It seems that once summer begins, many churches start taking students and adults on short-term mission trips. Churches not only serve on the local mission field, but also on the global field. My husband and I recently returned from our first international mission trip to western Europe, and while we had both participated in mission events close to home, our first international mission experience happened in July.
Our church family kept asking us if we were ready to go, if we were packed, and if we were prepared for the nine-day trip. We typically responded, “As ready as we can be.” We had our flights booked, our packing lists ready, and we even had a bit of training through the organization with whom we were working. However, it still seemed like I was forgetting something. After some prayer time, and some time spent in Scripture, I realized I had prepared physically, but I needed spiritual preparedness. Here are four steps I took to prepare spiritually and I pray they can help you if you ever have a similar opportunity to serve internationally.
Know Who You’re Serving
Study the people you are going to serve. Learn their socioeconomic status, what necessities they are lacking, and the religious climate of the area. While on our trip, we worked on helping a missionary family establish relationships with the community by hosting free, conversational English classes. This was an unobtrusive way to meet a need of the community. Many in the area need to speak English to obtain financial security. Several places offer English classes, however, none are free.
Catholicism is the dominant religion where we served, but there is also a strong atheist presence as well. We were given this statistic from the missionary family: around 75% of the people in this city are Catholic, and 55% are atheists. No,, the statisticians don’t have their math wrong. Their “faith” is cultural and not a true relationship with Jesus Christ. Researching the people of an area, was vital to our service to the community we found ourselves in.
Know Your Job
Your destination may be in a developing country, where the people’s primary needs have to do with construction or medical care. On some trips, you may host a Vacation Bible School for children. It may be an evangelistic mission trip where you will be sharing your testimony with people who have never heard about the Good News of Jesus Christ. Go with the attitude of helping in whatever way possible.
Know Why You’re Called
If you have been in church for long you have likely heard Matthew 28:19, God’s mandate to make disciples of all nations. This is exactly why we are called to mission work. We are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus. We also represent the body of believers that commission and support us. While many cannot go themselves, they are excited to be represented on the field. This serves to build up local bodies of believers, but also the body of Christ as a whole.
Know What is Required of You
Be flexible. In new environments everyone feels a little uncomfortable. Day-to-day schedules will change. The culture is filled with different foods, different lodgings, and different languages. It is important to remember who this trip is really about—God and His people. Listening and learning with humility is a basic requirement. Mission trips are about establishing relationships with people. Giving presents, candy, toothbrushes, or medicine can meet a temporary need, but people’s greatest need is for someone to personally invest in them. Listen to their stories, disciple whenever you get the chance, and greet everyone with smiles and hugs. That means more than any physical object.
On our trip, we didn’t see the fruit of our hard work while there. We met the need of teaching a class. But we were there to plant seeds by showing the love of Christ through actions, conversations, and conduct. After teaching what we could of the English language, we handed out English Bibles, in hopes that one day the people will ask, “What must I do to be saved?”
Bonus: Know What to Pack
Packing light is key. I suggest one medium-sized suitcase and one carry on. If you are going somewhere with a washing machine, pack two to three days’ worth of clean clothes. This will make packing much easier. I like to use a backpack as my carry on, primarily because it’s easy to carry and stick under the plane seat in front of me. You can forgo the luggage all together if you want! Here is a site that shows you how to pack everything you need in a carry on!
You will want to pack any items that are needed for the trip (medical supplies, toiletries, etc.) in plastic zip bags. Of course, carrying a Bible and journal is a great idea. Other important items include comfortable shoes, sunscreen, clothes to layer for cool climates, and power adapters. Do some research to find the most common power supply and buy an adapter to match. But limit the electronic devices. You will be busy and what free time you do have can be taken up in ways that do not include a screen. Being too connected during your trip can take away from the experience.
Short term mission trips are an incredible opportunity to see the Lord working outside your own community. Trips like this give you an appreciation for what you have and may spark a desire in your heart to serve full time. Whether you serve on many short-term trips, move permanently to spread the gospel, or financially support those who leave, we are all commanded to make disciples of all nations.