I took my first missions trip when I was 20 years old. I’d always heard about missionaries and missions trips before but had never been on one myself. The life of a missionary was pretty fascinating to me.
The memories are foggy, but I can vaguely remember jumping on a bus with my church on a 7 hour road trip to serve an orphanage in Tecate, Mexico for one week. Our mission? To do something as simple as supporting the long term missionaries there, helping them build a new roof over their kitchen, praying for the sick and inviting those in the community for a special Jesus Film night. What we did seemed insignificant at time…but looking back now, the power of a group of people sacrificing their summer vacations to serve those in need was priceless.
Nothing really could prepare me for the experience I was about to have though. The amount of poverty I was exposed to was alarming, and an environment of great need was not something I had ever seen before in all my years of growing up in my comfortable American suburban life. The trip grew my heart for those less privileged, and drew me closer to God’s heart for the nations. I remember a group of us praying for a blind man to be healed and seeing Jesus touch his life. I remember seeing one of my backslidden teammates have a powerful encounter with Jesus on the trip, leading him to radically rededicate his life to Jesus. The trip was an eye opening trip for me, and showed me that the world was greater than my own, and its needs far greater reaching than what any well meaning group of people could ever provide for. While some of the most meaningful moments were the simplest moments, the trip left me wondering if I could do more.
Since this trip the Lord has grown my heart for missions tremendously and called my husband and I to a lifelong calling to missions. Throughout the years I’ve been on various “missions” trips (long and short) and each one has been different from the last. Each trip has taught me something new each time. “Christian mission” is the act of going into a different culture other than our own, and sharing the good news of Jesus with others. It was modelled to us through His very life: John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” God sent Jesus into our world so that we could hear the good news.
Missions is not something we do because it’s sounds like a nice thing to do. As one of the last things Jesus said while here on earth, Jesus actually commands us to go into all the world to make disciples of the nations. (Matthew 28:19, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”)
So if you’re planning on going on a missions trip soon, what are some good ways to prepare for a missions trip?
1) Prayer: It’s important to root everything we do in prayer. Our goal as Christians on this earth is to be extensions of Jesus, to be His hands and feet to those around us. This is no less true when we go on missions trips. We want to reflect Jesus. As short term missionaries, we are representatives of Jesus…so it’s a good idea to represent Him well.
How do we represent Him if we don’t communicate with Him first about what He wants to do on the trip and what He wants reflected? John 5:19 says “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” If we want to be like Jesus to the people we are reaching, we have to tune into His wavelength.
Spend time preparing your heart, and hearing His heart. Ask God what He wants to do on this trip. How does He see this trip? Ask for His eyes. Is there a word He’s given you about what this trip means for you, or a word you will be sharing with the people you will be meeting? Is there a name, or a face He’s highlighting to you of someone you are to meet? Matthew 7:11 says “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” If we ask the Lord to speak to us and whisper His desires and plans to us, His desire is to come through and speak to us.
2) Go with a humble, teachable heart:
Learn about the culture: We don’t have to be able to speak the same language to communicate with others of a different culture, but we can certainly take time to learn about their culture before embarking on our journey. Over the years I’ve found that one of the best ways to connect with locals is to show them we are genuinely interested in their culture and that we want to respect it. Nothing is more off putting than having foreigners come in to your culture with a proud “we know better than you” or “our culture is better than yours” mindset. I’ve noticed this instantly close doors to peoples’ hearts. In order for people to want to receive anything you have to say, build bridges, not islands.
Before we can embrace any culture, we have to learn about it. Take some time to read up about the culture you will be visiting in advance. Just because something is okay to do in our culture, doesn’t mean we can assume it is okay to do in the next culture we will be visiting. For example, while women wearing shorts and tank tops might be acceptable in this country, in another country, wearing these same clothes may give off the wrong impression to men. Women going out past a certain time period at night may be misconstrued as impious. Handing money to a cashier with the left hand instead of the right hand may be acceptable in this country, but totally offensive in the next. Taking time to learn basic customs, basic words, and proper behaviour/greetings can go a long way. It can reveal your desire to want embrace their culture, which in turn, can open up amazing doors to share the gospel.
Take time to sit with the locals, smile at them, share a meal together and allow Jesus’ heart to shine through you.
Submit to leadership. No matter how much you think you might know better, always choose a posture of humility and yield to your team leaders or long term missions team on the ground. After all, they have gone through the training necessary to prepare them for this trip, or lifestyle of missions if they are long terms. They may be more familiar with the people group you are visiting from the training received or their extensive time they have spent there, and may be aware of issues with the locals or government you may not be aware of. This is for your own safety, and also so that the mission is not compromised. I have seen compromised missions come in various forms…but ultimately some of these can be avoided just by simply submitting to leadership.
3) Have healthy expectations: Sometimes it’s easy to have big expectations for the entire village to get delivered, healed and saved, after a 1-week trip. I pray that these kinds of breakthroughs happen every trip, but the reality is, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes God just wants to use us to be the seed sower. From John 4:38, “I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor…” we see that God sends some to be sowers, and some to be reapers. It’s okay if your trip isn’t a reaping trip. Sowers are just as important as reapers are!
It’s a really good thing to desire and pray for transformational things to happen in a community, but oftentimes, these kinds of things take time. That’s why our church strategically partners up with long term missionaries who can carry on the fire our missions trips have helped catalyse. It’s good to keep our expectations in check so that when grand things don’t seem to be happening, our worlds are not “wrecked.” I’ve been on trips where I went with low expectations – because I had no grid for what “should” happen on a missions trip – and came out sweetly surprised. I’ve also been on a trip where I expected grand things to happen and was sorely disappointed when those things did not work out as planned. No matter what happens in the end, God works beyond our human limitations. God’s story for the people you will be reaching is so much grander than what you could ever hope and imagine. He just asks us to be obedient and “go!”
As we go on missions, let’s be prayerful, humble, teachable, expectant people who reflect the love of Jesus!