Missions trip or vacation which is it?
April 26, 2007 5:32 PM   Subscribe

My daughter wants to go on a trip with her mother's church. I'm upset that they're raising money to take the trip. Should I just let go?

My ex-wife's church (evangelical) is trying to take about 45 kids on a "missions" trip to Southeast Asia. I am fine with my daughter (16) going and think it would be a great experience, but I do not think it is right for her and the church to raise the money under the guise of being a charitable endeavor. It looks much more like a fun vacation for a bunch of kids (from the talks I hear among the kids that seems to be how they are viewing it also) than charity of any sort.

I expressed this to my daughter, letting her know that I think that if she wants to go that she should pay the cost (probably around $2500) herself. I explained to her how many children's lives that amount of money could save. I explained to her my belief that more than anything what is needed to her in those countries are food, shelter, educational materials, etc. And I explained that seeking hand outs so they can go to some effect takes that money away from providing these things.

She countered that they will be showing people the "light of jesus" and went on about the importance of that. I let her know that if that was the true intent, it would seem much more appropriate to send people who have studied religion (or at least read the entire bible) rather than a bunch of kids who have just attended church and youth group off an on. She also indicated that there are plenty of people who are willing to give them donations to go.

I must admit that I am very biased against this church. They consistently seem to focus on what I believe are the wrong things. They are very into being the biggest and the best and just spent millions on a gym for their parishioners (which is 10 times what any other church in our area has spent on their entire church). They focus heavily on "remaining pure" and vows of celibacy. While this may have helped my daughter to stay away from sex, it has made her very self-righteous and judgmental of other children. She likes this church much better than mine and it seems that this is largely because it makes her feel better than other people.

My ex-wife and I have a good relationship and she will go along with whatever I decide.

Should I make her pay her own way if she goes or should I just let go?
posted by anonymous to Religion & Philosophy (30 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Around here, kids raise funds for trips that are outright (group, supervised) vacations. You said you're fine with her going -- so let her go.

After all, what good thing can come of not letting her go? It's not like that money is going somewhere else (and any argument of the form "that money could be used for something better" just comes down to "I like this cause better".

If you don't like the church, fine, but presumably the people that are donating do like the church, and it's not your job to tell those strangers how to spend their money -- and it's safe to say they're not all rubes, and having been teenagers themselves they know how productive a "field trip" is, whether it's church, school, concert band, whatever.
posted by mendel at 5:48 PM on April 26, 2007

This may not be what you want to hear, but she's 16: you're not winning any ideological battles with her. If you force the issue, you're just going to end up being the ogre, and I doubt you'll really change her mind about anything -- you'll probably just create a lot of tension and bitterness.

When I was her age, and I think this is supported by a lot of literature if you want to look it up / care, I was a lot more focused on the approval and beliefs of my peer group than my parents. Short of totally cutting her off from these people (which is a dangerous move -- by your own admission, they're probably not encouraging her to have sex or smoke crack, so the alternatives could be a whole lot worse) and making her find new people to hang out with, I think you need to state your case, tell her why you think the way you do, but leave the final decision up to her.

There are certainly some issues where, as the parent of a 16-year-old, it would make sense to put your foot down, but I'd just encourage you to pick your battles carefully.

She's not out robbing convenience stores, smoking, fooling around, or drinking. Save your credibility for the battles when you'll really need it.

And on a totally different note -- it's not as if they're stealing the money to do this; people are giving it to them by choice -- and they probably know the reputation of the church as well as you do. Not everyone may share the same priorities that you do; there may be people who are happy to donate to these sorts of activities because they really believe them to be beneficial. To be honest, I'd have more problems with something like this if it was funded by taxes -- money that wasn't given by choice -- than by charity.
posted by Kadin2048 at 5:51 PM on April 26, 2007

I think a trip to southeast Asia will be a great eye-opener for your daughter, regardless of what the church says the trip will be about, and I think you should help her pay for it. The $2500 that you think could be spent on the more immediate needs of the people probably will not be spent at all on anything even remotely helping "those countries" in any form, especially if it's being raised in $5 and $10 pledges from friends and relatives who would have just spent that relatively small amount of money on something else. I also imagine that in the process of fundraising your daughter will have to learn where the money she's raising is going to convince donors to contribute.

