Mission Trips, or Modern Colonization?

LTN Blog, News, Personal Growth, Spiritual Formation, Team Member Blog Leave a Comment

Are evangelical mission trips just modern colonization?

Recent online criticism and anthropological debates denounce mission trips as “modern colonization”—an accusation that we as Christians must take very seriously. If our humanitarian aid is lumped into the same category as the spread of disease, genocide and assimilation of indigenous peoples, we need to examine our motives in spreading the gospel and the true consequences of our actions, no matter how uncomfortable the conversation.

What is the semantical difference between mission trips and colonization?

Mission trips are organized short or long-term encounters with people who do not believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God.

These are often trips that may include philanthropic aid: think of a church’s trip to build an orphanage in Haiti, or a low-income neighborhood clean-up day. Ultimately, the goal of a mission trip is to spread the gospel of Jesus to nonbelievers—and aid is typically a means for that.

Google defines colonization, on the other hand, as “the action or process of settling among and establishing control over the indigenous people of an area.”

So, why the correlation?

The sad reality of our faith is that historically, Christians have justified taking indigenous groups’ land under the guise of Christianity and forced conversion on threat of death or persecution. Colonization relied mostly on European Christians proclaiming themselves to be God’s “chosen people,” while traveling to lands already occupied by indigenous inhabitants. These inhabitants were told God wanted the Europeans to have their land. Occupation, killings, and other forms of persecution took place when prior inhabitants resisted conversion to Christianity—and even sometimes when they didn’t. 

Nonbelievers who denounce mission trips tend to make 2 common misconceptions: 1. Modern-day missionaries have the same institutional influence of colonizers from the 15th-18th centuries and 2. Our motives are the same. 

The Christian faith itself was not the issue, but rather, the people misusing it; if someone hits you on the head with a hammer, would you blame the hammer or the person swinging it?

The colonizers from the “Age of Discovery” were motivated primarily by greed: what treasures did the “New” World possess, and how could Europeans acquire it? Colonizers were secondly propelled by a desire to share the gospel with unbelievers. However, since sin is deadly, greed thwarted the colonizers’ drive to evangelize and corrupted Christianity into a tool of oppression and violence. The Christian faith itself was not the issue, but rather, the people misusing it; if someone hits you on the head with a hammer, would you blame the hammer or the person swinging it? 

Modern-day missionaries are by-and-large motivated by a true desire to share the gospel. While voyeurism (when missionaries enjoy the righteous feeling they get from helping those in pain or distress) is a real danger of modern mission trips, often humanitarian aid and a genuine love for Jesus motivate people to share his Good News. 

It is true that we must shift the focus of mission trips to long-term relationship building, working with and not for a community—but the aid itself is very important. The approach, in some cases, must be readdressed.

“Why not just help marginalized people?” some may ask. “Why even bring religion into it? Why ‘force’ your faith onto others?” 

Good questions! The answer to that lies in who Christians are and who we are called to be. People’s basic needs should be met: schools need built, wells need dug and trash needs picked up. This is all part of bringing God’s kingdom here on earth. 

But even if those tasks are completed and a community is made better for it, if there is no realization that Jesus is Lord, then the souls within the community are at risk of eternal punishment. Christians are tasked to meet people’s earthly needs, as well as their eternal needs.

Some may also argue that Christian mission trips are simply white people forcing their beliefs on unassuming nations; they need to consider, however, that Christianity has Middle Eastern roots, so it is possible to strip the western ideals. We must be culturally sensitive when spreading the gospel, but to hesitate sharing our beliefs with others goes against our heavenly instruction.

God calls us to love one another and make disciples of all nations. There is a fine line between sharing the gospel and forcing our religion on autonomous peoples—but to compare mission trips to colonization is a false characterization of what we as Christians do: love others, and share the gospel.

How has this challenged your view of Christian missions? What are some ways that we, as modern-day Christians, can help nonbelievers view missions in a better, and truer, light?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.