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Jesus Vacations

coffee with jesus mission trips
Comic by Coffee with Jesus

Recently, my wife received an email from a college student who worked for her one summer. This girl — an Evangelical Christian — wanted to let Polly know that she was raising $6,000 so she could go to a “secret” country and do illegal missionary work. The girl meant well, I am sure, but her email was a reminder to me of the Jesus Vacations® many Evangelicals take each summer to foreign lands to spread white American Christianity. Scores of Evangelicals take these trips each year, spending millions of dollars as Jesus tourists; convincing themselves that what meager, incidental work they do matters.

Why didn’t the girl’s church pay for her trip? If the goal is winning souls for Christ in a country that forbids such things, why not have the soulwinners or their churches pay for the trip? Instead, trip takers turn to people they know — family, friends, casual acquaintances, workmates — to cough up the money so they can take an unnecessary Jesus Vacation® to what they believe is the foreign mission field. Polly, of course, did not respond to the email, nor did she forward it others as the sender requested. In our Christian days, we didn’t support such wastes of energy and money, and as unbelievers we sure as Hell aren’t going to help American Evangelicals harass foreign non-Christians.

Jesus Vacations® are taken primarily by white middle-class Evangelicals. While certainly “some” good is accomplished; say, building housing, digging wells, and improving the welfare of people in poverty-stricken countries, the irony here is that many Evangelicals who minister to material needs while on their Jesus Vacations® won’t do the same in their own country. In their minds, Haitians are worthy of care, but poor blacks, whites, and Hispanics in impoverished areas in the deep south? Let them starve. Get a job! Mexicans on the American side of the border are criminals worthy of deportation, abusers of American goodness and largess. Mexicans south of the Rio Grande? Why, now they are a mission field; people worthy of missional attention from rich white Evangelicals.

After these Jesus-loving travelers return from their Jesus Vacations®, they will stand before their fellow congregants one Sunday and give a testimony of all the things they did for Jesus; of all the goodwill they spread to the poor; and, most of all, the number of people who prayed the sinner’s prayer and asked Jesus to save them. Charismatic vacationers will regale their churches with claims of miracles, yet will not provide evidence for their claims. Year after year, Evangelicals take Jesus Vacations®, never considering whether they are really doing anything meaningful or whether the money spent for travel and other expenses could have been put to better use.

Jesus Vacations® tend to support the false notion that poor people of color in other countries need affluent white American Christians to help them and deliver them from Satan. Why not, instead, send the money to Christians who live in these countries and let them spend it helping their fellow citizens? Wouldn’t doing so be more cost-effective? Instead of fifty college students coughing up $6,000 each for a Jesus Vacation® — $300,000 — wouldn’t it be far better to send it to people who know their country and communities, and what needs people might have? Bruce, surely you know we can’t trust poor blacks with white people’s money! They need us – “us” being affluent white Evangelicals — to manage how the monies are spent. USA! USA USA!  JESUS! JESUS! JESUS!

mission trip
Comic by Tom Tapp

Of course, sending the money to the field and forgoing Jesus Vacations® will never happen. You see Jesus Vacations® give the appearance of doing good in Jesus’ name. These trips are feel-good, Hallmark-like experiences. They allow trip takers to oh-so-humbly brag about how Jesus used them to materially help and evangelize poor people of color. Praise be to Jesus! Look what I, uh, I mean, Jesus, did! The humble-bragging extends to pastors and older congregants too. Look at what WE did for Jesus! Look at how we helped those poor, helpless Haitians (and ignored the poor people who live next door to the church)! As with most things Evangelical churches do, no one will ever question the value of taking Jesus Vacations®. No one will ever ask, WHY do we take these trips every year? Oh no, you don’t: thou shalt not question. Summers are for vacation Bible school (VBS), youth camp, and Jesus Vacations® (and here in Ohio a day trip to either King’s Island or Cedar Point). And so it goes, year after year . . .

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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  1. Avatar

    A real bete-noire of mine. This – very long – article says it all, highlighting the shocking abuses that can occur – and funny ones too, like the tanzanians who went out after dark and rebuilt a wall as western teens had done it so badly. These young people are told their very presence is ‘sharing jesus love’. If they can take spectacles, trainers, bracelets, bras (yes, really, I know groups who’ve taken those. Cheap glasses or shoes while they’re wearing designer ones).In fact, I suggest the locals think our streets must be paved with gold. Why, teens only have to do chores for a year, or appeal to their rich churches and the money is forthcoming for their airfare. This sum is an eye-watering amount to a local. beyond their wildest dreams of wealth. Instead of sending teens to build a well/paint a school etc, send one expert. Check first there are no experts locally, and ensure they employ and empower poverty-stricken local folk to do the tasks.

