Not A Missionary

I have been thinking for a long time about what separates Peace Corps from missionary work, since a lot of people have asked me if I was going on a “missions trip” over the last year and I have clarified “No, I’m going into the Peace Corps.” In my mind there are many commonalities and differences, but two particularly big ones.

One of the biggest commonalities between the Peace Corps and missionary work is that both can help people in a sustainable way, gauging their efficacy and value by how many people are living better lives once they as an organization are gone. Sustainability, as I am using it here, means something that will continue to work and be helpful indefinitely; as the saying goes give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime. That is sustainability. In my opinion, any organization that operates in this way for the great common cause of world development deserves my respect.

That being said, one of the differences I have noticed between the Peace Corps and missionary work is that missionaries often seek to increase the number of people who believe and profess what they do. In many cases this even trumps the sustainable work they may or may not do to help people live better lives. Conversely, the Peace Corps is not interested in making anyone believe or profess anything. When a country requests Peace Corps Volunteers, they enter the host community, learn and respect its language and culture, listen to the community about what it feels its needs are and then help the community members to affect change themselves.