and attempting to empathize as best I could with the poverty and foreign lifestyle I was confronted with daily. I was more caring, thinking of ways I could serve SuNica’s in country project managers who were hosting us. I was more adventurous, jumping off of a fifty-foot cliff into a river and climbing an untouched rock face. And let’s not forget about the cow tongue.

But like I said, I’ve experienced all this before. And I’ve experienced the diminishment of all these qualities before. Honestly, if I just leave all of these traits behind me in Nicaragua, my experience doesn’t really mean anything. Even if I were to feel like my presence on this trip was integral in a lot of cool stuff that went down. It’s a waste unless I come back to the States and take my experience seriously enough to change. Otherwise the week has no significance outside of cool stories.

Regardless of how noble or effective we think our service work is in third world countries, in the long run, our actual impact on those we feel we’ve served is pretty insignificant. Oh, you built a house? You played with a lot of kids?

That’s great. But don’t for a second believe that your week spent learning how to swing a hammer is important in and of itself. You should want the legacy of your trip to be more than a house that locals could have built faster or a group of kids with a lot of pretty stickers. Bring the better version of yourself home. Find opportunities in your community to serve others. Keep pursuing introspection and understanding. Become an active donor or supporter of the organization that gave you the opportunity to interact with real poverty.

You should return home empowered to do something about the material and spiritual poverty in this world. Don’t let your experiences be reduced to a collection of good memories. Make your week long trip matter! 

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