By Connor Montang
DMACC Honors Student
I woke up again in the middle of the night to the rooster crowing. You see, contrary to popular belief, roosters do not in fact crow solely at dawn but whenever it happens to please them, and it seemed to please this particular rooster on this particular night (as well as the three before it) to crow enough that I had lost track of the number of times it had startled me awake. Maybe I would have been a little more desensitized to it if I had learned this lesson while I was growing up in Iowa, but instead fate had allowed me to make it onto a concrete floor in the middle of Puebla, Mexico outside of something that could hardly be called a town but went by the name of La Cima.
This was not my first time out of the country but it was my first mission trip and, despite the lack of sleep, it is a memory that will never leave me. Not because of the work I did, but because of the people I met and how much they came to mean to me.
That trip was four years ago. In the time that has elapsed since I went, I have been increasingly aware of many arguments against mission trips such as the one I went on. The claims are multiple and valid. For example, how much time, money, and effort is wasted in getting an inexperienced high school student to his destination? A person that really wanted to help a foreign community could just send the $1000 he was going to spend on a plane ticket and lodging to a local business and much more efficiently stimulate the local economy while achieving the same goal, thereby helping the whole community. Or take for instance the argument that claims that even if a missionary did end up fundraising and going on a mission trip, there isn’t a guarantee that he would go for reasons that aren’t selfish. After all, service in a foreign country looks good not only on Facebook and Instagram, but applications for scholarships and colleges as well; in fact, many non-profits advertise specifically to this point.
I think these arguments are valid. There are more efficient ways to spend money when helping low income nations and I can’t guarantee that every missionary that steps outside of the US will do so with the best of intentions. But I also think that focusing on these points alone leads to a reductive view of the world. There is something gained from going on, or helping someone else go on, a mission trip that outweighs the apparent efficiency and effectiveness gained from the previously mentioned arguments.
To understand it, look at that chicken I had the misfortune of sleeping near. I thought I knew everything I needed to know about chickens (after all we have them in Iowa as well) but I was wrong. There was still more to learn about something that was both close to home and very far away. This is the fundamental reality that the argument for efficiency fails to recognize.
When a person goes somewhere new it is an opportunity for him to grow and learn in a way that he will never experience in a school. This is especially true when you travel for altruistic purposes.
Sometimes you learn something new about something old, like the fact that roosters crow in the middle of the night.
Sometimes you learn something old from something new, like the fact that even people that are poorer than anyone you will ever meet in the United States still desire (and sometimes achieve) the same things that we desire (and sometimes achieve) in the States: to know and be known by others. To build a better life. To be happy.
What people forget and why mission trips are so important is that on the other side of any border or wall is a person different enough to make you grow from an encounter with them but still similar enough to have the same fundamental desires that you do. This is why investing the money to go on a mission trip is so important. It creates a connection with another person, another community, and another culture in a way that runs deeper than any economic benefit of just sending money to a person in need. It allows for the opportunity to make a friend with someone outside your social or economic class in a way that far exceeds the reach of the narcissist you went with.
Maybe you have never traveled outside of the country. Maybe you never intend to or, even if you do, you don’t intend to do any sort of outreach. That’s okay. I don’t think it will, or should, be any sort of requirement. I do, however, strongly believe that you should be open to your neighbor in a way that many people are not. Going on a mission trip helps accomplish this by revealing what is beyond the superficial and helping to identify what is common and truly human in our experience of this world.
Connor is a 21 year old student currently finishing a Liberal Arts AA degree at DMACC. He serves on the board of One Heart Catholic Missions and has served as a missionary in both Nicaragua and Mexico as well as spending two years as a full-time Catholic missionary in Chicago.He wrote this article as part of a leadership assignment for an Honors Capstone class.