Please also consider the fact that probably very few of your daughter's co-congregants would make this trip under more secular auspices because of the logistical and financial burdens such a trip might represent were an entire (nuclear) family go on their own.
posted by mdonley at 5:52 PM on April 26, 2007

I would just let it go. The folks giving her the money to go on the mission trip would know to what they are giving. This kind of thing is pretty popular in alot of big churches, and is kind of a primer on being a missionary.
posted by bigmusic at 5:52 PM on April 26, 2007

(I've been on ~5 of these trips, not as vacations, FWIW)

Around here, kids raise fund for trips that are "charitable" (for lack of a better term). There's businesses who ask if they can donate money, even.

But interestingly enough, most kids on the trip would describe it as fun. From hearing them talk, you could probably get the impression that a given trip is more of a vacation, when it in fact isn't.

If this really is a concern, I'm sure you could talk with a pastor/minister/other-leader and find out exactly what the kids will be doing.
(I also don't know that southeast Asia lends itself to a vacationing experience, especially in a church group, but I could easily be wrong on that count.)
posted by niles at 5:59 PM on April 26, 2007

I think you have a very astute grasp of the problems with terming these kinds of trips "charitable." And I think people are wrong when they say it doesn't matter. Giving to this kind of "charity" makes people feel like they are doing something when they are really doing nothing, making them less likely to feel like giving when a more genuinely charitable opportunity comes up.

Although it would be my inclination to say, yes, have her pay with her own money, I could imagine her reacting badly to that. There are two things I can thing of that might help mitigate the frustration that having to raise her own money might cause. You can help her come up with a strategy for how to get the money (perhaps including a short term loan if the trip is soon), so she realizes you aren't against the trip. And perhaps you could have her raise the equivalent amount of money from these willing donors, but have her donate it to a charity in the area they will be visiting.
posted by carmen at 6:11 PM on April 26, 2007

I explained to her my belief that more than anything what is needed to her in those countries are food, shelter, educational materials, etc. And I explained that seeking hand outs so they can go to some effect takes that money away from providing these things.

I agree with you. I think these people need practical assistance more than they need the light of jesus. But you weren't asking about whether or not we agreed with you, so back to your question:

You haven't made it clear (and maybe you aren't clear yourself) if your real issue is the fund raising or the trip. I might be way off base, but I can't help wondering if the pay for it yourself or you can't go ultimatum is just a passive aggressive way of not letting her go. I only say this because I assume that there is no practical way for a 16 year old to save up that kind of money. If she does have an after school job or at least enough time between now and the trip where it would be possible for her to come up with that kind of money, then disregard the passive aggressive suggestion. If you are pretty sure that it would be impossible for her to pay for it on her own, then I think you need to accept that your real issue is her going and either tell her she can't go (no matter how she comes up with the money) or you need to let it go.

That said, if your issue is that she isn't really learning/understanding the real meaning of charity or the needs of these people and the best ways to help them, maybe you can strike a happy medium. Let her raise the money to go on this trip (and by raising money, I am assuming that the implication is not that you would be doing the donating). But make a deal with her to deduct a small portion of her allowance/lunch money/holiday & birthday money each week/month /gift giving occasion until the deductions total $2500 and then donate it to the charity of her choice. At least this will teach her about sacrifice and hopefully inspire her to research charities and get a better understanding of the good that needs to be done in the world beyond the spread of religion.
posted by necessitas at 6:12 PM on April 26, 2007

I think the people willing to give her money understand what the trip is: An eye-opening experience for the studends. I think these kids will end up learning a lot on the trip and it will be much more educational for them than the people they are trying to "save."

I do understand your concerns, but this trip might actually make her understand what you are saying much more than not going would.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 6:13 PM on April 26, 2007

I've been there myself, (in my case Thailand) and I did fundraising-or more accurately someone came along and pretty much paid the whole lump sum for me.

You need to let her go. Being there and actually seeing how people there live, and what their struggles and needs are, will have a lifelong effect on her. Between you and me, when a church sends their youth on such a trip, much of the purpose is changing the youths' perspective. If it were up to me every single young person in the US would have to go overseas with that in mind.

When I went we did such things as visit an AIDS orphanage-that day right there was worth the price of the whole trip as far as I was concerned.
posted by konolia at 6:27 PM on April 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think you should let her go, but make some effort to prepare her to learn more about herself and her relationship with Jesus that she will be able to teach.

Please don't frame this as a "what do you have to contribute to a well established theology, you child," but instead as "it's a huge world, and the more everyone knows about each other, the better off we'll all be."

