So you are ready to go on a Mission Trip this summer. Congratulations! We know that these short term trips have life changing potential when done right. As an organization who hosts teams 2 – 3 times per week for tours in our Day Cares, I wanted to share with you what (in our opinion) separates an incredibly amazing team from those that left a less favorable impression.
Since you are making a huge investment of time, money and energy to come half way around the world, you want to be incredibly amazing, right?
1. Be willing to serve the true needs identified on the ground.
Now that you have fundraised and shared the great things that you will be doing in Africa with those back home, it can be easy to feel pressure to make big things happen. Honestly, the greatest impact you can make is simply by serving the true needs that the organizations on the ground have identified. Think of yourselves as paratroopers who are parachuting in to bring a new round of encouragement, vision, supplies and training to those who do this work day after day. This may mean that the greatest needs are praying for a missionary family, babysitting, encouraging staff by listening, scrubbing floors or training a nurse. You are not coming to be “kept busy.” Listen to what the organizational needs are and then humbly try to serve in those ways. It doesn’t always make for the best newsletters, but the impact you truly are making is beyond words.
2. Take time to become educated on poverty issues before leaving home. LIsten to the complexity on the ground.
It is important to know something about poverty before you come to serve. It will still surprise you and catch you off guard. More importantly, recognize your own poverty before getting on the plane. Tons of harm has been done because well meaning groups have come to try to rescue those in poverty. A better position is to see that its a complex issue that has no easy solutions. You get to be part of the solution, perhaps, but it only comes by understanding how big the issue is, how it is not easily addressed in 10 days and being humbly submitted to those who deal with the complexity daily in thought out and planned ways. Read books like “When Helping Hurts” to get an introduction into why poverty is so complex and has no easy solutions that can be solved quickly.
3. Be sensitive to the ministries you are serving with.
Always remember that you are a guest. If there are house / organizational rules, please follow them. Be concerned about any choices that could have lasting negative implications and talk them through with organizations before making those choices. As a foreigner, others are watching you – constantly. Also, please be on time. We know that its fun to say “We’re on Africa Time,” but I’ll be honest and say that there is nothing fun about that for organizations who have to rearrange their staff because you came at a different time than expected. Time is just as precious here in Africa as it is in America. Simply be an example of what is considerate, servant-hearted and respectful. It goes a long way.
4. No Complaining. No comparing.
On one of the first mission trips I took I was instructed that there was no room for complaining. Fleas in a bed. Mosquitos. Lumpy Beds. Dirty Rooms. Dogs. Loud Calls to Prayer. No water. Terrible Food. Lousy internet. It didn’t matter – No complaining. I know that it can be hard to not get the best night’s sleep or to live without McDonalds, ice cream and Mountain Dew for 10 days, but you can do it. Complaining shows a lack of respect to the culture you are visiting. Try to suck it up and live with it. If you can’t suck it up then talk it out with your Team Leader or the Organization leader, but please don’t complain in front of the people you have come to serve. You are their guest. At the same time, comparing what you see here to what you are used to back home is not fair either. Afterall, you’ll be back in Dulles Airport again soon and your first stop can be McDonalds, so try to enjoy the cultural experience and put another piece of injera down the hatch.
5. Bring your enthusiasm.
One of the greatest gifts you have to bring with you is your enthusiasm to see people come to know Jesus and to see poverty addressed in His Name. Sometimes those of us in the field can become hardened and cynical. We have good days and bad days. We’ve watched things unravel numerous times, fought hard to keep doing what we’re doing, cleaned up messes and watched people hurt us. We also deal with the poverty, that you find overwhelming, every single day. We need your breath of life. We need your passion. We need your faith filled encouragement. We need your enthusiasm that Jesus definitely is who He said He is and He is working among the poor.
6. Let your heart and your wallet be captivated.
After you have served somewhere, consider giving to help support that organization. You liked what you saw, right? You were impressed and couldn’t stop talking about how much you loved it. Now, let what captivated your heart also captivate your wallet. The greatest need typically on the ground is funding. Many organizations hire local staff to be the experts in care, but they remain dependent on funds to keep paying them. God gave you the privilege to see something. Now, as someone who has seen there comes an opportunity to be a blessing by helping to raise awareness and see that organization continue to be supported long after you are gone.
In your opinion, what other ways do teams leave a lasting impact? i’d love to hear.
Have a wonderful short term trip. I pray that God uses it in a very deep way in your life!