Why mission trips are inherently racist

I am NOT saying that everyone who goes on a mission trip is racist. However, I am saying that people who go on a mission trip believe that their way of life and belief system is inherently better than those of the ones they are visiting. It is superior enough that they feel the need to spend thousands of dollars and spend weeks of their time to try to convert others to their mindset. Unable to accept cultural and racial differences, and to attempt to westernize and whitewash countries that do not need spiritual help, as many of these countries have their own belief system. And I am saying that these communities that get visited are 100% communities dominated by people of color.

This has been rolling around in my brain for quite some time, and honestly has been since the first time this concept it was introduced to me. The way it was presented to me, was that primarily teenagers and young adults would spend a hefty sum of money on traveling to and live in a foreign, third world, country for a few weeks to months. They would help out in said third world country by helping build schools, rebuild houses, advance the area thru creating greater irrigation, and a lot of other projects that yes, are very beneficial to these communities.

However, the toxic component is what comes next. Mission trip attendees do all of this work, in exchange for a chance to ‘teach’ the locals their way of life, aka their faith. Now, I understand that people love their religion. They love their god, and they love their god, and they will always love their god. I have no issue with that. However, I do take issue with people believing that their way of religion (which, for many of these teens/young adults is their entire identity, their whole culture) is better than that of the local’s.

If you look at the demographics of those who participate in the act of mission trips, you’ll notice the demographics. It’s generally, and I am generalizing, I know that this is not all mission trip partakers, wealthier, white teens and young adults. These people have the money to spend on weeks to months-long glorified vacation. They have the privilege to know that they can take off from life for a summer and come back and be fine. They are privileged to be able to travel there, and they are privileged in the thought that their way of life is better than those that they are “teaching.” 

A majority of people that partake and facilitate mission trips most definitely do not think of mission trips this way. They believe they are helping. They think they are going to these countries, and they are revolutionizing these peoples way of life. However, that is where the white savior mindset comes to play. No one wants to believe that they are a white savior, but the photos of people with African kids, and the lack of consciousness for the systemic racism at home proves my point exactly. If you can post about your mission trip, your t-shirt sales, how you are making the lives of the people in third world countries better, then you can take time to post about the systemic racism at home. Simple as that. You are not shy to post. You are shy to post in a situation that doesn’t benefit you.

I was a part of a Christian organization for about two years of college. I am not here to shit on my experience. Overall, everyone was nice. Everyone was generally welcoming, judgmental yes, but welcoming. It was a wholesome break on Thursday evenings. However, this break was meaning I was joining an organization that was anti women’s rights, one of the leaders of the organization even pulled the blame the woman for what she was wearing bullshit on a Valentine’s Day talk. 

This organization also promoted mission trips. In fact, two days ago, this organization posted a post, of East Asia, close to where I am from, with the words “want to learn more about culture and life in East Asia? Message us.” 

I’m not shy. This organization is CRU at NC State. I’m not being petty by posting this, as I got slightly nauseous two years ago when I first saw a white man and his girlfriend walk into Thursday’s session in full traditional “south Asian” gear. Back then, I believe CRU visited South Asia. I think their clothing was a mix of Laotian and Vietnamese, but it was simply referred to as “South Asian”, and they were inviting us to a “South Asian” dinner.

As a Vietnamese person, I love ao yai’s (ao dai if you’re in north Vietnam, and that is how it is referred to in the western and American dictionaries, you can do the math and think about why). I love white people in ao yai’s. But, what I don’t love is white people in ao yai’s hosting a country-less dinner branded as “South Asia” and to encourage kids to go on a $5500 trip there to try to convince university students in those countries to follow God. Nauseous yet? That’s right. They weren’t even visiting the poor people in those countries to try to help them, and they are visiting the wealthy college students in those countries. 

EDITED FOR CLARITY: CRU is not able to release the names of the countries visited because it is illegal to preach Christianity in those countries. (07-01-2020)

So, some of you might still be wondering, “how is this racist?” Well, this is inherently racist for these three ways. 1) These trips are built off the belief that one culture is better than another. In this example, these countries have their own religions; there is Buddhism, Hinduism, and Daoism. The flier from CRU refuses to acknowledge those religions, though. 2) These trips are designed to have the attendee feel above the locals; as the attendee is there to help the locals. They are doing a favor for them, in their mind. 

“But I just love God so much, and I want other people to know about him,” is a common thought and a shared belief amongst many in support of mission trips. And I understand that. However, the want to convert someone to your way of life, someone who is in a less privileged situation than you, and someone, who’s country happens to be a country dominated by people of color, is inherently racist.