Mission trips should be for service, not social media

white savior complex

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Photo courtesy of Facebook

Story by: Abigail Safago, Columnist

Are our efforts in community service a work of endearment for the less privileged, or for self-benefit? Many people who post to social media show the latter.

We always ask ourselves if it is right to go on a mission trip. In the efforts of building community and joy? Yes. In order to preserve a  white savior complex? Not always intended, but also yes.

Many of us go on trips to communities in need and help clean, build, or refurbish buildings such as schools and houses. However, we destroy the good we have done by doing one thing: Taking photos with underprivileged people and sharing them on social media. Doing this creates what is known as the “savior complex”. This is the idea that people must “save” others at their own “sacrifice”. While this does not seem like a bad thing at the start, it leads to people believing their time is a substantial sacrifice to help someone who is in a community in need.

Not only does this create a better self-image for the one who “rescues” or “saves”, but it can also create a poor image for the community that needed help. By posting these photos, it shows the downside of these communities. It gives the illusion that they needed people of privilege to come in and save them.

Many communities in other countries have to fight to show they are more than an underprivileged entity. The developed communities are rarely shown because they do not show the impact that people who want to do service trips can have. If you’re already developed, you don’t need help.

While many individuals participate in these trips to help people, others do this for their own benefit. The phrases “community service” and “mission trip” look good on resumes. Others participate to boost themselves on social media. Many people who participate in these trips post photos of themselves with children, who unknowingly are used as a story of fulfillment for the people posting.

Though visuals of the area you intend to help create a more attractive highlight, there are many people who choose not to post photos of the area they helped. Rather than post photos of people, it is important to post pictures of the areas rebuilt or the impact made. That would be a positive reinforcement for mission trips.

This can be done in many ways, one of which being before and after pictures. If you show the change that you make in an area, you can demonstrate that hard work was done without the need for attention. You’re not using small children to gain “likes”. Rather, you show that you helped do a great project without putting the focus on yourself.

Some people post heartwarming stories of the things they did at schools with the children in the photos. Others post photos captioning how “sad” people in underprivileged areas are and how “the help” they gave has changed someone’s life. This is a depiction of the savior complex.

Many do not believe that they have this complex. They believe that they are showing their story. However, posting photos of yourself with children of color or underprivileged communities for likes on Facebook and Instagram only serves to make the complex worse.

To avoid this complex skip the photos of you posing to do work. Avoid posting photos of you and small children. Instead, take progress photos of the work you do over the days you help. Remind yourself it is not for you, it is for them.

While coming back from the mission trips and community service you are on, keep the photos to yourself. Hold the moments in your heart, rather than social media. While you do positively impact another person’s life, keep that between the two of you.

2 replies »

  1. While you bring up good points that posting on social media and bombarding it can be dangerous from the point of view of selfishness, but to serve and evangelize is a huge part of being Christian. Coming at it from a Catholic view (being that we go to a Catholic college with one of our Dominican Pillars being service), there is a fine line in which you evangelize and which you post out of selfishness on social media. It is wrong to say that every post about or from a mission trip is selfish, because many are trying to get the Word of God through service out to family and friends who might not have the opportunity to serve in such a way. You do bring up a good point about not putting up pictures of people who may not have given consent to have their picture on someone’s social media account. On social media, one has to be careful in general about what they post which has been emphasized for years, and caution with mission trip posts is not any different. In the Catholic faith, actions come down to intent. A posted picture from a mission trip on social media with the intent of glorifying God and spreading His word should not be condemned as selfish act due to the intent of it’s nature. God knows what’s on our hearts and while people do need to think before they post, everyone who has posted about a mission trip should not be condemned.


  2. I think this article was trying to point something that is totally inaccurate. I will respectfully disagree and suggest that the writer try to experience service learning before criticizing people intent.


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