According to Wycliffe Associates, 1.6 million American Christians spend $6 billion dollars annually on short-term “vacations with a purpose.*” How can this hefty investment of time and money be maximized? Here are 12 suggestions for church leaders and those who go :
1. Make sure that the short term project is linked to the long-term vision of a field missionary. You need to plug into a project that has a proven track record, but is also a strategic component of the big picture. This is not a random act of Christian tourism or feel-good do-ism.
2. Make it about discipleship. God is writing a story in each person’s life before, during and after the trip. How does that story about the gospel penetrate the wallet, calendar, and priorities of each person? How does the initial euphoria and warm fuzzies of returning home get translated into a long-term, Christ-centered, purposeful lifestyle?
3. Read up on the culture, history, and current issues of the people you will serve overseas. Where is it on a map? Who’s the president? What’s “hot” in their culture today? What types of exposure to the gospel have this people had in the past 100 years?
4. Use visuals to inspire your team. Investigate YouTube. Watch a 4-minute prayer video on your country from Operation World.org.. Check Netflix for movies based in the region. Ask previous trip leaders to come and speak to your group or ask to see their photos or videos.
5. All hands on deck. Seeing my daughter’s basketball team raise funds through a car-wash at the local gas station was a picture to me of everyone on the team doing their part. If you are going with a team from church, take time to build relationships. Hang out. Raise funds. Pray. Laugh. Cry. Your team needs to share a group ethos. It’s not about a bunch of individuals on some type of “spiritual trip.”
6. Mesh the trip with your home church. Ask your pastor and leadership to bless it and own it. Secure a mission spot on a Sunday worship service. Publically invite the church to pray. Put it in the bulletin. Design a simple flier for the foyer. Give a 2-minute blurb in the Sunday school classes or Vacation Bible School. Be included in email groups, Facebook, or other social networking site. Ensure your home support team knows where you’re going, what you’re doing, and why.
7. Find a mentor. Ensure each person on your team has someone who’s not a peer who can mentor them. It should be someone in their home church who has spiritual and natural gifts in this area, with a proven track record in ministry. Ideally, this is someone who can say “No” and give honest feedback as well as someone respected enough so that their advice. Coaching 101 by R.E.Logan, Sherilyn Carlton, and Tara MIller is a recommended resource for mentors.
8. Use great preparation materials. Journey Guide: A Companion For Your Cross Cultural Trip from OMF Books is about the best I’ve read. It’s concise, biblical, mission-focused, culturally sensitive, and sufficiently lightweight to include in your luggage.
9. Put a towel around your arm. Instill a servant mindset in your team. Practice it yourself. On one trip to SE Asia, a team member cleaned and polished my shoes. He just did it. No talk. It was his way to serve me as a fellow team member. Be humble. Few people go on a trip saying “I really need to work on my pride issues”. Quite a lot of people say (at least to themselves), “Why don’t these people in this country get their act together? Or why doesn’t the church in this place use XYZ songs, curricula, programs as we do back home?” Resist the temptation to become “Mr. Expert on X country,” or “Miss I-know-it-all-about-X people.” Content yourself with “foreign friend and servant.”
10. Respect the culture of the people you go to serve. Don’t demonize them, nor idolize them. Ensure any photos you take show you in a lower position than the people. Don’t make them look subservient or dependent on you. Listen carefully enough to what they say so they can speak to your culture (rather than vice versa). Let them teach you.
11. Create opportunities to report back. Help your team to develop a 30-second elevator speech, a 5-minute debrief, and a 20-minute report. Encourage use of physical objects from the country that tell a story of how God worked. Ensure your church bulletin or magazine includes some type of update on the trip. Personally thank each prayer and financial supporter afterwards. Make an appointment with your pastor for 30-minutes to thank him for his support.
12. Ensure follow-up is emphasized from the get-go. Tell each participant the trip is just “one” part. Follow-up for several months afterwards is integral. Explain the value of addressing what God is doing in each person’s life after they return to the US. Follow-up will help each person get to the next step in God’s plan.
Finally, here’s a fun article that tells you precisely what NOT to do on a short-term trip, “Ten Ways to Tank Your Short-term Trip,” by Shane Bennett (Missions Catalyst Website).
** source for statistics: http://www.wycliffeassociates.org/volunteer/vacations.html