The Prime Directive is Starfleet’s most fundamental governing principle. It states that Starfleet personnel should never interfere with other cultures and civilizations. This includes not getting involved with other advanced civilization’s civil wars or influencing the progression of less developed cultures. The Prime Directive is all about non-interference and not engaging with different cultures in a significant manner, which means it probably shouldn’t be applied to mission trips.
One of the main reasons I’m excited to have our students on a mission trip in Guatemala is for them to engage with a different culture. I want them to have influence on the people we meet and to be influenced by them as well. If we can “interfere” with someone’s life by installing a water filtration system, then I am all for that. If we can “interfere” with someone’s life by telling them about Jesus, then I am all for that as well.
As followers of Jesus we are called to engage with this world, to be a part of it and to play a role in its redemption. Starfleet was governed by the Prime Directive, but we should be governed by the great Commission. We should look for opportunities to go out in all the world, whether that’s a foreign country or our own neighborhood, to spread the gospel, make disciples and baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
We need to do that in a way, though, that honors and respects the cultures to which we’re going.
I don’t agree with every aspect of the Prime Directive, but I do appreciate its reverence for other cultures. Too often Americans have seen mission trips as their opportunity to mount a white horse and be a savior. We’ve seen mission trips as our time to bring Jesus to the dark places around the world. We’ve seen mission trips as our moment to fan the flame of the Holy Spirit in places where he wasn’t working.
When we carry that mindset with us, though, we disrespect other cultures and devalue the work that is already being done in those places.
When we go on mission trips we’re not some savior riding in on our white horse, because there is already a savior and we are not him.
When we go on mission trips we’re not bringing Jesus because Jesus is already there.
When we go on mission trips we’re not beginning the work of the Holy Spirit because he is already working.
We need to engage and influence other cultures for the sake of Jesus, but that doesn’t mean we should be overbearing and ignorant. Proper engagement means going to different cultures in humility, being willing to listen before speaking, being willing to learn before teaching. Captain Picard may have violated the Prime Directive on numerous occasions, but we can’t violate the Bible’s call to approach and treat all people with respect and dignity.
What perspective have you had on mission trips?