Short term missions have long been a topic of debate in the mission world. Are they really “mission” trips or are they vacations in a developing nation? Are they worth the money? Do they do more harm than good? Are they offensive to local populations? The questions go on and on. I have no aspiration to settle the argument here! I’m just trying to catch you up on some of the recent rumblings in the internet “mission” world.
One of the latest popular trends is Barbie Savior on Instagram, @BarbieSavior on Twitter and the blog BarbieSavior.com/blog.
Here is a quote from their “about” page:
Barbie Savior began in 2016 by two friends who were simply tired of the acclaim of the White Savior on social media. It began as a joke – a place for us to express our frustrations. Our little Instagram account, however, caused quite the stir. It was clear we struck a nerve on the age old topic of the White Savior Complex.
Together we have over a decade of studying, traveling, and working abroad. While this left us cynical and jaded enough to create Barbie Savior, we know full well that this issue – and these conversations – are so much bigger than us.
One post comments on the problems with visiting orphanages:
So many of us start out by volunteering in orphanages. We believe in the biblical and humanitarian call to look after orphans. It starts with our innate desire to do good, so how did we get it so wrong? How did the first line of defense for orphan care become so harmful? When did we decide it was the healthy, proper thing to do to visit orphanages and “experience” the African orphan? This industry, “orphanage tourism”, is detrimental in countless ways.
To see more blog posts in this program, please search #stoporphantrips on social media.
Another hot topic related to this on the internet is #LintonLies. I’m not going to go into details on this. A quick summary is Aspiring actress Louise Linton recently released an extract from her memoir detailing her experiences in Zambia as a young
white saviour idealistic volunteer.
I think anyone who has worked in missions for any length of time and/or worked in orphanages has seen mission trips that just made them want to puke! Or at least cry. Teams of youth bouncing around acting stupid. Older teams that really just wanted to shop for deals at markets. Teams that wanted to hold babies and children and tell them that they were going to take them home. Teams photographing in an insensitive way that embarrassed the locals. Teams that spent horrendous amounts of money to build a wall that the locals could do for a fraction of a fraction of the cost.
But…..there is always a but….
For all the “damage” and “waste” that an American short term mission trip can cause there are some very valid huge benefits and facts:
1) Many if not most missionaries get their “heart call” for missions by the seed planted on a short term mission trip.
2) Americans are criticized for lack of knowledge of other cultures. Developing culture is not really taught in our schools and most people do not have an inborn desire to start studying them. Most who develop a passion for this get it from visiting another country.
3) Most people do not really have a passion to give to a ministry unless they embrace it personally. Short term missions are a great way to build loyalty.
4) I look at missions in a similar way to professional sports. Millions of children learn a sport and play on a “little league” team of some sort. Hundreds of thousands of those children will play their sport at a high school level. Thousands of them will play at a college level. Hundreds will play at a professional level. A few will become Rock Stars in their field and be forever remembered. The same applies to missions. Many will go on a week mission trip. Only a few will make life long commitments. Those life long people may be sickened watching the stupidity of a short term team but they need to realize that everyone starts somewhere. I got weeded out of sports by the 6th grade. I’m still battling through high school in the mission arena.
5) Orphan ministry – I don’t have room to go into that here (maybe later). When we told a long termer on our first trip that we wanted to adopt he said “So you want the perfect child. Girl, healthy, infant, light skinned”. In other words – a trophy child that we could show off. If you know our family or have read my blogs, you know that is NOT what we got. I wish I could tell that long termer who we adopted and tell him that I am still offended by what he said – although at the time he said it, it was probably true. You see, some of us learn from our short term trips. Some of us don’t.
6) Missions as a whole is very messy. Sometimes it is downright shitty (sorry but it fit). Whether discussing long term, short term, misionation trips, styles of mission agencies, approach, orphanages – they are all messy and no one has all the answers. We are a broken world but we have grace, mercy, love, hope and vision to try to learn a better way!
7) Go on a mission trip. Don’t be a Barbie Savior. Just go and serve. Study another culture. Give to a missionary. Cry for the lost. Adopt a needy child. Just do something!