The Math of a Mission Trip
In 2013, Neil traveled to India with three friends to witness India Gospel League’s (IGL) growing ministry. In addition to teaching at a Pastor’s Conference, they traveled up steep mountains roads to visit a village transformed by the Adopt-a-Village program. This holistic program provides clean water, schools, vocational training, medical camps, Bible teaching, and much more.
The trip cost approximately $3000 for each traveler, bringing the total trip costs to a hefty sum of $12,000. Many, including myself, would balk at that price. Wouldn’t that money be much better spent directly helping the people there? Couldn’t it go further there? Are these trips more for the travelers than those they’re supposedly serving? Are they financially inefficient?
These are important questions. It took a decade of interest in short-term missions for Neil to find a organization and type of trip that seemed like a sensible partnership.
Even still, it was hard to cough up $3,000 for travel expenses when many people lack basic needs. Should he skip the trip and give more? In the end we decided it was important to see the work firsthand, help with the organization’s need for Bible teachers, and meet and encourage our sponsored child.
Neil benefited personally from the trip in many ways. He learned new things about himself, God, and the work going on through IGL. He gained a new perspective on the world and our family. But the trip also started a chain reaction of financial giving and spiritual impact, and the cumulative effect far exceeds the $12,000 the team invested. From a mathematical standpoint, this trip was far more financially effective compared to if we’d gifted $3,000 to the organization.
The Chain Reaction
For starters, while Neil’s team was in India they used their limited wi-fi access to connect unsponsored children they met with sponsors from our church. At least 8 children were sponsored at $360 per year, a commitment the donor can continue until the child finishes high school.
When the team returned, they came with a huge ask: Could our church raise $75,000 over 5 years to sponsor a village in India through the Adopt-a-Village program?
Many individuals in our church said yes, and our church was matched with the most remote village in the program. Since then, the village and church there are growing spiritually and economically.
In the past year, a farmers group started meeting to help improve agricultural efforts. Eighty women attended a candle-making training to learn how to generate income for their families. Other women have been trained in tailoring, or making crafts or food to sell.
Adopt-a-Village staff and leaders also gathered for training on communicable diseases, pre- and postnatal care, accessing government subsidies, running Women’s Transformation Groups, and character development.
The people of this village have not been content to keep these benefits to themselves. Another important aspect of the ministry is outreach to other villages in the region. The pastor was walking up to 15 kilometers a day (over nine miles) through rough mountain terrain to share the gospel with neighboring communities. He was living the prophet Isaiah’s statement: “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger who brings good news, the good news of peace and salvation, the news that the God of Israel reigns!” (Isaiah 52:7).
When our church heard this we realized the pastor needed more than just his feet to carry the message—he needed some wheels. The church raised funds and bought him a motor bike.
Since then the pastor has started churches in six neighboring villages. With the help his motor bike, the pastor recently discovered an extremely remote, primitive tribe which is unreached by any government structure. No schools. No health care. No running water or electricity.
To address these urgent needs, our church is in the process of raising an additional $10,000. The gift will be used to provide educational materials for the school and daycare that IGL has started. The money will also provide skills training for villagers, and run medical camps since malaria is rampant.
The Bottom Line
Are mission trips a waste of money? In Neil’s case, his team’s $12,000 investment has yielded well over $90,000 for the ministry. This has directly benefited hundreds of people whom the government was likely unable to help.
Mission trips should not be a trap for endless fundraising. But done right, they can unlock support and action when others hear about an effective organization from a person they trust. In fact, all of our charitable giving has started as a result of hearing a friend speak about their firsthand experience with a particular ministry.
Many of the benefits of a missions trip are difficult to quantify, but there’s no doubt Neil’s trip was a great investment in financial and spiritual impact. Without seeing the Adopt-a-Village program there was little chance our church would’ve felt ready to commit. Our $3,000 was just a drop in the bucket, and we’re excited to hear how far the ripple spreads.
For more on short-term missions, read Are Short-term Mission Trips a Scam? and What Seeing Poverty Taught Me About Pretending to Be Poor.
Do you believe mission trips are financially inefficient? How have you seen the ripple effect of a trip?
I think anything that you consider really valuable in your life could be worth the cost with careful planning and saving. Sounds like it was a great trip for him!
I agree that a huge part of the value is the personal impact and what’s worth it to you.
A portion of my giving has been influenced by organizations like 80,000 hours that emphasize the importance “effective” altruism. However, my main thinking is really emphasized by the ideal of members of the church being the “hands and feet” of Jesus. Yes, we have something that the Indian or Syrian or Egyptian church needs, but they have something for us too. I think short term travel opens up our eyes to the needs around the world, and I think its valuable. Plus its valuable to encourage others and to “translate” the stories.
Plus, I think about short term missions trips that I went on as a teen and the way that they influenced my life. I really want that for my own kids if they should express the interest. I certainly think it set me up to believe in the value of missions.
Really valuable points, Hannah. I agree the bottom line is not all about financial efficiency. Our main priority has been partnership as well. The universal church needs one another.
It’s also true that a visit can help communicate stories and needs that otherwise won’t become known. And it can change your perspective and even your life.
My husband and I have talked about this quite a bit, debating what the best use of funds is. You are right, going in person creates a connection between yourself and the ministry directly; you’re more likely to give later on, but also you are raising awareness for the ministry that will bring them more dollars in the long run.
One non-financial benefit of going in person is remembering to keep that ministry in prayer. It’s a lot more “real” if you actually go instead of just reading about it or hearing about it second hand.
You’re so right that going in person really increases your burden to pray. That has been absolutely true for us.
This is a really good analysis on a big topic for many Christians. I think virtually everyone has asked “are these mission trips the best use of our money?” I’m a bit biased because my trip to Juarez, Mexico, was literally life-changing and you could easily argue changed the course of my life. You definitely have to go beyond just a pure $ comparison, but even then I think you can more than justify the cost of most mission trips abroad. Keep these posts coming! Not many blogs I read hit on these Christian pf topics.
That’s so cool to hear that your trip was truly life-changing! I agree that it’s not all about financial efficiency, but it can end up being worthwhile financially on many levels.
What a wonderful ministry to be involved in! The thought that comes to my mind is that all of the girls you are serving will be better protected against child prostitution The ripple effects here go way beyond the impressive finances you’ve mentioned. Blessings galore!
Yes, the changed circumstances and lives are the best part of the impact. The kids involved have such a better chance for a future!