I went to Russia, Ukraine and Finland when I was 13, totally as a Baltimore County Schools field trip. It blew my mind, but the whole time I was there part of me distracted and uneasy because I wasn't sure I had the whole support of my family in being there, despite that my grandmother had written a check for my trip and hers so she could "be a leader of a student group." Even with that distraction, I got experience and perspective that still serve me well. I don't have a relationship with Jesus, but your daughter does, or believes she does. She's 16, this is likely not the last time there will be a man in her life that you don't 100% approve. Get used to it.
posted by bilabial at 6:34 PM on April 26, 2007

PS that trip is one of the reasons I'm studying to be an anthropologist.
posted by bilabial at 6:35 PM on April 26, 2007

All your other arguments are compelling, but you're ignoring the one primary reason to let her go.

I'm telling you from first hand experience, and from the collective experience of dozens of family members and friends - she will come back a different person.

My sister went to help at an Orphanage in Latvia when she was 15, and it changed her life's direction. Instead of being a nurse, she decided to be a nurse in a foreign country. My brother went to Ethiopia when he was 14, and now that he's 21 he's spent nearly half of the last 7 years in Africa working the supply lines for AIDs orphanages in southern Africa.

The money might feed some kids now, but if it changes her outlook on life, it might change every child she can help for the rest of her life.
posted by othersomethings at 6:44 PM on April 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

I went on a similar trip in college. You are right that it isn't going to do a lot to practically help people that are there. But it probably will have a positive impact on your daughter, forever. It is mainly because of my Asian trip that I spent a significant amount of my free time helping the poor in Juarez, Mexico. Others people raised about $3000 for me to go on one trip, and I think it was well worth their investment for the change in me, and the investment has paid off in the years since. Don't judge this by what it will do for the people she meets. Judge it by what it will do for her. I'd encourage you to be supportive, and let others have the pleasure of investing in her personal growth.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 7:02 PM on April 26, 2007

Along the lines of what necessitas said, how about letting her go provided she promises to do a certain number of hours of volunteer work when she returns (or before she goes if there is enough time for that)?
posted by kitty teeth at 7:31 PM on April 26, 2007

Travel is very broadening. The cultural exchange your daughter will participate in will be extremely valuable to both sides. She'll broaden her understanding of how other people live in the world; the Koreans will meet a good-hearted, religious American girl and learn a bit about her and what she thinks about and how she lives her life. And there is no better way to learn about anything - including your own personal faith - than to know that next week or next month you're going to be teaching it to someone else.

The decisions of others to support your daughter's trip - which, incidentally, I find to be an extraordinarily worthy cause - are not to be questioned by you. If you question your family's need for such support but you would still like your daughter to go, donate money to the trip project. If you can afford it, donate enough to support your daughter and a friend.

Finally, there are 3 separate issues here that it seems to me you're dealing with. One is your judgment of a particular church. Another is your daughter's choices, both in choosing this church and this trip, and in her personal behavior towards others. The third is money matters. These are all very difficult questions and you're going to have to search in yourself for the answers - Ask MetaFilter can't hand them to you.

But I can give you some advice. Don't judge harshly, lest you yourself be likewise judged; support your daughter's personal growth and development as an ongoing process, with love and compassion and understanding; and finally render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and do it cheerfully without worrying about it too much, because in the end, money is not the most important thing that's going on.
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:42 PM on April 26, 2007

Let her go, so she can see how well all the godless Asians are getting along, contrary to what Evangelicals would have you believe.
posted by mhuckaba at 8:09 PM on April 26, 2007

Forgive me for not reading all the replies, and forgive me if my response is repetitive. I agree with your concern. It seems that most short-term mission trips have their focus on those going, rather than those being helped. But, this isn't to say that there are no benefits for both involved.

I think raising support is fine, but I'm somewhat against the traditional means of car washes and bake sales. It seems more valuable to teach the kids to actually do something of more long-term value to raise the money. Teaching about tent making could be helpful.

A compromise might also be helpful, having her work for a certain percent perhaps.

And, if you have beef with the youth minister, or someone else, talk to them about it. I think your concerns are valid, and the youth minister should be aware of them. Perhaps in discussion with the minister (or whoever is leading the trip) could help them to see the lessons they are teaching kids by "doing missions" this way, like: (1) I should ask for money instead of earning it, (2) Hey, missions is all about my experience!

