The Venn diagram of mission trips and modern-day colonialism

a photo of missionaries leading a song for kids in a classroom, made to look like an Instagram post anton diaz

Would you still go if you couldn’t post the pics?

Mission trips make me uncomfortable. Going into a foreign country and forcing religious beliefs upon people in poverty is equivocally patronizing. Consequently, I do not think that many people who participate in missionary trips do it with the best interest or for genuine humanitarian efforts. The problematic nature of mission trips contributes to the façade that Christianity uses to continue its power trip, and it needs to be acknowledged.

I grew up in a Catholic school. Occasionally, we would have presenters from missionary groups come to school and explain how wonderful it was to give back to communities in poverty. They explained how it was an ultimately moving experience that had changed their lives forever. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, they had united everyone together, making peace with one another. I remember very vividly when they explained how many of the people who lived in poverty would pray for us and emphasized how it was the most fantastic opportunity we would have in our lives to make the difference and be the change.

And honestly, they had me completely sold on it. I was enthralled looking at all the photos from previous mission trips, and encouraged that I would create long-lasting relationships with my companions from the journey and the people I would be aiding.  Looking back on that conversation makes me feel nauseous; I had been brainwashed into thinking that this was an acceptable means of displaying humanitarian efforts.

It frightens me how many methods of colonialism we keep adapting overtime. Despite each mode of assimilation we enter, it still comes down to the roots of colonialism. The toxic mentality of mission trips is how they enter a country and force their beliefs onto other individuals who need “saving” through the volunteer’s religion. If this sounds familiar, it is because it embodies what was done to Indigenous children in residential schools. You are not a hero; you are a perpetuator.

Speaking of being a hero, I wonder how many people would still go on missionary trips if they were told they were not allowed to post about their experience for social media clout. It takes away the purpose of volunteering when you regularly take photos that generate likes and comments about how you love to give back and how humbled you are to have committed such acts of selflessness. The romanticizing of mission trips is incredibly problematic because giving people fundamental human rights should not be rewarded. Furthermore, rethink your motives of what posting about your experience will do.

The ugly truth about mission trips is that they often have underqualified individuals who operate them. Renee Bach, a missionary from the United States, conducted a medical clinic for children without any medical experience, consequently killing 105 children during the operation. Bach’s experience is just one example of what can happen when you excuse credentials while wanting to make a difference. While some missionary trips do not involve religion, there should still be some thought into why you are going to another country to help. If you are going to build a school or a house, have you considered the quality of materials you are building the structure out of? Do you have any contracting experience? Is there anybody in the area qualified to teach or operate at the building once it is built? Why couldn’t you have just sent the money across seas to the communities for them to create, potentially providing people in poverty with jobs? Missionaries often enter countries and provide more problems than peace.

Mission trips are the perfect opportunity for people to go on a vacation and make themselves look good at the same time. Often, the trips are broken down into the days spent volunteering, with a specific day or days spent at the beach or sight-seeing. These tone-deaf actions demonstrate that the trips are all about the people who go on them, not aiding individuals in poverty.

I find it ironic that many of these mission groups neglect to help communities in need within their own countries. Right now, 40 per cent of Indigenous children in Saskatchewan live in poverty, and many houses require desperate maintenance and reconstruction to safely house the number of individuals in each home. Many Indigenous individuals do not have clean water or sufficient running water (Editor’s note: over 30 reserves in Canada have been under drinking water advisories for over a decade).

Poverty is not a battle that takes a week to complete, topped with a hut. Long-term action is needed to aid countries in poverty. Third-world countries require social programming to help their people and include democratic measures within the community. Without any system of relief for their people, they will continue to live in poverty because of how their society is structured.

I am not writing this because I am against humanitarian efforts, but I find it frustrating seeing where people’s true interest lies. I would like to encourage others to become more aware of organizations that put the best interests of the people in third-world countries first. The uneven distribution that occurs in many mission trip charity organizations is more for the volunteers’ welfare and well-being than the individuals in need of help.

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