Anne blogs at Front Porch, Inspired about surrendering everyday living for sacred purposes. She and her husband, Jay, are founders of a ministry called The Bridge, focusing on missional living and advocacy for youth in vulnerable places of life. She holds an MA in Teaching Languages (TESOL and Spanish) and is a lover of words and the Word, culture and communication. Jay and Anne have five kids, a front door that can’t stay closed, and an abundance of messy, holy chaos at their neighborhood center/home in Iowa – of all places.
Short-term mission trips are meant to bless the receiving ministries and missionaries and ultimately advance the Gospel. And, in order to do that well, some critical thinking and preparation is often needed for those going on the trip.
Hopefully the following suggestions can be areas to prayerfully consider and discuss among your team as you prepare for your upcoming trip:
1. Be a support for a few miles
If you are a runner, you’ve no doubt seen the races where friends and family loop back and run beside someone they know is struggling or needing to finish strong. I like to think of short-term mission trips like that - running a few miles alongside the receiving ministry or missionaries in the middle of their marathon. Your support and energy is so welcomed! Missions and ministry work demand the long-term, the discipling process that is lived out over years, through childbirths, and funerals, and celebrations, and changes. And, you get the special privilege to come in, to come alongside, and encourage them on for a few miles.
So, offer your own glass of water and keep their bottle refilled – in other words, serve them well.
Consider: How can you support the receiving missionaries as they run? Shield them from some gusts of wind? Encourage them for the miles ahead?
2. Run whatever course you’re given
We’ve received many request from well-meaning moms and church leaders wanting to “do an experience” at The Bridge. Why? Because they disclose that their children and church members would benefit from a cultural experience and a changed perspective on life.
And, it puts us in a tough spot because we care about their wayward children and narrow-minded congregation. Honestly, we do; we’re all part of the body of Christ and want to support one another. Yet, we also care deeply about the people here that we live and work alongside each day. It just doesn’t seem right to put them on display in order for the privileged to have their worlds rocked, does it?
Remember, the missionaries are in the middle of a race – a challenging marathon. In other words, they may not be able to create a beautifully scenic, sensational, and shaded run for you to experience and photograph. They may not be able to customize a stretch of miles for your team that match your giftings, desires, and time-frame exactly. Because, beyond your trip, they know they have miles left, looming hills, dry spells, and potential storms ahead.
So, let them set the pace and just follow their lead.
Consider: How can you consciously choose to not overwhelm the mission trip with a focus on you, the travelers? What might sacrifice look like on this trip? How can you make sure the needs of the team (“a cross-cultural experience” or “a better understanding of poverty” or “a deeper appreciation for all we have back home”) aren’t elevated above the dignity of the people you aim to serve?
3. Make sure you are an active runner before you attempt to race
The best way to support your receiving missionaries is through the shared understanding of what it’s really like to run. Runners love to talk racing strategies, best times, nutrition options, best gear and so on. Are you already an active participant in God’s kingdom work? Do you share the missionaries’ passion for reaching the nations? Certainly, your courses may be different, the challenges unique – but, in effect, you are both “active runners,” ministering in your daily lives, following hard after Christ, and straining for the common prize. Pray together, share together, encourage one another as only fellow "runners" can.
On the other hand, if the missions trip is one of the only times you intend to run, or minister actively, it will be an awkward and painful experience for you and the receiving missionary. Also, if your team is considering sending someone who has not surrendered to Christ, or is very immature spiritually, or is in a season of heavy struggles, please only move forward with much prayer and only after being completely honest with the receiving missionary and ministry base. This person may not be adequately trained for the trip, and it may not be in anyone’s best interest to lace up his/her running shoes. (While mission trips are often a wonderful time for team members to minister to one another, remember your goal is running on behalf of the receiving ministry, missionaries, and the people they are serving. Consider a spiritual growth trip or a retreat rather than a short-term missions trip if the trip has another purpose or pressing need.)
So, stay active in the Word, growing in your relationship with the Lord, serving and loving as He leads while you run your own course back home. Then, when you drop in on the receiving missionary's marathon, your spiritual muscles will transition easily, your lungs will respond quickly, and your heart will beat steady for your common goal – His glory among the nations.
Consider: Are you a “runner?” Please, don’t feel scrutinized or the need to compare yourself with others in any way. Instead, before the Lord, simply ponder - are you willing to actively engage in your relationship with Him before and after the missions trip? Have you set your feet to His course and your heart to His mission already? Are your eyes focused on the prize – whether over there or here?
In conclusion, a short-term team that has considered these points and is prepared to run well, serve intentionally, and support a ministry worker is a long-term blessing and partner in the harvest!