A few days ago, I posted a link to a post Are we calling this a “win-win”? from a missionary in Costa Rica. Here’s my reply (but you can only read if you’ve read her post).

I’ve got an idea.

I’m going to tell my kids about poverty and the injustice in the world and their [Christian, moral] imperative to do something about it.

But I don’t want them to get too serious about it or to be too inconvenienced.

So here’s the plan: we’re going to sit down and look and pictures on the internet depicting poverty and 3rd world conditions, either across the globe or, sadly, in our own nation.

I’ll tell them the house they see is smaller than the room we’re in now and that the floor is actually dirt and not, as in our home, brown carpet.

Or maybe we’ll stay up late one night after watching a movie and eating popcorn on the couch to see some 2 minutes commercial of starving children and a toll-free number for donations to an organization we’ve not heard of staffed by first-world white people.

We might even zoom into the poor countries using Google Earth. Yeah, geography and compassion FTW.

Fortunately they’ll get the message: Looking at ads on the mounted flatscreen HDTV or viewing images of kids on a $1,200 desktop over an internet connection that costs more than their families make each month taken by well-meaning westerners with photographic equipment that costs more than my car has to sink in. Plus they won’t have to smell the smells or experience the weather extremes or hear the different languages or deal with the hassle of traveling.

We may talk about systemic social structures or inequity or imperialism. Fortunately, their worldview won’t be threatened [much]. This will last until they get distracted by the lures of suburbia, and they’ll go back to staying cool and playing with their toys and feeling good about their life.

Plus, it’ll save me a lot of money and time.

The above is a bit of satire. I’m largely sympathetic to the point of the original article, but wrote the above both as Devil’s advocate and because when I linked to it a friend asked for a rebuttal. Here’s where I differ from the original post (or at least what I perceived to be its intent from the tone).

The value of short-term missions to the underprivileged

My kids are currently too young for such a trip, though I hope to take them someday. But they need to realize the trip is not for them. It’s not for them to feel good, nor to feel fortunate, nor to pander. If they were to come home and only feel lucky to be American, then we’ve failed.

I want them to think socially, be responsible, and have a global worldview. This means noting the inequality in the world and being determined to do something about it. It means having a view of the world that transcends their daily experiences. It means treating others – especially the less fortunate – with respect and dignity. It means being committed to equality and justice.

It means living simply with more gratitude and finding ways to share and shorter Christmas lists. It means less nationalism. It means continuing to support Kiva and Wishing Well It means a realization that we’re not American middle-class by choice or worth.

So I realize how things can be misguided and how thousands of dollars can be wasted on trips where the money may be better spent donated to those on the ground. But there’s also something invaluable about seeing the world first-hand and realizing your place in it.

We don’t need more people going to resorts in poor countries, giving funds to multi-national companies, and shunning/ignoring the reality of life around them. We need people who want to make a difference.