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      Amy B

      That’s a very good article! Here’s another problem with these short term mission trips: they put people out of business, particularly the textile industries. When you take all that clothing to countries in Africa, they don’t buy the locally made clothing, putting the clothing manufacturers out of business. Same for other types of businesses that suffer from donations.

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    I am embarrassed to say I went on some of these “mission trips” during my younger years, primarily through church. I did go on a secular one – Alternative Spring Break which was started by 2 students at my university and is now a nationwide thing – but we were serving food in homeless shelters and interacting with people. Each of these trips was uncomfortable – it was like we were there to sing and play with kids and talk about Jesus and serve food but not much else. It was like we were featured entertainment.

    My husband’s family members have gotten into a particular voluntourism to Dominican Republic where they ” build houses”. It costs $1500 to go for 2 weeks. They tried to convince us to send our teen kids but we didn’t as we saw it as feel-good work for rich white people (which is what it is). I have a cousin who goes to Haiti 4-5 times a year through a religious organization. I can’t quite grasp what’s happening but it looks like a community center where kids are fed and hear about Jesus, and I don’t see much more going on than that. It doesn’t look like nutritious food but probably better than what the kids get at home – they just have to sit through a Jesus presentation

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    Christianity IS a kind of Jesus vacation, isn’t it? You take a hike/trip/flight from your genuine self and go bye-bye to Reason so that you can continue to avoid looking after yourself in a brand new way! You were a boozer? Now you are are user for Jesus. You were lost? Now you can tell others they are! Look at how Found I am and you can be too!
    Git saved and go on that Jesus Vacation from honest living. Tell me that without HIM you would be in the gutter…. Hey, you ARE in the gutter. You don’t care for yourself enough to give yourself a break and care about living so you hold to your denial and die in Jesus! What victory! What joy! Shucks you were such a worthless shit before your Jesus vacation…
    Several of my kin have made these ass-first journeys. My nieces took basketballs to Africa for Jesus. For Christ’s sake, that is exactly right!
    How fucking self-serving dumb can you be? (I used to be just as they are too! Yahooo!) How much can you hate yourself and play stupid for the Lord? Jesus is spending you like spare change… What are you truly worth, biped?
    As has been stated so many times, Why not do it at home! Why not take your fucking basketballs to kids around you who can’t afford one?
    The answer is simple and plain: Taking a vacation is better and it’s doing God’s Will! Its all in the Bible! Even the Golden Rule supports it. If you know Jesus, that is…. Do unto others in distant vacation spots as you would do funto yourself…. Jesus saves by spending. You can’t understand it because you don’t BELIEVE. You atheists just live for yourselves and pervert everything, even holy, honest missionary basketball! Blessed are the basketball givers for they shall receive dunks!

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      And the basketballs you mention and the bras, bracelets shoes etc I know to have been taken could often be sourced locally. I was asked to contribute to buy baby bibs for a x-tian orphanage in China. Having been to China, I can assure you there are plenty of market stalls selling them. An order for 100 bibs would feed that trader’s family for a month. If I ruled the world, organisations like ‘Little Dresses for Africa’ (cos little girls need to look ‘pretty’ and heaven forbid they might have to wear jeans or shorts instead which are sinful) would be banned too. A small-ish sum sent, or lent to an African to buy a sewing machine empowers him to earn a living – there’s plenty of fabric in Africa. The money he/she earns feeds and educates a family and the education lifts them out of poverty too. Oh, and I refused to make prayer shawls to be taken to a poor part of Ukraine to ‘share jesus-love’. As my friend said, send a donation to buy a pig or some hens for the community so they will have the dignity of an income, not silly prayer shawls.

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    Dear future missionary who wants money,
    1) You don’t mention how much money the church is spending to send you on the trip. Probably zero.
    2).You don’t mention how much of that money is for supplies for the locals vs the church taking a cut.
    3) You don’t mention making the same kind of effort here in your own country to benefit Americans who need this help.
    4) You don’t say that you are a white, comparatively affluent Evangelical who wants to convert poor non-evangelicals of color to your version of religion through a few days or weeks of feel-good work done in secret. Then you might get arrested as a spy. Your family will have to raise more money, from friends, not the church, to be released, and deal with the State Dept. Then you can write a book and go on a speaking tour. You have thought that far ahead, right?

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    Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    You missed another point about Jesus Vacations you may not have run up against: The organizations are ill prepared for bad things that happen. On one of my daughter’s trips to Romania they had a bus accident where the bus ended up filling with black smoke. About a dozen kids ended up in the hospital. She was sick for a solid three months with lung issues.

