By James Franke
This is the second article in a three part series about whether Short-Term Mission Trips are a waste of money and time. If you haven’t yet done so, feel free to read PART ONE.
OK, we’ll spend the money… but why not just write a check?
I think this is perhaps one of the most common questions, even among good Christians. Formed in many different ways, it always comes out sounding like “I’ll just work, save money, live my life, and then shove a little money in an envelope a few times a year”. I mean there’s a picture of a poor African child on the envelope, so they must be doing some good right? While all of these organizations, (Rice Bowl, Food for the Poor, etc) are incredible organizations doing amazing things in the world, and while we should always support them to the greatest extent that we can, Jesus did not say “sit on thy couch and write thy checks”! He said to “GO”!!
The truth is that I cannot send my love in an envelope and I cannot share my personal relationship with Jesus Christ in any other way than giving witness to it in person. My going shows the people that I am sent to that they mean enough to me to fly half way across the world for them! That I desire so much for them to know Jesus, that I would go, spend my time, money, and energy, eat strange foods, sleep in uncomfortable places, and suffer hardships, all for them. Of course, this all depends upon going on missions with a group that does not ‘slum it up’ for the day and head back to a resort in the evening. A true mission trip, one that witnesses to the Gospel, is one where the missionaries will live simply, where they will be willing to live like the people.
One might respond that to send the Gospel is possible without having to go. Have your parish or community sponsor a Bible drive and send the Good News to wherever you would have gone on a trip! Money will be saved and the Gospel will be spread! It is this very sad understanding of evangelization and Christianity that now requires a clarification between a mission trip and a Catholic mission trip.
A mission trip, as commonly seen through the eyes of some, is just another piece of Christianity that all too often becomes a numbers game. How many Bibles can we send? How many ‘churches’ can we ‘plant’? How many unchurched can we get to say the ‘sinner’s prayer’? It is this form of Christianity that runs rampant throughout our country and throughout our world. It is no wonder that those who are not a part of the Body of Christ take some issue with our motives. When building God’s Kingdom becomes more about numbers and less about love and offering Gods unconditional and free grace to our brothers and sisters who are living without it, Christianity ceases to be Christianity.
As a Catholic missionary who has been leading these short term mission trips for the last few years, I am convinced that this cannot be our motivation. We must be consumed with bringing these people the fullness of truth. We must strive to bring them into the Church that Christ started, again, not for numbers sake, but because we know that this is where Jesus lives, where the sacraments exist. These sacraments that are true “efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us” (CCC 1131).
We are thrilled when we can help our brothers and sisters by giving them food and medical care, but those bodily needs pale in comparison to the divine life that we are able to bring to them when they are able to come into Christ’s Body, the Catholic Church, and receive Him Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Eucharist, to experience a rebirth in Baptism, and to be covered in His love and mercy through the Sacrament of Reconciliation! The Gospel does not exist without the Catholic Church, because Christ established this Church not only as a instrument to carry the Good News to the ends of the earth, but as an essential part of Good News itself! Christ left us the Church to guide us into all truth and into eternal life! The physical presence of a missionary is necessary to lovingly introduce others to Christ and to His Body, the Church, and to be able to walk with them, not leading them with authority, but walking side by side with them to the altar of the Lord.