Your suitcase is packed. You’ve got your plane tickets. You’ve checked and double checked your packing list and are certain you aren’t forgetting anything. Your passport is ready to go, you’ve gotten all the immunizations the doctor recommended, and have a bottle of anti-malaria pills at the ready.
…but are you actually prepared for your mission trip?
More often than not, the preparations for going on a Christian mission trip are mostly focused on the physical task of actually “going” on the trip: packing lists, fundraisers, medications airfare, etc. While physically arriving in the community you are working in is certainly important, aren’t we missing a huge piece if we don’t spend time on mental and spiritual preparation as well?
With spring break and summer mission trips right around the corner, let’s take a moment to share a few ways you can begin preparing both mentally and spiritually for your mission trip.
More than likely, you’re going to be working with in a community full of people that are different than you. This is especially the case if you’re going on an international mission trip, but even applies to working in different cities in the USA. This means you’ll be in the midst of a bunch of people who talk in a strange accent, dress differently, and likely have many other cultural quirks that you’re going to find very odd.
I’m going to let you in on a secret that you might not realize: they aren’t the weird ones. You are. That’s right, you are the strange people. To those people in the community you’re working in who are going about their normal lives, you are the people who talk in a strange accent, dress differently, and have many other cultural quirks that they find very odd. It’s important you realize this, and go about your day with an extra dose of caution and humility.
But being aware of the cultural differences is really just the first step. Damaging the ministry of the local church you are partnering with by offending the culture is a real possibility, so it’s important to prepare your attitude to avoid such a situation. Your trip leader should be in communication with someone knowledgeable about the culture you are working in. Make sure to follow any instructions on cultural differences you may need to be sensitive to.
Learn about the people you are serving. Read up on their history, culture, and language (if you’re visiting a different country, travel guides are a great resource for this). In the ministries you are involved in, respect the desires and leadership of your host pastor carefully. If you offend the community in some way, the damage can affect the ministry of your host pastor for months after you return home.
When working with mission teams, we believe it’s important to end each day by meeting as a group to reflect and share highlights from the day. It’s refreshing to come together and praise God for the amazing works that He does each day. In doing this activity with team after team, we’ve noticed an interesting pattern in the highlights shared during these meetings: the vast majority have little to do with the actual physical work that was done during the day.
In other words, you never hear someone share about how good of a job they did carrying a bucket of water, or that they got a huge blessing from moving a pile of cement blocks up a hill.
So what are the moments we thank God for at the end of the day? Which moments have potential to leave a lasting impact, well after we return home?
It’s the incredible testimony of the Gospel being shared in the community.
It’s the moments shared with new friends from the host church while taking a break from the work project.
It’s the child who falls asleep on your lap during kids ministry.
It’s when, despite language barriers and culture gaps, we find connection and community in Christ.
As you prepare for the trip by doing fundraisers and having planning meetings, be in prayer over the people you will meet during your trip. Pray that God sets up divine appointments while you are serving, and that relationships will be central to the work you are doing. After all, the ministry you do on your mission trip isn’t always about the work projects. It’s about the relationships. It’s always about the relationships.
You put a ton of work before the trip to prepare for the week of ministry, but what happens when you get home? How much time and energy do you invest in debriefing and moving forward with a changed perspective after the trip?
Check out this quote by Jeff Goins, taken from his book Wrecked:
“Short-term missions are a means to an end. And the end is connection. We are connecting our hearts to the needs of the world. But if that connection doesn’t lead to deeper change–in those serving and being served–it’s pointless. Long-term change and transformation is what we’re going for here.
In order to see that long-term change and transformation, you have to connect the experience on the mission trip with the rest of your life.”
You might be thinking, “I thought this post was about preparing for your trip.. why are we talking about what we do after the trip?” The answer is simple: if you wait until you get home to decide what to do next, you’re going to lose momentum as you decide which direction to go. If you go into the trip planning and expecting to continue once you get home, you can carry your momentum into those ministries back home.
You can do this in a number of ways, but here are a few suggestions:
Now, go prepare!
We want to encourage you today to being preparing mentally and spiritually for your mission trip. Do some research on the culture you’re serving in. Learn the names of your host pastor and his family, and take time to pray for them and the community they are ministering to. These are the preparations that will make the difference between a one week mission trip and a life changing event.
And we’re shooting for life change, right?
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