I wholeheartedly believe missions trips are awesome. I got saved on a missions trip 13 years ago so it would be hard for me to argue to the contrary. Over the past seven years as a missionary I've been blessed to have worked with many teams and have experienced both not wanting a team to leave as well as really wishing the team would leave already! There is no silver bullet when it comes to planning and executing a missions trip, but I've identified three things below that will help any church do missions better.
1. Come to Serve
Please, please, please come to serve. Most everywhere you go in the world will have a local body of believers and you should be coming to work with them, not in spite of them. The easiest way to do this is to plan your trip with a church or mission on the ground. They may have a program or event happening that coincides with your visit, or maybe you can plan one together with them taking all of your God-given talents into account.
Working with a local ministry or church helps them even though it’s a lot of work to host a team. When 5, 10, or even 20 servant-hearted people come to minister alongside you, it's hard not to be encouraged! The energy and enthusiasm a team brings is infectious. (So are infectious diseases, so please don't take them with you when you travel!)
Working with a local ministry can also help you immensely on the ground. If you are going to do practical or construction work, they will know deserving families in the area, local workers in need of a job, and the best places to buy local. For more traditional ministry trips, local ministries will know good translators, have connections with the local pastor network, and maybe even have the space necessary to host a seminar or small group. (Bilingual seminary students benefit from a summer job that gives them ministry experience!)
Even without all the benefits, coming with the mindset of serving is just more like Jesus. Even He didn't come into this world to be served, but to serve and give His life for others. A missions trip will better serve both you and those you are ministering to when you come with the right attitude. You cannot be someone's savior, only Jesus can be that. Don't take His job.
2. Be flexible
Things happen. Things also seem to happen more when a group of people is traveling in a foreign country. Delays, missed bags, not understanding the language, and in some cases, not being able to freely travel make a missions trip stressful and ripe for things to go wrong. This is where being flexible will serve you well.
When you are a foreign visitor, there are many things you may not understand about the local culture. Even among countries that speak the same language, there are so many differences in how things operate. Generally speaking, we don't have to think too hard about living in our current environment. We can anticipate when traffic will be at its peak, what things are cause for concern, and in most cases how to react appropriately. All of that knowledge is useless where the environment is different, so be flexible. Open to change.
I met one team leader that required every team member wear a rubber band around their wrist like a bracelet. Every time the plan changed or didn't go as planned, he'd remind them to pull on that rubber band.
3. Have a missions strategy
This is the tip that makes me the most excited. I love talk of strategy and big initiatives and the like. So first let me define what I mean by a missions strategy. A missions strategy is simply a plan to be intentional with your global activities. It doesn't matter if you are an individual or a congregation. Pray and find like-minded individuals that are serving abroad to partner with. Don't throw money at them, partner with them. Pray for them, call them, build relationship with them the same way you would with your small group leader or pastor.
It's magical because as you develop relationship, long-term discipleship success follows. Your team leaders start to become more familiar with the local culture, you see the people you minister to start to grow, you become more trusted, and you are better able to connect your church to the great commission.
One of my favorite teams is one that comes down 2-3 times a year usually. Always to do work with the same people. They are committed to the long-term success of those people. As the church has become more experienced working with locals they have been able to focus in more on exactly the best way to disciple locally as well as disciple their team members. That's huge! They can connect the pastor's Sunday morning preaching to their practical work on the ground and in the lives of the locals. Could you ask for a better result?
The key is having a missions strategy and sticking to it.
So how do you develop a strategy?
A. Be prayerful and intentional about what focus you have.
If you have a passion for at-risk teens and young adults, then a mission providing clean drinking water may not be the best fit. Like I said before, we are each a part of a whole body and you should be looking for a ministry that aligns with God's calling on your life. It is much more natural if you do globally what you already do locally and that helps connect the dots of vision and practical work.
B. Do some research
Some churches have developed strategies in working with a particular people group while others focus on a ministry type. Either way, do some web searches or asking around for different ministries that work with your calling. Do you already have an existing connection somewhere? That might be a good place to start. After you find a few, spend some time in prayer and in talking with them to help determine where God might be leading you to work.
