Short-term mission trips can be one of the biggest life-changing moments in our lives. Going to another city, another country to learn, serve, and grow is a privilege some of us have in this world that few others do. As Americans, most of us have been blessed with so much and it is good to want to give back and serve others. But when we go, let us go with the right mindset and the right preparation for these trips. There have been many people who go with good intentions and also leave with good intentions, yet miss the mark. As you pray about, prepare, and plan for your next trip, don’t go unless you are willing to do these four things.
1) Fulfill your promises – Short-Term mission trips can be highly emotional. We experience and see things we never have experienced before. We meet people in some horrible situation and out of the goodness of our hearts, we want to do whatever we can to help. We work hard all week. We build houses, pour concrete, frame, hand out food and clean water. But at the end of the week, even after everything we have done, we see that there is still much work to be done. Out of the goodness of our heart and a desire to want to continue to help even after we leave, we begin to make promises to the ministries, organizations, and people we have met during our trip.
- We promise that we will come back.
- We promise that we will pay for projects.
- We promise that we will support a child at an orphanage.
- We promise to send supplies.
- We promise
But when we get home and the rat race of our lives pick up, we either forget, something comes up, lose the connectedness of the community, or make excuses why we can’t and we never follow through on these promises.
There are some ministry leaders you have connected with are depending on these gifts you promised. Others have come to expect that mission trip participants are full of empty promises and broken commitments that they don’t believe you anymore and they understand that this week really wasn’t about the ministry, it was really about you the trip participant. So when you go, only make promises you are willing to keep or don’t make them at all. Be true to your word.
2) Follow their vision and leadership – I recently talked to an indigenous leader in Mexico that shared with me that a church in middle America that is supporting him is expecting him to fall under the American’s church vision for his community in Mexico. If he refuses, the American church has threatened to cut off their financial support. Think about this for a moment. An American church who is doing good ministry in America is trying to tell a Mexican church how they should reach their community with an American vision. Yes, your church may be killing it back in the States, but this is a different country, different culture, a different way of doing things. This is the ultimate colonization that we want to avoid.
This ministry leader in Mexico lives in this community every day and He has lived in this community longer than the American church has been supporting him. Who do you think has a better understanding of reaching the Mexican community? Obviously, the Mexican ministry leader has a better understanding of how to reach his community. When we go on our trips it is our goal to come under the vision and leadership of the ministry we are serving and not put our expectations and American ministry model on them, unless they ask for our help. Even then, we should be careful about how we proceed. Remember the ministry we are partnering with is not ours.
3) Meet people not just their needs – Many mission trips do a great job of meeting people’s needs on their trip. We build houses, host VBS, build churches and schools, cook meals, etc. We love to see a need and meet a need. But sometimes the need becomes our focus and not the people. Do we know their names, their stories, their family or do we just know their needs? It is easier to meet a person’s need than it is to take time to sit and hear their story. But if we were to take the time to meet, know and understand the people we are serving, we will better know and understand their true needs. We as Americans are doing people. We like to get work done and make a difference. Take a moment and think about the people who have made the biggest difference in your lives. What project did they do for you? What construction project did they complete on your house? Or what kind of time did they spend with you? What did they do to share your burdens? How did they get to know you? People want to be known for who they are not for the needs they have. Our socioeconomic situation does not define who we are as a human being.
4) Serve similar people groups at home – It is easy for us many of us Americans to go to another country and to serve in Mexico, Haiti, or Central America (or wherever you go). We can go and do some really good work. A few years ago I had an adult express his frustration with the immigration in the United States and how people are crossing our southern border illegally. He expressed to me how we should go on these service trips to help these countries do better so they don’t come to our country. Though I understand the frustration people have about the influx of people coming to our southern border, I disagree that our focus should be to go serve “there” so they don’t come here. Jesus has commanded us to love our neighbor. He did not put exceptions to this neighbor, documented or undocumented. He simply said, love your neighbor. How often do we go to another country on our mission trips to serve the people there, but are unwilling to serve the same people group in our own town or city? Why do we stop short of doing this? What keeps us from loving the same people group in our own back yard? Yes, go and serve people in another country, but be willing to serve the same people group back at home.
When we go on a trip, let us only make promises we are willing to keep. Let us submit to the leadership, vision, and authority of the ministry we are serving under. Let us meet the people first and not just their needs. Let us serve similar people back at home. Service is so much more than just a missions trip for a week in another country. Service should be a way of life.