[ym360 Note: Easter has come and gone, so for many of you, it's time to start planning those Summer mission trips. Melanie Dill is one of our good buddies. She has an awesome story! She was a youth worker in Alabama until God called her to South Africa. She has been doing all sorts of awesome ministry there: missionary work, youth ministry, church planting, coordinating missions experiences, and more! Because of her experience here and overseas, Melanie has a really unique perspective on ministry. This article offers her perspective having been on the “other side” of planning missions experiences.]
There’s a good chance that many of you reading this will plan a Spring Break or Sumer missions trip, maybe even to a locale overseas. I was in your shoes at one time, planning and executing mission trips. Now I find myself doing missions across the ocean! And I am often the person on the ground helping coordinate logistics for groups coming to do missions here in South Africa.
This change of roles has opened my eyes to what it’s like to be on “this end” of a mission trip.
I wanted to take a second to pass along some thoughts as you prepare for your Spring Break or Summer mission trips.
1. Leave Your Technology Behind
As much as possible, encourage your students (and leaders) to leave their gadgets behind. In many of the places you’ll visit, Internet access is a luxury. Flashing your gadgets (or bemoaning the lack of connectivity) can seem callous to the very people you may be trying to minister to.
Another thought is that you probably don’t want your students’ “things” to be the reason people want to come meet them. Not only can it be a safety hazard, it can be distracting to whoever is trying to coordinate your group’s itinerary.
Challenge your students to unplug for the duration of their time “on the ground.” Encourage them to connect with the people right in front of them. Instead of attracting people because of their tech-toys, challenge them to let God’s love in and through them be the attraction.
2. Don’t Overdo It With The Photos
Be aware of how you approach taking photos. The Instagram world your students live in often doesn’t translate well to other cultures. When students take photos every 30 seconds it can make people feel like an exhibit at a zoo! (Which you definitely don’t want.)
Now, taking photos as a way of remembering your trip is an awesome thing to do. I’m not saying NOT to capture memories of the places you visit. I’m just encouraging you to be aware of how your students approach taking photos.
Instead of being quick to click a button on their phone, ipod, or cameras, challenge your students to be quick to relationally interact. Encourage students to treat the people they encounter as people, not cultural artifacts. Look at the community you’ll serve not as a destination to remember, but as a community where Jesus wants His name and His love spread. If you do this, you’ll go a long way toward a healthy attitude regarding picture taking.
3. You Can’t Over-Prepare Your Group
Have pre-trip meetings that cover information about the history of your destination, missions-theory/technique, giving your testimony, pointing all conversations to Christ, and the purpose of your trip. Have students practice sharing their faith, eating foods they're not used to, and fasting from technology all while on American soil. These tests will prepare them for their journey ahead and hopefully allow them to practice depending on the Spirit! Educate your entire group and set expectations of selflessness!
4. Be Aware Of The Sacrifices The “Ministry On The Ground” Will Make For Your Sake
Keep in mind that the person coordinating your trip “in country” has done a lot of work for you and your team prior to your arrival. He or she may have had to arrange accommodation, travel, and meals, not to mention potentially advertising and setting up ministry for your team's visit. The coordinating ministry has most likely incurred additional expenses preparing for your group that may not be in their budget: petrol, meals with the team, special ministry supplies, internet fees, etc. Remember that in many cases, everyone sacrifices time and money to make a mission trip happen: you, your group, and many of the people “on the ground” where you’ll be serving. Keep this perspective in mind and let it guide your interactions with the coordinating ministry. You never want to leave a ministry or an individual feeling like his or her efforts weren’t appreciated.
The goal for any mission trip is to leave having shared the Gospel to those in need, while doing nothing to take away from the community or the ministry you’re serving alongside.
What tips would you pass along?