- I remember laughing so hard each night I thought I would never fall asleep.
- I remember the breathtaking (figuratively and literally because of altitude) views of Machu Picchu and staring in wonder at the collision of God’s creation of nature and humanity.
- I remember a middle-aged couple on the trip giving young adults and teens relationship advice and wisdom on bumpy bus rides and while playing cards in the airport.
- I remember working so hard moving rocks I thought my arms would fall off but then a smile of another teammate next to me would make me keep going.
- I remember dancing with young girls who were survivors of sexual assault and abuse, and I prayed that the hips wiggling and all the giggling would be part of all of our healing journeys.
- I remember thinking I can’t believe this is part of my job, I really have the best job in the world.
I love mission trips. I believe mission trips change lives. But in recent decades, the church has had to face the harm of Mission tourism. The larger church has really had to wrestle with the toxic models of global mission and mission trips. Mission trips are facing accountability for the sins of a pattern that was deeply entangled with colonialism, power imbalance, and white supremacy. Questions that direct toxic mission tourism were: Where do WE want to go this year? What country looks fun? Can we come to your country and lead a VBS (or insert other project the travelers propose)? Do we like the food there? Can it be a country I have never been to?
Those questions are all driven by ME, the western traveler. They give me and us the power in the relationships. It distorts the relationship so the hosts feel like they must make the western mission teams feel welcome and make all accommodations to please them. And if the biggest takeaway from your mission trip is that you are glad you don’t live there and you have all the amenities your wealth allows, maybe the trip did not serve anyone, really.
Broad Street Presbyterian Church began unpacking and rejecting the mission tourism culture nearly 15 years ago with former mission co-workers in Peru Hunter and Ruth Farrell. They partnered with Broad Streeters to help us be guests invited, listeners and learners, and most importantly, commit to a long-term partnership with trips only part of what sustained our relationship. When we go back to Peru, now 21 years in the making, it might be new faces we see, but it’s family. For 21 years our partners in Peru know the deep and long commitment of Broad Streeters. Mission co-workers, Jed and Jenny Koball have continued this partnership with BSPC and continued to invite us to expand our view of mission work. When we aren’t in country visiting and learning alongside our Peruvian friends, we are praying for them, reading their newsletter updates, and continuing to fund the needs of the partnership.
Post-colonial models of mission are all about partnership. Partners share power. Partners learn from one another. Just this past week on a zoom call with Jeff and Christi Boyd in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, we got to hear about a new model of what we would call foster care in the US that they have been developing. This strategy involves church communities taking responsibility for an abandoned child in the care of a host family and working together with the state to get that child reunited with extended family. The state plays its role in relocation and financial support, and the church takes a greater role in ensuring the host family is supported and the child is safe and cared for. We in the US could learn something when it comes to models of foster care, our partners enriched our thinking about it. Partners learn from each other mutually.
Partners work together and help us connect when we feel like we just need to “do something.” The US-Mexico border has been a repeated atrocity in the US news. Mission co-workers Mark Adams and Miriam Maldonado Escobar have invited us into partnership to work with them. They have been working extremely hard all year as he wrote in a recent newsletter, “Have you ever prepared for a dinner party for 10 people and 1000 show up?” The Migrant Resource Center has had an influx of people being expelled from US detention centers in large numbers for the first time in 5 years. We are invited to partner with them to send financial support so they can give out meals, coffee, water, first aid, clean socks and underwear, and more.
So as we gear up to kick off the Global Mission Fundraiser in upcoming weeks, I am deeply grateful for the ways we have reevaluated mission partnerships and mission trips… and I am challenged and passionate about continuing to evaluate the ways we serve God globally. Stay tuned for more Global Mission Fundraiser information with updates from our partners and opportunities to give towards their work!
What is a meaningful mission trip memory of yours?
-Written by Brittany Porch