Mission Top Ten
It’s mission trip season again. And with all the trips that have gone out over the years, there certainly are some common threads that apply to them all. So here’s our top ten list of things to remember before you strike out across town or around the world:
- Meet Before You Go. It’s amazing how many groups will take a mission trip and have few if any meetings before they go. Instead, take the time to get to know one another, agree on goals and attitudes, make sure that you’re organized and be certain you’ve worked through any personality difficulties before you go. Don’t wait until you get to the airport to find out you have two alpha males on the tip who will spend the trip butting heads.
- Training. You may have been on a dozen mission trips, but for others it may be their first time. Incorporate into you meetings some training for the group. Review the culture of where you are going. Discuss the theology of mission. It doesn’t have to be hard-core heavy – keep it substantive but simple. The Office of Mission and Outreach at the Diocese has a training DVD with lots of good material.
- Learn Some Local Language. Nothing shows your willingness to fit in with your hosts like knowing some local language. So get someone to teach you before you travel. Don’t think you can find a Swahili tutor? Guess again. They’re out there. Make it a priority.
- Gifts. Bring gifts for your hosts that speak about you and your church. Maybe coffee mugs with your church logo. Or baseball hats. Or have folks in the congregation make something.
- Involve Your Whole Congregation. Remember that the group taking the mission trip is there to represent your church community. It’s not just the few people on the trip, it’s everyone, except that a lot of them won’t physically travel. But get the rest of the congregation involved. Have the youth make gifts. Add the hosts to your prayer list. Have the clergy send a letter (or even a picture). Get the altar guild to send along something that ties your worship with that of the hosts.
- Involve the Youth and Young Adults. Most mission trips consist of travelers that are over 40 years old. Frankly, they’re often north of 60. That’s fine, but remember that lots of energy and great ideas can come from young folks, even if they are not traveling on the trip. Work to get them involved in the mission ministry. And accept their ideas, even if they seem a bit bizarre. Wasn’t there a time when you were young enough to have funky ideas too?
- Have One Leader. Every trip needs someone who will be in charge. Make sure that everyone knows (and agrees) on that person. It doesn’t have to be clergy. In fact, it often works better if it’s a lay person. One denomination insists that the trip leader go to all of the other participants and say: “I am the leader and you are not.” That might be a bit much, but you get the point.
- Pack Patience and a Sense of Humor. This sounds simple but it’s tough sometimes. Every trip will go better if the participants constantly remember to keep their sense of humor. What you know for sure is that things will not go as planned, everything will take much longer than anticipated and carefully crafted itineraries will undoubtedly fall apart. That’s OK. Try to make the inevitable glitches part of the adventure. As one Virginia group recently noted: “Maybe we should just chill.” Good point.
- Go To Be, Not To Do. Your mission trip should be about people, not a project. Work on developing your relationships with the folks you are visiting. Get to know them as human beings. Ask them about their kids, their work, their faith. Put down your hammer and share a cup of coffee. The idea is to have two very different communities get to know one another and share a realization of their oneness in Christ. Doing your project is a means to that end, not the end in itself.
- Remember That God Is With You. No matter what, your trip is about you faith. And God is with you on that journey. Take the time to thank Him for the blessing of being able to take the trip in the first place. Pray. And don’t get overly concerned about whether it’s all going to be OK. It is. God is there. Always.
Buck Blanchard is the director of Mission and Outreach for the Diocese of Virginia. He works to encourage and facilitate mission and relationship between parishes and the wider Anglican Communion.