I will be the first to admit that my mission trip experiences are probably NOTHING like the ones the Duggar children have had. Growing up in my parent's church, I was an active participant in the youth activities; it was a small town and that's where all my friends were anyway. The other reason? BOYS! The random and square-dance like parings and re-parings were comical when looked back on. So that being the case, I have no doubt that the Duggars aren't in it for the gratuitous make out sessions when no one is looking.
Now that's not to say that our mission trips weren't successful and useful. The several years before I was "of age" to attend, our Senior High group would go to Mexico for a week every summer (with a week added on for the drive down and a stop at Disneyland on the way home) to build and help at orphanages and missions there. In all honesty, from talking to kids who went on the last Mexico trip, it was a tent-hopping good time. Undoubtedly that was one of the reasons it was the last trip. When it became my year to start going, we only went as far as Northern California and worked with a group that was set up there--kind of like going to camp, but winterizing homes for the poor. The downside to the project was that we didn't really get a chance to bond a lot with the people we were helping--we'd show up and work at our assigned home (we'd been divided up into groups based on our abilities--boys and girls divided up for grunt work and painting--and so we'd meet other people from the other groups there at the same time we were.) So we met and got to know the people we worked WITH but not so much the people living in the homes. They were usually working. Sometimes they'd be there, but you could tell they were grateful, but on some level also maybe embarassed in needing the help.
I won't say I didn't have a great time on the three trips I took--I was out my junior year because I had surgery instead--they were great times. I made a lot of friends and had pen pals for years afterwards. (Remember this was long before email!)
I must say that I'm way more impressed with the Duggar's trips than the ones I took. I don't want to diminish any of the work we did, we worked hard and were pleased to do it, but I don't think we gave nearly as much of ourselves as the Duggars seem to on their trips to El Salvador. We certainly never gave any of our own money into the project, other than our parents paying our portion for the drive down and the fee to join the group sponsoring our effort. The Duggars use their own money to buy gifts, clothing, food, and supplies for the people they are helping. I hate admitting that at the time, things like that never occurred to me. I was just there because it was what my friends and I did every summer.
I do think that going as a family is nice, and they do appear to meet and enjoy the people they are helping while they are there, but I can't deny that they might get even more out of the experience if they went with a group and got to meet other people who were there for the same reasons. You can never make too many friends.
Now it's time to share your stories--Did you go on Mission Trips when you were growing up? Do you go on them now?