As a youth, I gladly participated in domestic and international mission trips every summer with my youth group. However, it wasn’t until after I spent a summer in college as a missionary intern in Mexico that I came to realize the importance of preparation before going on a short-term mission trip. When I later served for several years as a missionary in Mexico, I realized even more fully the need for short-term teams to have training and education before they serve.
Here are seven things you need to remember as you prepare for your summer mission trip:
1. Pray. Pray. Pray.
Start praying as soon as you know you are going on the trip. Ask friends and family to join you in prayer as you prepare, as you serve, and after you return. Pray with your teammates. Pray for and with the people you’ll be working with and ministering to. “Pray continually,” as Paul tells us in 2 Thessalonians. Pray and listen for what Jesus is saying, and ask Him to teach you how to pray. This MUST be the backbone of all we do and say. Without Him, we’ve got nothing.
2. Be a learner.
Other than prayer, this might be the single most important thing you can do as you travel to a new culture. Be humble. Observe the people and culture. Ask questions. Seek to understand them. Whether across the world or across the tracks of the city where you live, going to a new culture without seeking to learn from the people you are interacting with will do nothing but create walls between the two of you. Experience the joy of getting to learn about someone else and their culture.
3. Remember Jesus is already at work where you are going to serve.
As a teenager, I remember hearing people talk about how they were going to take Jesus to the lost people of ____________ (fill in the blank). What a heavy burden to carry! As if it all depended on us! Praise God that He is already at work before we ever get to the place we are going. We get to partner in what He is already doing. (And has been doing LONG before we ever thought about going there!) So, look for Him at work in your host culture and join Him. (This almost always means partnering with nationals!)
4. Remember you are a human being, not a human doing.
In the United States, we are very good at “doing.” And we are very good at going on mission trips in order to “do.” Most other cultures around the world are much more focused on “being.” This is not a bad thing! Learn from them and know that sitting to talk with a new friend or play with a kid in the street could be much more beneficial and valuable kingdom work than getting tasks done for the day.
5. Leave as much of your “stuff” at home as you can.
During my first summer in Mexico, I spent hours reading and answering emails and talking to my friends at home on the phone. I wasted so much time worrying about what I was missing out on instead of using my time to invest in new relationships. All your stuff and all your relationships will still be there when you get back. Don’t let your “stuff” get in the way of being able to be fully present on your mission trip.
6. Be hospitable.
We tend to think of hospitality as hosting people, but Jesus showed hospitality to Zacchaeus when he visited Zacchaeus in his home. As a guest, Jesus showed hospitality by allowing others to serve Him. Although you are going to serve, the most impactful thing you might do is allow locals to invite you into their homes and feed you (even if the food looks/smells/tastes a little different than what you are used to). Serve others by allowing them to serve you.
Without love, none of the previous six reminders listed here will do any good. They will be just like banging cymbals. This does not just mean loving those you are going to serve. It means loving your teammates, (especially the ones who are hardest to love), your leaders, and the Lord. Seek to spend time daily soaking in His love for you, and then let it flow out of you.
May you be blessed as you serve this summer! Whether across the tracks or across the world, may you experience the love of Jesus poured out to you and through you.