    On another trip I had told the team leaders about her issues with anemia and problems with her immune system, sending her with preventative meds and meds to take care of any problem. They assured me if would not be a problem and if she had a flare they’ll allow her to rest for a day or two back at the compound. What the team leader actually did was seize my daughter’s drugs, refuse to allow her to rest when she did have a flare because they’d taken her maintenance drugs. She came home sick again.

    None of these people at one of the biggest mission trips org had any training or even idea about how to handle medical emergencies. Why would anyone send their vulnerable teen into the arms of people with no training. We learned that lesson the hard way. Unsafe.

    Funnily enough we even get those mission kids here in Costa Rica, even here, a place that is all vacation with zero Jesus and not impoverished. Party on. They tend to do whatever it is they do for the morning and end up on the beach for the second half of t he day.

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    Paul Brown

    Ahh…this explains much to me. I am an atheist now of only a few years and had only vaguely heard of this push in Summer Camp style young American evangelical-ism wannabes abroad.

    My Living For Jesus niece went on summer trips to “The Congo” and some other countries, but I never could quite figure out why she would go to such a place as a young white / Hispanic mix woman.

    But it seemed to be a glorius, “look at me, aren’t we wonderful in our White Jesusness” from her group. Some kind of “I’m wonderful” resume enhancement ticket punch.

    Now it all comes together and explains it perfectly in this article.

    When I was in Army Special Forces we went deep into 3rd world countries at times, and did things at much higher funded levels of course, but without selling religion.

    These missions weren’t a summer fling or a “dabble” to earn a Jesus Badge of bragging rights. These were highly orchestrated, meticulously planned and executed professional missions with the full power of the U.S A. behind them. A thing of wonder and pride to behold, really, if you ever saw it in action.

    We were highly trained in the language, culture and history of these target regions. Those are big, multimillion dollar operations. Building wells, schools, clinics, medical and veterinary work and more. Almost a Peace Corps feel to it at times. Overlaying the core military core mission of training indigenous troops in martial skills.

    Americans are not the only one’s doing this kind of thing. The Chinese are doing more of this kind of thing now, and working to establish footholds in South America and Africa especially. As did the Cubans and Russians globally, under the Soviet era, albeit on a more economically limited scale. Part of proxy-war techniques.

    These efforts are designed to win “Hearts & Minds” of the natives towards the American Way. And to gain support for perhaps other not so nice American policies that were happening on a strategic scale.

    These can be perfectly valid American policies depending on where one lands politically on these issue and worldview.

    John Fitzgerald Kennedy was a big proponent of this and led the USA strongly in that direction of Mobile Training Teams. In fact he is sanctified, practically deified, with a bronze bust at the JFK Special Warfare Training Center And Schools at Fort Bragg, NC. There are museums and a lot of history there that can be visted online or in person.

    I was a true believer in America and still very much am. It’s all I’ve got as an American. For most people on the planet, the nation they were born into is the only one they’ll ever have. I hope that every American is a patriot in her or his own way and I believe the vast majority are.

    But I’m for a solidly secular America. If America fails, we all do. No other nation has the desire to rescue America or has the economic power to do so.

    America has done good things that we can all be proud of, and is a generous nation. That part is true of our collective identity.

    Getting a little OT here with this but I think it ties into and relates to these young Jesus faux Missionaries wanting to do something “big” that ties in their American Jesus worldview which seems to have a mostly political right feel to it.

    In my opinion, the mission of atheists, skeptics and secularists is to defend America from anymore takeover by the Religious right fundy extremists.

    Or takeover by a radicalized, nonsensical, brutal totalitarian left.

    We don’t want RW Death Squads and concentration camps. Or LW Gulag Archipelago’s that disappear and destroy people for the slightest perceived infraction.

    Both extremes are scary and disastrous. I myself have moved from the religious right to slightly left of center. And I hope I have moved to more reason, rationality and critical thinking. That is progress.

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    Atheist here.
    These people also don’t consider their impact on the kids they visit, who may bond through play and singing, introduced to a world they can’t attain, and then abandoned.
    And missionaries whose only goal is “soul winning” without improving the material needs of the people they visit are just seeking to count coup on how many people are “saved.” My guess is that there’s also a sense that Jesus will love you more if you save more souls, while ignoring what Jesus instructed his followers to do.
    I have to say that Jimmy and Roslyn Carter are humble worthy role models who have manifested their Christian mandate in incredibly positive ways through Habitat for Humanity and working hard (and very successfully) to contain and eradicate, if possible, horrible endemic diseases in Africa, Latin America, Yemen.
    If you find yourself in Atlanta, GA, be sure and visit the very peaceful Carter Center, modestly tucked into a hillside in a grove of trees.

