Summer is right around the corner and marks the start of the high season for church mission trips. Thanks to the scores of mission trips that diocesan churches plan every year, we’ve noticed common threads and themes that tend to emerge. Here are our top 10 tips to remember before you strike out across town or around the world.
1. Meet as a Group: It is important to get to know who you are going with on a mission trip. It is incredible how many groups have few, if any, meetings before they leave. Instead, take the time to learn who you are traveling with, agree on goals and attitudes as a group, and make sure that you are organized. It’s best to travel not as individuals but as a single team.
2. Don’t Neglect Training: Some team members may be seasoned mission-trip-goers, but for others it may be their first time. Incorporate into your meetings some training for the group. Share stories and expectations. Review the culture of where you are going. Discuss the theology of mission. Keep it substantive but simple.
3. Learn Some Local Language: Nothing shows your willingness to fit in with your hosts like knowing some local language. So get someone to teach you before you travel. Don’t think you can find a Swahili tutor? Guess again. They’re out there. You can also find some good language training options online. Make it a priority. One free online option is called Busuu – check it out!
4. Consider Gifts: Bring gifts for your hosts that speak about you and your church. Maybe coffee mugs with your church logo. Or baseball hats. Or have folks in the congregation make something.
5. Involve Your Whole Congregation: Remember that the group taking the mission trip is there to represent your church community. It’s not just the few people on the trip – it’s everyone, except that a lot of them won’t physically travel. Get the rest of the congregation involved. Have the youth make gifts. Add the hosts to your prayer list. Have the clergy send a letter or picture. Get the altar guild to send along something that ties your worship with that of the hosts.
6. Involve the Youth and Young Adults: Most mission trips consist of travelers that are over 50 years old. That’s fine, but remember that lots of energy and great ideas can come from young folks, even if they are not traveling on the trip. Work to get them involved in the mission ministry. And accept their ideas, even if they seem bizarre. Wasn’t there a time when you were young enough to have funky ideas, too?
7. Have One Leader: Every trip needs someone who will be in charge. Make sure that everyone knows (and agrees) on that person. It doesn’t have to be clergy. In fact, it often works better if it’s a lay person. One denomination insists that the trip leader go to all of the other participants and say: “I am the leader and you are not.” That might be a bit much, but you get the point.
8. Pack Patience and a Sense of Humor: This sounds simple, but it can be tough sometimes. Every trip will run more smoothly if the participants constantly remember to keep their senses of humor. What you know for sure is that things will not go as planned, everything will take much longer than anticipated and carefully crafted itineraries will undoubtedly fall apart. That’s OK. Try to make the inevitable glitches part of the adventure. As one group noted: “Maybe we should just chill.” Good point.
9. Go to Be, Not to Do: Your mission trip should be about people, not a project. Work on developing your relationships with the folks you are visiting. Get to know them as human beings. Ask them about their kids, their work, their faith. Put down your hammer and share a cup of coffee. The idea is to have two very different communities get to know one another and share a realization of their oneness in Christ. Doing your project is a means to that end, not the end in itself.
10. Remember that God is With You: No matter what, your trip is about your faith. And God is with you on that journey. Take the time to thank Him for the blessing of being able to take the trip in the first place. Pray. And don’t get overly concerned about whether it’s all going to be OK. It is. God is there. Always.