Are you ready? These tips will completely change your mission trip. SRSLY!
Mission trip planning. *sigh* The sigh may come from the excited heart you have for missions or it MAY come from the experience you have in the massive "before" stage!!
Are YOU preparing for a short-term mission trip or possibly a service project? Do you want to make sure you are helping rather than hurting? Today we are going to cover and expand upon some experiences and advice are some excellent tips and tricks from well-experienced short-termers who will help you determine whether your service will be transformation ... or toxic.
Yeah, I said toxic. It happens. I remember Greg and I did an awful lot of interviews with missionaries (including Greg himself) as we put together How to Get Ready for Short-Term Missions. Of course, there are significant benefits to short-term missions, and there are even some mission projects that cannot thrive without them. But, as with any real effort, there are also challenging realities.
So … get ready for the big one:all (yes, all) long-term missionaries I interviewed about the missions book said that the majority of mission teams do NOT really spend an adequate amount of time in training about the culture, learning the spiritual climate of a nation, or preparing themselves spiritually for the challenges ahead.
These things don't change unless we implement them. We're humans after all and many seasoned missionaries have the same concerns. So we are going to take a moment to talk with some seasoned short-termers about the best advice they could give to help you let GOD make the MOST out of your trip.
#1. Prepare for your mission trip by studying the Word.
First and foremost, STUDY THE WORD. Believe it or not, there have been people go on mission trips to share the gospel without their own personal preparation. And this goes for understanding God’s message to share it with others AND finding the ways He is telling you to get ready to do it! Check out this link for a good start to inspire focus. Then here is an in depth bible study on missions.
So before you prepare or before we even discuss this at all ...
“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.”
(Romans 12:1, The Message)
Your everything-life as an offering. And here is the next tip that I am putting as one of the first for just that reason. It is something many Americans have a challenging time placing as an offering. Technology. You knew I was going to say that, didn't you? So yeah ...
#2. Plan to truly UNPLUG on your mission trip.
UNPLUG. My friend and former co-worker, Melaney, has taken many, many, many, many short-term high school groups on mission trips. She is a teacher, trainer, communicator, and die-hard DOER of the Word. She says one of the very best things one can do to get ready for missions, especially in our wired world, is to PLAN TO UNPLUG DURING MINISTRY DAYS on your trip. Set aside time to use technology, but only if/when needed. And, to be honest, we would both say it’s usually not.
Instead of current technology, use classic technology. And by that, plan a time to take photos! If appropriate, lots of photos. But (yes, there’s a large BUT), NOT ALL DAY ALL THE TIME. LOL When this tends to happen it to only takes away your focus on the people, but sometimes steals their dignity. You are probably aware that it’s bad form to take a photograph of someone’s mud hut just because it’s a mud hut, you know? Stay focused on why you’re there. Stay engaged with the people you came to serve. Melaney continues with, “Help the folks you meet feel like they aren’t just the object of service project photos to show when you return home.”
#3. Pack for your mission trip LIKE A PRO!
PACK LIKE A PRO. One missionary said that it helped her a lot to take a pair of sturdy leather work gloves, a bandana, and a ball cap to wear during the manual labor portion of the day. Simple, but planning way ahead instead of throwing things in your bag will make your trip manageable. So make mission trip packing lists, pack tactically, and understand the laundering opportunities and that you may need to pack as little as possible!
You might be surprised how much your trip is affected by a little planning and preparation. Sara Scott reminds us to ditch the whole 'cute mission trip pictures' vibe and shares that it helped her to be a better missionary by keeping her in the moment to not care about her appearance or overdo it in the bathroom when unnecessary. She says, “It was NOT easy. As a young, single woman who was sure my 'future mate' was just a summer spent in mission work away, it was hard for me to let go of that piece of the prep-pie as well. But once I did let go, and spent six weeks in Baja, Mexico, I gained clarity about my faith and how best to articulate it with the life that I’d never had before." How? She took one backpack of basics plus clothing for one week, which she would wash in the sink and hang dry - not far from the culture in which she was serving anyway.
She went on to tell me that it made her a better hospital interpreter for the mission teams because she was free to spend time with people, build relationships with the missionaries there and the locals, and not worry about her plans… which happened to turn out pretty good in the end, anyway! Don’t they always? God is awesome about stuff like that.
It is also important here to note that finding a cute outfit for a mission trip is much less important than finding a great gift for your hosts! Consider packing a small gift that might help the missionaries on the field or send a message to them asking what you can take as appropriate gifts for the people you will be working with!
#4. Be Culturally Prepared for Your Mission Trip.
CARE ABOUT CULTURE. You probably already know if you are reading any of my short-term missions posts (try this one) that this is a BIG one for me, if not, the MOST IMPORTANT ONE. We may be visiting somewhere that feels "upside down," but significant changes will happen in our hearts and theirs if our thought process is right-side up.
