In Defense of the Short Term Missions Trip (Part 3) :: How to Arrive Prepared

Last month we found ourselves discussing short term missions teams and how they can be useful, helpful and a blessing to those on the field as well as the local community.  We are coming to the end of summer (at least in North America), which means that many people’s lives have been full of sending/receiving such groups for the past several months.

In this particular article, we’ll be discussing some of the ways teams coming on trips can prepare themselves, and arrive in a good mindset and ready to serve.

While in Brazil, I had the opportunity to interview two separate pastors leading teams–one was an American pastor, leading his team of 15 from First Free Church of Lincoln Nebraska. The other was leading  group of 14 from southern Brazil, from a church called Celivre.

I asked both of them what it looked like to prepare for a trip like this.  There was a wonderful lack of DRAMA from any during the 8 days we were together, and that says a lot being that there was a mix of ages, personalities, and nationalities too!  Not everyone was able to even communicate together, yet everyone did well to work together and accomplish the goals set forth.  How did this happen?

Robb Maddox, the Missions and outreach coordinator of First Free of Lincoln shared with me in an interview that preparation was key.  Getting to know one another before coming, having clear expectations, and preparing everyone to be flexible always helps.  One interesting element that their team did was that every participant, whether teenager or adult, wrote out a brief testimony to share.  Often times, the guests and visitors are called on in church settings to give a word, and so arriving with these already ready to go was a great idea.  Robb took it one step further too, and had each member of his team share it before they came, in their group and then with someone in their hometown as well.  So, their testimonies and verses and devotionals that were being put together for a Brazilian missions trip were also being used to share the good news and the Word in their own town.

Robb also mentioned a few important interpersonal aspects as well– he and his co-leaders try to keep an eye on the people they bring with them and see how they are feeling and reacting to things.  The key to reducing drama is to nip it in the bud before it gets started, and also to truly hear people’s hearts and needs as the week progresses.  A lot of this has to do with establishing trust and open lines of communication before they get on the plane though. Helping people have realistic expectations and making sure they know ahead of time that they might get tired, overstimulated, or just generally overwhelmed helps manage the situations in the moments when they actually come up.

Lucas, of Santa Catarina has a heart for the Brazilian church, and sees himself as a national missionary to his own people.  He loves to teach people about using their everyday skills and talents–be it jiu jitsu training or accounting, spray painting murals or cutting hair–anything can be used to draw people into a conversation about Christ.  His team was an incredible asset, and they were pretty colorful too!

A few insights from Steve Spellman, who was really the guy pulling the strings for this whole thing shared with me near the end of the week.  He commented that not everyone was involved in any one thing, but everyone was willing to serve.  Because there was a spreading out and a proper use of everyone’s gifts and talents, more ground was able to be covered.  The Brazilians were able to go into some neighborhoods that were a bit dangerous, and use jiu jitsu as a door to share the gospel.  The Americans were able to get into the public schools, simply because they were Americans (and therefore interesting) and teach English.  When the students asked direct questions about God, they were able to give direct answers and share the gospel as well.

So, what I learned from these three men and all the people they were leading boils down to a few simple concepts:

  1. Teach and practice sharing your testimony and sharing the gospel before you arrive.  If you do these things in your own hometown, then you are already doing missions before you even leave the country!
  2. Try to give your team realistic expectations, and educate them on culture as much as possible before leaving.
  3. It’s always better to have too many activities prepared rather than too little, just as long as the people on your short-term team know that they might not get to everything.
  4. Prepare everyone to BE FLEXIBLE.  Things rarely, if ever, go according to plan or stay on schedule when in a different location than your own.  If everyone comes in expecting this, there will be fewer hurt feelings and way less drama.

Do you have any other suggestions for arriving prepared to a short term missions trip?  Is there any advice that has been really helpful for you or your teams over the years?

Here is a video filmed during the week of the trip to Recife, Brazil. Enjoy!

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