How Going on Vacation Might be Better than Going on a Mission.

The other day someone asked if we have any big plans for this summer, and El Chupacabra and I looked at each other and smiled because we do have big plans for this summer. We have really big plans…
When we shared our big news, we probably should have expected her response, but it still caught us off guard when she said, “That’s amazing! Who will you be working with?”
We glanced at each other, “…Working?”
“Yeah. Like, what organization are you partnering with? What are you goingto do there?”
And then it got awkward, because we were all, “Ooooooh. Oh. Yeah. No, it’s not like that. We’re not going on a mission, we’re going on vacation… You know, just for fun. Entertainment. Relaxation. Adventure. That sort of thing.”
She blinked and looked confused.
I guess that’s understandable. I can see how it might be counterintuitive to imagine a Missions Pastor and a writer who has the word “missionary” in the title of her blog taking their kids to Africa and not going on a mission. But that’s exactly what we’re doing. We’re going to fly all the way across the world, and then we are notgoing to dig a well, we’re notgoing to hold any orphans, and we’re notgoing to treat anyone’s parasites (unless, of course, they’re our own). We will not be seen in matching T-shirts or praying in a circle at the airport, and you won’t catch us “loving on” complete strangers with sweaty hugs, zealous high fives, or bullhorn street-corner evangelism.
The habitual short term missionary (the one who collects passport stamps crossing the planet on the support-raised dime of the Church to participate in safely organized service opportunities) will have a stroke if they read this, so maybe don’t send it to them. Or do. But, for sure, choosing fun over field will have some people questioning my love of God, my commitment to Jesus, and my very salvation.
Behold, she chose a family vacation over a Christian mission
and, lo, there was a great clutching of pearls.
Here’s the thing. I’ve lived abroad, traveled a bunch, willfully participated in and happily hosted short term teams, crossed paths with people from all walks of life and faith and culture, broken bread with the wealthy elite and the poorest of poor, and conversed with some of the most educated and experienced leaders in the global church movement, and it’s all led me to this conclusion:

Going on a kickass vacation can be healthier, more productive, and more beneficial
 to both the traveler and the world than a short term mission.
I’ve come to believe my money is better spent in the hotels, restaurants, shops, gas stations, parks, monuments and attractions that provide legitimate jobs and dignified work to the very same locals I would otherwise be “blessing” on a short term mission trip. Tourism is a gross domestic product, an industry that creates layers and layers of real, sustainable jobs for a countries workforce. I’d wager that it’s far kinder and more generous for you to leave a tip and a favorable comment for the woman who cleans your hotel room each day, than for you to show up on her doorstep with your selfie stick and a bag of rice once a year (#blessed). When you vacation somewhere, you’re contributing to a healthy demand for everything from the edible goods of the rural farmer who might otherwise sell his child, to the administrative services of the urban student who might otherwise sell herself. When you vacation in the places you’d usually mission, you’re engaging people’s pride and joy without exploiting their shame.
I know, I know – What about all the other stuff? Like, what about showing our kids how other people live? And what about exposing our pampered teenagers to poverty? What about getting uncomfortable? What about learning to serve others? Every single time I speak on missions at churches or universities, these questions come up. And every time this is what I say:
  • I have an intrinsic desire to see the whole entire world and to show as much of it as I can to my kids. I believe this is inherent in me as a human, because we are drawn to the work of our Creator. I believe it can be a form of worship and I believe it can have value. BUT. It is not the Church’s responsibility to send me or my kids all over the world for the purpose of “exposure”. If you think it’s that important, you should sign your kid up for a foreign exchange program and pay for it yourself, or with grandma’s help or whatever. As much as you and I both want it to be, crossing boarders is it is not crucial to your child’s development as human or as a Christian. It’s cool, but not crucial.
  • Using poor kids to teach rich kids a lesson about how good they have it is just gross. It’s ineffective at best, and incredibly harmful at worst. Plus, it’s ICKY.
  • You will never get more uncomfortable than in the intimacy of meaningful relationships with the people to the right and left of you, so go love your actual neighbor. Short term missions are more of a relief from the depth and discomfort of real life and real love and real relationship than a true dip into discomfort. 
  • An attitude of service should be learned at home and applied in the world, not the other way around, so if learning to serve is your end goal, there’s no need to hop on a plane to do menial tasks for strangers. I promise, not a day of your life has gone by that wasn’t chock full of opportunities to serve others – that’s true of vacation days, too – we all just need to be looking.
    omg. I KNOW. I just like the way it sounds. Jeez.
So we are going to South Africa, Botswana, and Mozambique, and we’re going there on vacation. And that’s it. Who we’re going with is each other. Why we’re going is for fun. What we’re doing is cool shit. Oh, and? Who’s footing the bill is our own damn selves. We are going to stay in mediocre hotels, visit beautiful national parks, and eat cheap local food. We’re going to do touristy things and less touristy things. We’re going to see cities and countrysides and all the sights in between. We’re going to try all the beers and taste all the fruits and make all the weird noises at all the animals. We’re going to get lost once or twice along the way, because that’s what we always do on vacation, and we’re probably gonna be ok. 
This two week vacation will most likely be the last major trip we get to take with our three grown/growing sons. They’ll be marrying and blasting out babies in no time, so this is our nuclear family’s last hurrah. It won’t be extravagant – we are literally saving pennies to make it happen – but I have no doubt it will be amazing. We’re going to immerse ourselves as best we can in the culture and history and people around us. And, yes, we will be on vacation, but we won’t turn a blind eye to the poor. And yes, we will be relaxing, but we’ll also be doing some hard work in our relationships with our boys and with each other – some investing, and some reassuring, and some healing. We’re going on Safari, because HOLY SHIT IT’S AFRICA!!! And we’re going with humility, because it’s our privilege just to be there.
I fully expect to see this EXACT scene.
I hope that we come home changed somehow, better, wiser, closer. And I hope that you’ll ask me how our trip to Africa was, just so I can say something like, “OMG. It was AMAZING! I learned way more from Africa than Africa learned from me.” And we can LOL. 
Also? No lie, I’m kinda pissed that Dax and Kristen beat us to this, but we’re still totally gonna do it…



  1. Amy Henss on April 1, 2018 at 4:57 pm

    Dax and Kristen are my spirit animals. How was your trip?? I just discovered you from your podcast interview with Jamie Ivey, ohhhhh a million years ago. (I’m late to the party) I want to read your book now. You seem to be the EXACT badass Christian gal this world needs!!! Much love, from Texas! ❤️

  2. Tami on April 4, 2018 at 7:44 pm

    Yes, yes and yes!!!!! Most short term mission trips = ‘Voluntourism’. Gross. I literally just suggested to someone that it would be far more beneficial to send the $2k their STM trip cost straight to the trusted organization they were partnering with and skip flying around the globe to take selfies. I mean serve.

  3. Brian Miller on April 10, 2018 at 12:24 pm

    I really appreciated this. A lot.

    Born and bread a good ol’ Christian boy, and after serving in “missions” for years, I’m pretty exhausted of it all – not the Jesus part of course, but for sure the Christian part.

    This post, and your thoughts in general, are clever and challenging.

    Thanks for sharing, openly and honestly, your thoughts and struggles.

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