Early mission trips were taken by all of the Church Fathers. Paul went to modern day Turkey, Matthew went to Egypt, and Peter spoke to Gentiles across the known world. Missions are deeply rooted in the Catholic Tradition.
Today many Christians take mission trips across the country and globe. They are often to underserved areas in the US, or to developing countries. The breadth of possible trips is pretty crazy. From working in Appalachia, to Native American Reservations, to South America and beyond. If God is calling you somewhere, a Mission Trip is a beautiful way to answer his call.
There are many great organizations that help provide mission trips such as Catholic Heart Workcamp or Creatio. I recommend checking both of them out if you want to go on a short term mission trip that provides a great service.
The two I referenced above are fantastic, and the benefits of Mission Trips are huge both to those being served and those serving. The focus of this blog post, will not be on that, it will be on what I have learned on my two missions to Uganda, and what I did wrong both times.
Mission Trip 1
This was the first overseas mission trip I had ever done. My first true mission trip was with Catholic Heart Workcamp in Appalachia. It was beautiful, and I wanted more. When the opportunity came up to go to Uganda to teach English for four weeks, I jumped at it and started working to save the money and go.
I was Blessed to have the parents I have, because they were supportive and allowed their 16year old to start planning this trip. I would be going to a third world country the next year at the ripe old age of 17, alone. Did I forget to mention that? They were very trusting in me, but most importantly they trusted God and would listen to his will.
As the youngest of seven children, they also had six more if I didn’t come back, so I imagine that gave them comfort.
In all honesty it was difficult for them to come to terms with, but they spoke to a local priest we knew who was from Uganda and asked him what he thought. He said I would be safe, and they trusted him, and God, and allowed me to go.
Prepping for this trip was exciting and I started to bring as much stuff as I could in one place so that I could give lots of gifts when I arrived. I decided I would only bring a carry on for my clothes, so that both suitcases could be packed with items for the kids and the parishioners of the church I was staying at.
This was my first and biggest mistake (of many) during that trip.
Problems With Donating Cheap Items
This part of the post may be controversial, but I will try to explain the best way I can. Mission trips that provide services, expertise, and most importantly the Joy of the Gospel are absolutely necessary all across the world. Everywhere, no matter if it is poor areas int he United States or Sub-Saharan Africa have the same desire to have food to eat, a place to stay, and to be loved by God and treated with dignity,
What they do not need is our cheap secondhand goods. Many things I received were high quality and new, but quite a few things were stained, ripped, or worn. I threw those out.
I understand the impulse to give items, though I will explain below why that is not as beneficial as we believe. When I went and people gave me high quality items to bring I would bring them, but I refused to bring anything I would not wear or use. They deserve dignity, and to be completely honest they dress better than we do.
Ugandans dress in beautiful colors and clothes. They take care of what they have and dignify their environment and situations by dressing well. I was embarrassed to have brought shorts and t-shirts. I imagined that would be the norm, little did I know every man who could afford it wore a suit to mass!
Problems with Donating All Items
In Uganda the average person lives on about $3 per day. When we look at that and see an $8 ball that we can donate to a school, it seems like a no brainer that we would send everything we can.
That well intentioned idea destroys the sovereignty and dignity of Ugandans and people all across the world that rely on foreign aid. When we ship items there that we purchase from this side of the Globe, all e are doing is keeping that money out of their economy. The small mom and pop store trying to put there kids through school and put food on the table by selling sporting goods out of their living room now cannot compete.
It is even worse for local tailors. We have seen the struggle it is for American clothing manufacturers to compete with low cost goods from China. Now imagine that same situation, but the goods are free. It destroys industries and keeps the people in poverty. I am not blaming, I am explaining why I no longer bring (most) items to Uganda when I visit.
The way to pull a country out of poverty is not through giving them THINGS, it is through helping them get an EDUCATION and have enough to eat. By the way, shipping food to these countries is even worse than goods. They can grow their own food, we just have to help them with the knowledge on how to maximize their agriculture output without destroying their environment. Again, education.
Bishop Sheen Rosaries was originally created to provide money to the school that I taught at in Uganda. These funds are sent to help offset the price of food, fund necessary repairs, and provide scholarships when needed. We believe that helping provide education, not providing material goods, is the best way to help a country pull itself out of poverty,
The past year and a half we have taken that out of our marketing, because I was concerned that it would seem as if I was marketing that just to sell rosaries. That was foolish.
I am writing this to let all of you know that I will be going back to explaining that each rosary provides the equivalent funding for 2 weeks of food to a Child in Uganda, at Mary Seat of Wisdom School.
I will be asking that priest to provide us updates on the growth of the school, and what is happening at the time. I will also be explaining where the money goes, and why it goes to what it does. Sometimes the money will go to food, but other times it will go to a roof, a new bus, or something else the school needs at that exact moment.
P.S. The picture above is from the school that has been built with aid from Bishop Sheen Rosaries.