And yeah, 45x$2500 could do a LOT of good.
posted by peripatew at 8:25 PM on April 26, 2007

You're probably right; raising money for the trip sounds inethical.
But she's 16: she needs to be able to make these kinds of decisions on her own. Once you have explained your point of view to her, let her choose.
posted by Count Ziggurat at 8:58 PM on April 26, 2007

If you could make her have to sponsor some part of her trip by paying for it herself it could save you some anxiety about not understanding the difference between charity and a vacation.
posted by dvf1976 at 9:12 PM on April 26, 2007

Raising support is something most Christian missionaries do- it's not a strange thing to anyone familar with how churches work, so I can't imagine you're going to be able to convince your daughter otherwise. Plus, if you make her pay it herself, where is she going to get $2500? That is an awful lot of money for a person that age to raise without any support from others (even with a job, though I didn't see how long she has to raise the money). What happens when she's still $1000 short- do you make her cancel the trip? If that happened and I were her, I would never forgive you. I say, let her go and raise support. Encourage her to contribute some of her own money toward the trip. Give her a camera so she'll come back with pictures of all the great things she has seen.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:15 PM on April 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

Several of the people above are right.

These trips are not about the foreign populations. They are about the young people GOING on the trip.

This IS charity, and it IS a mission... just not in the way advertised. The young people would never sign up for it.

Note that most of the people at her church who donate understand this, by the way. Noone is being tricked or having the wool pulled over their eyes.
posted by Ynoxas at 9:26 PM on April 26, 2007

I think she should go, and should raise the money if that is what they are doing. There is no deception involved (from your description, at least) and this is a normal and expected part of how church groups operate. (It's an utterly ineffective way of doing "development" or even of converting people, but everyone knows that -- it's about the kids going on a life-changing trip and possibly doing some good while they are at it.)

I will say, though, that from what I have seen, she would get the most out of such a trip if it were a small group, rather than a large group. If this is a huge church group, is there a way to send her instead (or even better: also) on another trip, maybe to a different part of the world, in a small group where she will have a more direct and unmediated connection to the place and people around her? I've watched a lot of church groups in action in developing countries, and when they are big they become really insular, focusing almost entirely internally, and making few unexpected connections with the place and people they are supposedly visiting. Even then, I think the kids get something out of it, but not as much as they do when they are forced to learn how to talk with and work with people who are totally different.

The other issues (her church vs your church, etc), I think you are going to have to accept that she is almost an adult (certainly old enough to get married, have sex, and drop out of school in some states at least), and this is part of her finding her own way in the world. You being there to support her will count for a lot, more than being right will.
posted by Forktine at 3:21 AM on April 27, 2007

"She countered that they will be showing people the "light of jesus"

I am sorry, but to disguise a trip presented as "charitable" and then going to another country to "teach people about jesus", to have a "mission" smells like plain old colonialism to me.

Like Carmen said, it does matters. If she wants to go, then let her be responsible and not lie to people giving money to what they believe is a charitable organisation (clearly, it's not).

I am not saying the trip would be good for your daughter - it probably will. But do you want her to go there by lying about the purposes of her church?
posted by Sijeka at 3:49 AM on April 27, 2007

My neice just took a trip to Costa Rica with her Spanish class. No charity implied, and they did plenty of fundraising. In fact, if they hadn't most of the travelers could not have afforded the trip.

If they are selling candy bars in front of Wal-Mart and advertising they money going to charity, that is less-than-ethical, but then again I think youth group (church, school, civic) in and of itself is generally regarded as a kind of charity by most people.

Could it be that the problem is with the evangelistic pushiness of the church itself, or am I reading too much into it (based on my own experience with pushy evangelical Christians)?
posted by Doohickie at 4:41 AM on April 27, 2007

Raising money is as much a learning experience as the trip will be. All caveats mentioned above about there being better things to raise money for are valid. But let the kid learn about raising money. $2500 in nickels and dimes and 20-dollar bills is a lot of money; she'll learn how much it is, and how hard it is to get it. It will teach her to be generous with her own money in the future, to focus on donating to and raising money for causes that matter. Just let her do it, let her go, and sometime later, ask her what she learned by the whole experience including the fund raising.
posted by beagle at 6:22 AM on April 27, 2007

I've been on a few mission trips myself, and it's hard to say if this is a vacation or not. On one hand, I'm more than supportive of teens raiding money for mission trips. Actually, most trips I've been on require everyone to raise all the money and not pay anything out of pocket. The reasoning is that you become more of a cohesive team and get to know eachother if you're spilling sweat and blood by fundraising. In my anecdotal experiences, I completely agree with this.

