In the last decade, many more people are traveling with groups on Short-Term Mission Teams. This is a great opportunity to serve people in need, and to see the world from another point of view. The Lord uses these events to change our world-view, equip us with new skills, and help us to make a difference. Evangelical Church Missions, WGM, OMS, and Hope Teams International all offer experiences for you to participate in, in addition to the many other missions groups that people from our churches participate in all the time.
I have lead at least 30 teams myself, and I would like to share five things that will make your experience more meaningful, fun, and transformational.
First: Get prepared. Most organizations will furnish you with pre-team training materials and devotional exercises. These are good. But go beyond that by visiting with people in your community who may be part of the culture you are going to. Maybe get some tips on how to relate cross-culturally, like things you should be aware of. And learn basic greetings. It shows respect when you at least attempt to address people in another culture in their own language. And you will make a connection.
Second: Focus on the people more than the project. A lot of teams do construction projects, or other things that become the driving agenda for the time the team is on site. While it is important to complete the project, it is more important to develop relationships with the people. You can focus on the missionaries or in-country staff to start, and go from there. Get to know them and how they live. Get to know their stories. You’ll remember them.
Third: One objective I gave to my teams was to learn the names of 5-10 people who are affected by the project and ministry you are participating with. Get to know their personal stories, what makes them happy, what their prayer needs are. Develop friendships along the way. You won’t regret it.
Fourth: Before you go, get to know how the ministry you are serving with can use ongoing help. While on site, find out more ways that you and your church may be able to help out over the next year or so. Come back and share with your home church about a special burden you might have, and see how you can increase involvement, which will increase the effectiveness of the ministry in the place that you served. You will make a difference.
Fifth: You learn a lot of new things on these teams. Things about other cultures, yourself, and how God uses people to change lives. You have been equipped to do things you were not able to do prior to your trip. Find ways in your church and community to put those new skills to work. Help promote missions and certain causes. Help others to see the need and join the effort.
These simple steps will help make your experience a life-changing event for you, your church, and the people you served with on site.
And then go back, and take someone new with you.