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Rethinking the $3,000 Missions Trip
Image: Courtesy of Katie Norrell

Rethinking the $3,000 Missions Trip

When I learned that kids in my city couldn't swim, I started to rethink how much I'd invested in overseas missions.

Emily noticed Martin roaming her neighborhood from morning to night, and asked if he wanted to join the swim team. When he said yes, Emily went to work organizing rides and meals. Other families began taking turns in the car pool line. It costs $25 to join the team because Emerald Youth Foundation raises funds to cover caps, goggles, bus transportation, food, insurance, and pool time. All Souls Church, the downtown congregation that I pastor, included the swim team in our mission budget and supports the team with volunteer coaches.

The broader community is also partnering with Knoxville's churches in serving Martin and his friends. For example, I recently stood up at a coaches' meeting and asked if any team had old lane lines they could loan us. I had three offers in three minutes. Swimmers from the Pilot Aquatic Club, Knoxville's nationally ranked club team, have donated fins, suits, and kickboards. Even the University of Tennessee swim team has gotten involved, providing suits, coaches, and lane lines.

Rethinking the $3,000 Mission Trip

In some ways, however, what is happening with our urban swim team is more the exception than the rule in our city. Some well-meaning Christians have a theology of mission that seeks to alleviate the spiritual and physical suffering of people far away, but pays little attention to needs here at home.

I know because I was one of them. I spent many years taking mission trips to Tulcea, Romania. We shared the gospel, cared for orphans, and started a medical clinic. It seemed that God moved in powerful ways. Then my friends Jon and Toni moved into one of Knoxville's marginalized neighborhoods. Jon invited me to go on prayer walks with him on Wednesday mornings. I saw syringes on playgrounds, prostitutes turning tricks, hustlers selling drugs. Our walks led me to volunteer at the elementary school in Jon's neighborhood. I'd assumed all the schools in our city were pretty much the same. They aren't. Kids with B averages in Jon's school score in the 30th percentile on standardized tests. Kids with B averages in my neighborhood score in the 90th percentile.


Rethinking the $3,000 Missions Trip

Rethinking the $3,000 Missions Trip

When I learned that kids in my city couldn't swim, I started to rethink how much I'd invested in overseas missions.
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Displaying 2–6 of 12 comments

carlene byron

August 07, 2013  4:35pm

Our North Carolina suburban church had a pulpit exchange with a British church this summer. The pastor and his South African wife came. To me, the most startling comment he made was that our community reminded them both of South Africa. I didn't get a chance to press for details, but I inferred that the resemblance extended beyond our red soil. We have large suburban lots with big houses, good city services, luxury shopping malls and white residents in part of the city ... various people of color living overcrowded in small, worn houses with iron-grated neighborhood marts and poor services in other neighborhoods. If you know how to see it, you can even recognize homes where people are living behind boarded-up windows. The return from a Third World short-term can make it hard to imagine that other Americans, living in so wealthy a nation, could possibly need your church's help. And yet, if you choose to see, it's in front of you.

Christoph Koebel

August 02, 2013  11:30pm

Okay another article which ATTACKS mission trips. They see only the $3,000 ticket for LIFE CHANGING INVESTMENTS. My first "missiontrip" did not cost me $3,000, since I grew up on the LEAST REACHED continent. There are bad and well organized mission trips. Some companies, like OM, do that for over 50 years. Let us reach folks across the street and across the world.


August 01, 2013  12:38am

Mission trips are not usually far-away vacations. They introduce locals to missions. Some who go may decide to become missionaries. Some may come back with a desire to support missions. The question is not which is better or more important, the question is what does God's Spirit lead each one of us to do?

Maj G

July 31, 2013  4:43pm

In addition to administering a Christ-centered drug and alcohol rehabilitation program in California, I serve on the board of a missions organization that sends groups on short term trips around the world. I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the sheer weight of human need in my city and in distant places. I am greatly inspired and comforted that Christians are being moved by God the Holy Spirit to 'do something' even if they cannot rationally explain the economics or the outcomes (like Martin). In the end, we have all served Christ and have hopefully been humbled by exposure to Him as the least among us.

John pierce

July 31, 2013  10:03am

My church does both. Once or twice each year we send teams to Central America to engage in building and other projects, but we also minister in the inner city, not only of our own general area (Columbus, OH), but also of others not close to home such as Cleveland. But in doing all this, we don't neglect our own suburban area, either (where people are spiritually needy). I realize that not all churches have our particular set of resources, but I think that the Lord provides what is needed for the task(s) to which He has called.


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