I was listening to a speaker who had just returned from Guatemala. She was talking about how happy the children were. She talked about how excited the kids were to receive worthless toys from McDonalds and other toss-away trinkets. She said they were so happy with nothing, when we have everything here. It hit me hard, because I’ve said the same thing about kids in Haiti. And frankly, it’s a load of donkey doo.
We do have a real problem in the U.S. with what is enough. It is not that the kids weren’t happy, of course they were, they were getting stuff. Most kids here are excited at their birthday party or Christmas, because they are also getting stuff. But way too often, what we’re giving the kids is worthless.
The kids in Guatemala and so many other places are going to homes without food. They’ve lost brothers and sisters and parents and friends to preventable diseases. They’re in real danger from outdated vehicles, unmonitored bridges, and overcrowded highways. Every day their lives are filled with uncertainty and anguish. Most children there have experienced more pain than we have in our adult lifetimes.
Too often our mission trips make us feel we’ve made a difference, but we’ve actually done little to solve root issues. We bring items to give away that deny local merchants an opportunity to sell and feed their families. We fall into the “they’re so happy” syndrome while pretending our Happy Meal toy made any difference in their life. We’ve made ourselves feel better, but to what end?
It’s not that mission teams aren’t important, they truly are. They change our hearts and make us more aware of the needs of others. They deliver life-saving and life-giving opportunities. But let’s not forget to ask the people on the receiving end, what do you truly need and what is the best way we can help? Guessing it’s not Happy Meal Toys.