C. Stay focused
You can't do it all and I would go so far as to say that you shouldn't do it all. When you try to do all things all the time you are at best ineffective and at worst burned out and suffering from a savior-complex. Stay focused on what God has specifically called you to do. It might seem like God needs some extra help, but trust me when I say that there is no way we can ever understand all of the vast amounts of things that God is doing in this world. Let the foot be a foot and you stick with being the eye.
With over 1,200 campuses in over 180 countries, you can bet that YWAM is a great place to have new experiences. Whether you are staff, DTS student, or part of a missions team, you are sure to travel, experience missions, make friends, learn about different cultures, and ultimately, gain a more meaningful relationship with God. One thing many may not realize is that you can add “pursuit of higher education” to this list!
The University of Nations (UofN) is YWAM’s own University. Established in 1978 as the Pacific & Asia Christian University, the UofN was established to “Train students in ministering the love of Christ and teaching others according to the command of Christ to make disciples of all nations, in all spheres of society.” (1) As the name suggests, the Kona, Hawaii based school was originally intended to serve certain areas, but soon outgrew the Asian-Pacific area, prompting the name of the university to change in 1989.
When God’s grace is working in our everyday lives, we can expect to experience his goodness. When the Holy Spirit is working in and through us, we are in a position subject to God’s sovereignty. A place where we are ready for God to work mightily.
I am on a path where I just feel, so deeply in my heart, to tell God “God I love you, not for stuff you’ve been giving me or doing for me but because you love me.” Because of God’s powerful love, that I have seen and felt. I can testify that even when I don’t see it or feel it, I know God is still working. Working in our lives, in our houses, our families, our relationships.
Yes, we all know how the entire world is in a shocking state right now with COVID. But guess what? If you allow God, he will use any situation to teach us. To grow our faith, our ability to help others, to love like he does, and to remind us of why we are here.
Now I want to ask you one question:
If Jesus came today and was standing right in front of you, would you be ready?
I want to encourage you to continue to work for God. Continue to pursue him in spirit and truth. Don’t let satan put lies in your life, like you won’t be anything or you’re not good enough. Remember God’s grace is enough for you! Let God be your guidance, let him be your provider. God sees you and wants to spend time with you. So make time to be with God. God is good and he has a huge plan for you. If you continue to work in his will, he will show you the way. Keep seeking the Lord and remember, his grace is enough for you!
What does it mean to be yourself? I feel that oftentimes we try to define how much of ourselves we are being at any given moment. Phrases like “I’m so not me today!” and “I just don’t feel comfortable in my skin right now.” are strewn about like fallen leaves.
I too feel these sentiments in my life and in my walk. In this space in time where I prepare to embark to Haiti once more, I can’t help but look around and see that many of my friends have returned to college, but me? I am all alone, or that’s what I feel like sometimes. In this aloneness can come a sense of uncomfortableness and that resonant “who am I?” Now that my comrades are gone I don’t feel like myself. So it seems I’ve been defining myself by who I hang around and spend all my time with. And let me tell you if you do this, you will never have a solid Identity.
Whether you are surrounded by God loving friends or completely alone, if you base your identity on your circumstances and the people around you, you are as turbulent as the wind. You’ve built your house on sand castles and this is what I’ve been doing. The kind of identity we all have immediate access to is not one comprised of worldly things and momentary surroundings, it is a sense of self anchored so much in glorifying God that the way we see ourselves is automatically a cute little footnote. Where we are so obsessed and engulfed in the story that God is writing and has written that our self worth doesn’t matter.
Moses seemed to think he couldn’t be used but God had a different plan. One where Moses’s worth did not matter and it was all about forgetting himself and getting lost in the gravity and grace of God and his goodness. It’s hard to care how much you feel like yourself when you’re standing in the middle of raging waters threatening to collapse on you yet knowing that your Good God won’t let that happen. So right now I’m urging you and I’m urging myself to be so swept up in the marvelous privilege that is worshipping The One True King, that we could care less how we look and feel.
Let’s read our Bibles, and love those around us and care for those with less, not to feel more like ourselves, or to feel good inside, but to praise the One who made all of this possible. In doing so we will be wise men and women building our house upon the what? The Rock.