However, I also draw a line at a pure vacation. My church has gone for World Youth Day which involved zero service work and I refused to raise money for it. I also think that fundraising should go towards something that isn't a complete vacation.
However, it is important to note that even on the more grueling mission trips I've been on, that people refer to it as a vacation. It seems that in the modern church, the line between traditional mission trips and vacations for personal spiritual gains are becoming increasingly blurred and considered one in the same.
posted by jmd82 at 6:39 AM on April 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

I agree with the above posters that the real intent of the trip is to expose your daughter to other cultures, and that it will be a potentially life-changing experience for her.

The best thing for you to do is to support her in going, so that when she gets back you can talk to her about the things she saw and learned (about the world and about herself), and encourage her to make changes to her life to reflect those things.

On a personal note, I went on a "missions trip" to the Middle East when I was in college. We raised money the same way, by asking for donations from family and friends under the guise of bringing Jesus to the godless Muslims. I went and learned that the Muslims are mostly wonderful, friendly, hospitable people, and share many of my beliefs and values. I no longer believe that the rest of the world needs to be saved by Jesus, but I do give money to these missions groups so that other kids can have the same kind of eye-opening experience I had.
posted by donajo at 7:10 AM on April 27, 2007

I've been on several of these types of trips both as a student, as well as a leader. I agree that many of these trips have a greater impact on the person going, but I've also seen a lot of positive impact on the communities visited as well. (Habitat For Humanity trips for example)

Sometimes the support raising is as much of a learning process, as the trip itself. It isn't an easy process to raise the money for these trips, although there are many who are in churches that would gladly give. Some see it as an investment in those going, as well as to the ministry of the church. Some give, because they can not go on a trip like this.

For most of the trips I've lead, I encourage the students to pay a portion of the trip out of their own pockets. That way it gives them a little more ownership into the trip and overall experience.

So perhaps a compromise would be wise. Encourage her to provide a certain percent on her own, and then raise the rest.
posted by vagabond at 8:44 AM on April 27, 2007

Your opinions on the trip and church are pretty valid, but as many above have pointed out, this probably isn't a battle worth fighting.

Its sad, but that's the way a lot of churches are these days. Keep reminding her of your point of view and perhaps try finding real trips that are really helping people to get her involved with.

I work with the youth group at my church here in NYC and we took a group of 20 some kids to New Orleans last year to help gut a number of houses. It was hot, hard work, the living conditions were hard (we were robbed once), but we helped a number of older families who otherwise likely would have been stuck in trailers for the rest of their lives. It was cool to see kids realizing that they could make a difference and help other people in real ways. We're going again this August.

Email in profile - I'd be glad to help you try to find similar churches / groups in your area.
posted by allkindsoftime at 9:48 AM on April 27, 2007

anonymous, I am 100% with where you are coming from. Same kind of thing happened with a girl in my church, when one of the other area churches sent a youth group on a mission trip to Russia last summer. (My church very, very quietly picked up the tab for this one girl--this was not quite fair, I think, to the other youth in my church who might have liked to have gone with the other church group, too, but whose parents weren't quite as, uh, good at getting their way.)

I very much appreciate your perspective and hope that some day she may come to that understanding on her own. I recall reading somewhere that Mother Theresa used to get so many requests from people who wanted to fly to India to "help" her, and her response was to ask if there were really no one in their own hometowns who needed help.

Add to this (in the case of the church in my area sending a group) is the concern that many Christians in Russia feel that they already have a faith community--Russian Orthodoxy. Many Orthodox find thse evangelical "mission trips" not a little frustrating in their attitudes. E.g., what are the Orthodox, chopped liver? And why don't these fly-in visitors work with the established charitable ventures of the Orthodox church?

Regarding your situation: of course, everyone in the US just *knows* that there's absolutely no religious tradition of any sort in Southeast Asia. (sarcasm filter off.)

Sigh. Let her go, and hope for the best. I'd go ahead and let the church pay for it--others here are right when they say this is seen as a mission by the church TO the youth. And when she comes back, continue to quietly share with her what you believe and why. Not to change her, or to put down her (and your ex-wife's) beliefs, but so that she knows that you are thinking about these kind of things. That's lived ethics.

I'm with allkindsoftime--there's lots of real work that needs to be done here in the US with Katrina relief--work that 16-year olds are doing, under the auspices of some very well organized church organizations who provide tools, shelter, and food to people who come to the gulf coast to help.

For the record--I did in fact study religion (my own and others) and have a master's degree from a large mainline theological seminary. I think that among that subgroup, you'd find my observations here pretty typical.
posted by apartment dweller at 12:08 PM on April 27, 2007

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