Some new perspectives might be simple. For example, Central Americans don’t fancy the same personal space North Americans do. This level of comfort might become awkward. And then some may make our eyes pop out of our head: It's okay for women to breastfeed in a church in this African village? May men hold hands as merely friends? Don’t be scared of any changes or new ways of thinking. Think of them as an adventure. When you see things from a whole new angle, your trip can be a blessing because YOU are a blessing. Your short-term mission is a means of discipleship really.
We all have cultural prejudices—things fixed in us from our encounters and point of reference. Those inclinations affect how we interact & associate with others, so they need to be recognised and reduced as much as possible to avoid barriers to excellent gospel delivery. Be a student, and let people show YOU what they believe. Then introduce them to the gospel in ways that are related to their specific worldview!
Find out the culture – like traditions, offences, clothing … notice the things that are different from your own culture that you wouldn’t have thought about, and it will help you see the real needs of the people rather than the mental list you may have created.
#5. Trust Your Mission Trip Leaders.
TRUST YOUR LEADERS. And trust them “BIG,” my friend Debra says. Ann Buchanen of Mission Discovery reminds us to let THE LEADERS take care of the details and follow their lead. And consider the top leader you follow!
Your team leader is ALSO (moreso) concerned with health, safety, and travel. He or she is also concerned about whether or not your team will bond, if everyone will is ready (and willing!) to face those challenges we talked about earlier, and well, I guarantee you is praying for strength and wisdom if one of your team is "THAT" person, the one who make things difficult and/or miserable for everyone else. You know it's true; don't let it be you! *wink*
Never stop praying and then trusting that sense from the Father, that He is leading you and you are to obey Him, even though you may not fully understand why or what on earth He is doing at the time. After all, it was His story that you are stepping into and partnering with what He was already doing in the first place, right?
Your mission leader will be praying for this too ... and he or she is also praying that God show up and that the team will realize it when He does!
#6. Remember WHO Your Mission Trip is All About!
And here is a big one. It is something I have mentioned this more than once and in different ways. Are you ready? Don't take this personally! It is ... well, it is (*takes deep breath*) … well, IT IS NOT ABOUT YOU. I know you know this, but it is SO hard to put it into practice when we have been removed from our regular life and are trying to navigate another culture. We can listen to people, learn about them, and humbly walk with them instead of objectifying them or treating them as our pets (yeah, that’s been done – a LOT).
If you chose to walk into the mission field with the “it’s about me” attitude, you decide to live a lifestyle outside of the spirit and character of Jesus. He was a great listener, learner, and companion. And, um – He was God! If anyone had a right to a superiority complex … you know what I’m sayin’.
One girl, Rosemary, who learned a good deal through mission trips says she remembers being told over and over that it wasn’t about her and that she, unfortunately, recalls that some of her co-travellers never got this message and some choices kind of ruined a relationship with a missionary couple. This kind of self-awareness help brings me to the next way to plan like a pro, even (and especially) if it is your very first trip …
#7. Prepare for Your Mission Trip in PRAYER...
PRAY. AND PRAY SOME MORE.
Study the Word. Wait, that was the first one! Am I repeating myself? Hey, guess what? I am! I doubt I have to explain to you how important it is to immerse yourself in what GOD wants you to do. But on top of that, let me add some wise words from Ayesha, a dear friend and missions director (former student too): "Pray for discernment, awareness, strength, and to see everyone you interact with like Jesus would see them. Pray for the people you will be working with by name. Pray for a spirit of sacrifice and selflessness." (P.S. You'll want to click that link for a great story on being lead by prayer.)
So yes, pray. And pray some more. Pray for GRACE when something goes wrong (guess what? something probably will!), pray for health and safely, pray for finances to be successful, pray for the mind of CHRIST amoung your team, and above all, pray for the Holy Spirit to guide you. Pray for FAITH that God will continue to grow the seeds that you planted and pray for anyone on your team who may, after this trip, be considering full time missions.
Ooo, and this is big, pray for your transition back home. Pray for the strength to process any complex emotions that can come when adjusting to the cultural differences in your homeland and being around people who don’t share their background or excitement that has made you who you are now.
With considerate and prayerful focus you will be person who DID spend a great deal of time in training about the culture, learning the spiritual climate of a nation, or preparing yourself spiritually for the challenges ahead. And this commitment to preparation will put you, as I mentioned about the book interviews, well, WAY above the norm.
So let’s wrap this up with Paul’s message to us from Romans...
Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
(Romans 12:2, The Message)
And really, if you say that verse as a prayer, this trip will be a triple success.
Yeah, I knew you did.
YOU'VE GOT THIS! (because God's got YOU!)
This post was crafted at The Scripture Scout and corroborated by many experienced mission folks. Soooo ... thanks to Amy Alfaro, Ben Brooks, Ann Buchanan, Bill Clark, Melody Coehoorn, Melaney Cost, Molly Dawidow, Debra Henderson, Jina Hinson, Rosemary Lindsay, Lori Marie, Ayesha Nasmyth, and Sara Robb-Scott for all of the valuable input.