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    It is incredibly stupid and dangerous to go to a country evangelism is illegal with the purpose of evangelizing anyway. If there is an indigenous Christian community in that country, you endanger them as well as endangering yourself.

    Then there are those asshats like John Chau who was going to evangelize the Sentinelese. He was killed with a bow and arrow as he approached the island. I don’t know how he intended to preach to the Sentinelese people since their language is completely unknown. What is more likely is that he’d have brought diseases to which they have no immunity and committed genocide of the Sentinelese.

    The wikipedia entry says he tried soaking Xhosa to them when he was offshore. Xhosa is one of the languages spoken in South Africa. Just because the Sentinelese have brown or black skin doesn’t mean they’d have any knowledge of a language spoken by one of the tribes indigenous to South Africa. Even non-Xhosa South Africans don’t know Xhosa. Trevor Noah has some good stuff in Born a Crime about South African languages.

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    This reminds me of the preachers who show up in a big city and decide to plant a new megachurch. They plant it right in the middle of the wealthiest suburb in town. The excuse is always the same. I heard it in my old SBC megachurch, which was plant in just such a suburban town:

    “Why son. Rich white people need Jesus too.”

    They can’t fool me. I know why these preachers do it. They want to live high on the hog, rub elbows with all the wealthy people, and hope some of their wealth will rub off on them—like stock tips—blah—blah—blah.

    I just wish they would be honest about it and actually say it.

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    If you’ve ever seen the groan worthy movie “Soul Surfer” about a very Christian surfer girl who gets her arm mawwed off by a shark, you can get a sense of guilt trips and coercion are used to get teens to join a far away and expensive mission.
    When these missions (as in the movie to an area devastated by the tsunami of 2004) are to an area that has been subject to a natural disaster, visiting skill-less missionaries are the worst possible thing to send (and money is the best). The simple fact is that the missionaries require food and lodging, things in short supply during a disaster.

    Unfortunately, North Sentinel island’s recent visit is a lot like when the crew of Star Trek the Next Generation first encounter the Borg. Now that the island is on the radar it will likely become a routine target. Yes they neutralized the intruder and his alien diseases, but likely inspired the next guy to visit.

    My advice, for the money, just go on a vacation and take your Christian values with you. (And by that I mean be law abiding and kind, tip well, reach out to people, etc.) The tourist revenue will do the area some good, and rather than have a vacation that sucks and does nothing but harm, you’ll at least have the chance of a wonderful time.

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    mary g

    often these people cause damage to the local economy by bringing in free clothing,labor, etc. they also cause emotional pain to young children they temporarily befriend and then abandon when said trip is over. then they brag and post pics about to make themselves feel good. they also tend to build church buildings and not offer any real help that would be good for the long term. a travesty.

    • Avatar

      Christianity is designed to harm self and others. The missionary vacations perform the real purpose of the religion and believers prefer to deny the obvious reality as it affects themselves and others (the locals) so they can remain in perfect denial, in glorious communion with Jesus.

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    Richy Rich Preacher Man

    My grandfather was such a preacher, LOL. Made a career preaching in a “nice wealthy white southern California beach town” in the 1950s to 80s. They are all tied in with the business communities. His house eventually sold for 3/4 million. Which is decent but there are preachers with even more millions. Quite the tax exempt racket.

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    Yes the Jesus vacations are awful, around here all the middle class to rich kids go off to Haiti, Dominican Republic, and other countries. We live right next to a very poor ‘ghetto’ area, it’s always interesting to me how the “help” is taken overseas and always to warm areas with nice beaches, hmm they don’t ever go anywhere cold, what’s that about? It is kind of sickening there’s tons of poor people in America who could use help but in the richy-rich religious right circles, those people don’t exist and are seen as “lazy bums” anyway who “failed in our great system due to their own shortcomings.” All those thousands for plane tickets and hotels. I was IFB when I was a Christian but visited an SBC for a short time after a move, and the SBC pastor there went on one of those trips with the youth, for a week in Jamaica. I wonder how much tax write-offs they can make with these trips? It’s imperialism too, selling the “American way of life” those people never could have and many here don’t have.

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    I also hate that they are targeting former French and Spanish Catholics with this crap! Isn’t it bad enough that they lost their original faith a culture to Catholicism? At least catholic belief can be elastic enough to partly accommodate their original beliefs, but no, we have to add Protestant evangelical beliefs with their strain of Calvinism on top?

    It just frosts my cookies extra, doubling the destruction of cultures with our crap culture!

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