"So my family wants to go on a missions trip, got any recommendations?"

It's a logical question. Good parents want to teach their children to be charitable, love their neighbor, become more grateful....but how? In the last 5 years the options available for international missions work has exploded. There are countless ways to travel the world while "making an impact" How can my family take a trip together and also "make a difference"?

These are good and important questions to ask. And I'm asked them often. Our family foundation has been at this philanthropy thing for 20 years. We have experienced all the work we support personally. These non profits are run by my heroes. Most of what I've learned about this giving stuff is from them. Local and international, our partners are the experts. So if someone was looking for an "experience" it would be easy to refer friends to these experts.  For us to say, "hey would you please take the Smith family around Haiti and show them your work and how beautiful the country is?" Yes, for sure, our selfless partners would do that for us...but it would interfere with their work. A lot. So unless the Smiths are considering a very generous donation and long term support, I would never ask them to do that. 

So what IS the best answer when we get asked this question? Just to frustrate you, I'll tell you the wrong answer....all the non profits that offer to take you on a trip. Of these, there are a minuscule number who may do a little bit of good.  But, honestly,  I disagree with their mission and approach entirely. Brief visits to "help" poor people bring out the momma bear in me. I am disgusted with using the poor to accomplish something in our own personal spiritual growth. (Read "When Helping Hurts" and "Toxic Charity...") But there IS a way to do it well. It's called relationships.

Try this....do you go to church? Yes? Well, do you have missionaries or partner organizations your church supports?  You do? Great! What if you stopped there? Lifted up the hood a little on one of these organizations and considered, "Hey how might we encourage a partner of our own church body in the work they're doing?"  So maybe you want some adventure? What if you wrote to that missionary in Kenya and asked if your family could take them on a weekend getaway? Spend a couple days getting to know them, (they are the best tour guides ever!), giving them some pampering, (giving them some space!) and a chance to show off their work, a nice dinner with their spouse and a long term friendship with your incredibly awesome family? What if your kids learned about caring for their neighbor by actually caring for people...Long. Term? There are people doing very, very hard things. In very, very hard places. That you already know! And realistically, there are already plenty of local people and businesses in that missionary's life to build a school, a church, paint a building, build a latrine, etc. That's the job of the local individuals and businesses (not teams of semi-skilled folks from the US)....But there never seems to be enough money.

What if you helped them fund a project they had lined up for the locals to complete and built, instead, a ministry of friendship with that person. It is incredibly lonely work out there! What about being one less tourist and instead, a valued friend and financial partner in their work who asked for nothing in return beyond what they're already doing?

If you approach the question like this, I promise you, it will be a greater emotional expense but the returns will go farther and deeper than the memories of a week long trip. Something to think about....