Are mission trips purely benevolent or part selfish?


Emily Levitt

Junior Madi Sedgwick paints a portrait of a young boy inspired by her mission trip to Kenya.

Jessie Dorety, Staff Writer

A group of rich strangers appears in a town with a set of power tools and an overly enthusiastic greeting, claiming to build new schools. Once the school is built, they leave with an equally enthusiastic goodbye.

Then, another group shows up a week later. This is the life of a child who witnesses the ebb and flow of mission trips.

Of the over 2 million people who go on mission trips every year, only 35 percent don’t leave the United States, according to a 2010 study by Short Term Missions, a program that is a part of the non-profit ministry Mission Data International. Those people are serving others only a few states away.

The expensive overseas missions to so-called exotic countries are flashier and seem more interesting on the surface. They offer opportunities for exposure to what life is like in places like Haiti, Costa Rica or South Africa.

Obviously, mission trips benefit the targeted group. Schools are built, helping the community and enabling development. Mission trips within the United States seemingly sound less exciting on paper.

People don’t go on them for the chance to visit Missouri; they go because of the opportunities make a difference in a community similar to their own.

But, there are those with the financial means to pack their bags and head overseas, all for an experience that their parents hope will inspire a meaningful essay for a prestigious college. Is it for good intentions?

No, they do it to mostly to look like kind-hearted people.

“They’re largely reserved for students whose parents are affluent enough to assist the endeavors. And they’re often approached casually and forgotten quickly,” New York Times writer Frank Bruni said about such trips in his article “To Get to Harvard, Go to Haiti.”

There are certainly those who seek a meaningful experience from the trips. Junior Maddie Sedgwick didn’t have college in mind when she went on a two-week mission trip to Kenya, but she was so inspired, she said, she will write about it in her college essay.

“The trip really gave me a new perspective on different types of life and how people who have nothing are still happy,” Sedgwick said.

Though the trip was enlightening for Sedgwick, it may not help her stand out among thousands of applicants.

Application readers undoubtedly see hundreds of essays about serving in third world countries, and they aren’t fooled. Even if the applicant was legit, it’s difficult for readers to see past the overused essay topics.

Like it or not, mission trips have become cliche.