One of the noblest ways someone can choose to spend their time or live their life is in service. Service comes in many forms: feeding the homeless; picking up trash on the side of the highway; choosing a career in the military, law enforcement or the fire department; mission trips; and many more. But the many forms of service all have one thing in common: They are selfless acts.
True servants don’t seek recognition or praise for their actions because true service is selfless and humble. However, sometimes service attracts people who want to participate for selfish reasons.
A slide promoting a mission trip was projected onto the screens in Waco Hall before Chapel last week. The slide read, “Be transformed.” This simple slide raises a question. When Baylor students decide to go on mission trips, is it to serve their fellow man or to serve themselves? Shouldn’t the slide say something about transforming the lives of the people in need, and not transforming the lives of the students? Are these trips about the mission or the missionary?
This slide was also not a mistake, as on the Baylor Missions Global Missions page it says, “Where will you go & be transformed?” Once again putting the emphasis on the missionaries over those they are supposed to serve. Does Baylor Nation want to send missionaries into the world who truly care about the mission, or who are mainly interested in visiting exotic places and getting great Facebook pictures? Obviously a student can truly care about the mission and also want to visit exotic places, but it matters which they care about more.
It all boils down to intention. The act may be the same, but if the intention is selfish, then it is not true service. For example: If a politician decided to volunteer at a homeless shelter during a campaign while the media was there to show his actions to the voters, that is selfish because the politician is doing it for personal gain. But if a different politician frequently volunteers at homeless shelter, with no media present, and seeks no recognition, then that is an act of true service.
Not every situation is that simple and there is an obvious gray area to this argument. What if the second politician also invited the media to show voters his service even though he selflessly does it all the time? Is that not service? But even understanding that every situation is unique and complex, service versus selfishness can still basically be boiled down to intent. Does a person perform the act for selfish or selfless reasons?
The same questions have been raised about Baylor’s Steppin’ Out program. Steppin’ Out is when students serve the Waco community in ways such as landscaping, painting or cleaning up trash. There have been complaints from some in the Waco community about the quality of work performed during Steppin’ Out. Some students get very excited to help their community and try to do a great job while it seems other go either because it’s their student organization makes it mandatory or they want to get a little self-satisfaction then quit once they feel they’ve done enough, even if the job isn’t complete. The second group is an embarrassment to Baylor and servants everywhere, and another example of selfishness in the guise of service.
Some may not see the harm in this. So what if the students just want to visit exotic places? They’re still helping, right? And Baylor Missions has to recruit missionaries somehow, aren’t they just using good marketing? But there are more and more studies emerging from people who question just how much short mission trips actually help those in need, and the results tend to show that long-term and permanent missionaries are more effective than short mission trips. But some are also trying to help show would-be short-term missionaries how to do it the right way. “When Helping Hurts” by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert is a great example of this.
There is a lot of money spent on transportation, food, lodging, and everything else it takes to shuttle missionaries back and forth for short mission trips. Perhaps that money would be better spent if it were donated to missionaries who are in the region long-term. It could also be argued that sending fewer missionaries that have a true passion for service may actually be more effective than sending many with selfish intentions. An article found at www.shorttermmissions.com/articles/avoid_pitfalls helps echo this message and provides tips to avoid being more hurtful than helpful on short-term mission trips.
In no way does the Lariat editorial board want to say mission trips are bad or discourage students from participating in them. The message is to check your intentions. Go into the trip with clear and selfless goals and be prepared to make sacrifices for you fellow man and receive no thanks or anything else in return.
Understand the culture you are about to enter, how serious the situation is and what the consequences of your actions might be. Mission trips are not fun vacations to take in order to make yourself feel better, and if you’re not already solid in your walk with Christ, perhaps you shouldn’t be traveling across the globe to evangelize others.
If you have a true servant’s heart, and can do all that, the rewards will be far greater than a cool Facebook picture.