The Falcon | Volume 83, Issue 52
Published 5/22/13 | Log In
Mission trips not what they seem to be
By BILL BERRY, Staff Reporter
Published: October 31, 2012
Nothing makes me feel like a vacation is wasted more than when a friend posts a Facebook picture of themselves from a mission trip with an African baby. But have you ever wondered if the locals from these pictures would ask to be taken off Facebook? Or maybe even un-tag themselves if they had the option? I would say that they would. Posting these types of pictures puts people in a box, where the local is the sufferer and the missionary is the savior.
In short, the goal of missions is to spread the Gospel and to help those in need. However, most people I know who have gone on mission trips would probably say the locals did most of the teaching.
For example, a friend of mine spent ten weeks in Haiti this past summer, and she kept repeating over and over again that the people of Haiti needed nothing from her. Instead, they had everything to teach and give to her. This is exactly why I believe posting pictures of people from mission trips is wrong - it portrays a false image.
When someone posts a picture of themselves holding an African child, they are never able to portray the reality beyond the photo. Instead, the picture portrays an American who “saved” a poverty-stricken child from society’s problems. These pictures take a complex human being and portray his or her life in a single dimension.
Meaning, the picture only shows the child in a needy state. It also takes the missionary and displays them in an equally single dimension. But the only dimension people will see is the missionary as savior.
Compare a mission trip photo to a hunting photo. Both a hunting photo and a mission trip photo have a similar effect when viewed: people are impressed with what you did. However, that isn’t the point of a mission trip, and should not be the point of the photo. Mission trip photos, however, are not able to describe the background of the trip in a way that gives credit to the missionary and the local.
I am not trying to insinuate that people are trying to flaunt their mission trips or pictures of a child from a trip like a hunter would its kill; most of the time they are simply trying to share the joy and life changing experiences they encountered.
However, actions do not always yield desired results. And whenever people post pictures of their mission trips, they won’t ever be able to portray the local in a way that acknowledges the complexity and depth that they deserve. Understanding such complexity took time for the missionary to see. It doesn’t show any of the wisdom the local shared. That took time for the missionary to learn. Rather, the image shows the missionary hero saving the poor needy person from the poverty of their world, which is only what the world sees.