Missionaries do essential work in almost every country of the world, every day. As you plan your first mission trip, it’s easy to get excited about the potential you have to help those in need around the world.
That excitement, of course, can quickly fade as you arrive in the country and find less than desirable conditions. Nothing can quite prepare you for the change in culture, especially if you are making your first mission trip.
Getting discouraged is easy. On the other hand, with just a few steps, you can translate your initial enthusiasm and desire to help others into productivity, and make sure that you can accomplish that goal.
Commit Yourself to the Culture
Faith-based organizations that organize mission trips tend to tell first-timers that understanding the culture is vital to make the journey successful. That is undoubtedly true. But in reality, we would go a step further: rather than merely understanding the culture, you need to commit to it.
If at all possible, learn the language of the country you are visiting, even if it’s only for a short time. If you don’t have the time or plan to visit multiple countries, at least learn critical phrases needed to communicate.
But in reality, committing yourself to a foreign culture goes far beyond language. Every country has unique behaviorisms, beliefs, and traditions that are vital to grasp if you want to get closer and better understand the population. This guide can help you find more information about the communication style, gestures, gift-giving traditions, and more in the country of your destination.
Understand Your Communication Needs
Speaking of learning the language: as you prepare for your trip, it makes sense to get a better idea of exactly how you will need to communicate throughout its duration. Some considerations matter in this regard:
Who will you regularly interact with?
Will you travel and live alone, or in a group?
What type of work do you expect to complete?
What languages do the people you will work with speak beyond their native language?
How open (or closed) to strangers and other beliefs is the culture you plan to work in?
Answering these questions will help you gain a better understanding of how exactly you will need to (and be expected to) communicate over the duration of your trip. As a result, you can better prepare for it, making sure that by the time you arrive, you can hit the ground running and be productive from the start.
Know Where You Can Help (And Where You Cannot)
You might have already heard this advice, but only because it’s so essential to missionary work: know your limitations. Chances are you are undertaking this trip to spread the good word, while also helping those who need aid the most. You probably have some skills to add that can help you achieve these goals.
Crucially, though, you should not try to do everything. Chances are you will be traveling into an area where the work that needs to be done is immense. Putting it on your shoulders is a surefire way not just to burn out, but also lose the joy and enthusiasm that drove you to missionary work in the first place.
Instead, stick to your competencies. Understand where you can help the most, and focus your efforts on that area. Other missionaries and volunteers will do the same in their area of expertise, leading to a whole that is truly greater than the sum of its parts.
Shed the Unnecessary
To help you reach your goals, and stay focused, it makes sense to shed the items that are not essential to your work. Yes, you might want to take your laptop to stay connected with your friends and family back home, especially during long trips. At the same time, it can quickly become a distraction that hinders you from getting your work done and increases your stress level.
Before the trip, make a list of your absolute essentials. Then, add a few items that remind you of your ‘regular’ life and prevent or minimize any homesickness. Beyond that, stick with the essentials to make sure you don’t get distracted from your trip’s core mission.
Be Strategic About Your Goals
Every missionary plans their trip with specific goals in mind. You might be looking to spread your faith, help those in need, or learn about a new culture and country in the process of accomplishing each. The more strategic you are about your goals, the better.
Being strategic can be as simple as writing down what you want to accomplish. In the course of the trip, keep your written goals close to you for reference. If you want to get more specific, consider periodically reminding yourself what your goals are, and how close you are to accomplishing them. These frequent reminders allow you to stay focused on what truly matters to you in the course of the trip.
Implement Steps to Make a Lasting Impact
Finally, it makes sense to treat your missionary trip as a finite entity. In other words, before the journey is complete, set in motion steps that ensure your impact in the region you visited will not be temporary, but last for a long time to come.
You can accomplish that goal in many ways. Teach locals how you are helping, and what they can do to carry forward these tasks. Stay in touch with key figures in your community after you leave. And of course, you can always come back for future trips to once again help the community grow and improve.
With these steps in mind, you can make sure that the initial enthusiasm you feel about your mission trip makes a lasting impact in the country, area, or region you’re visiting. In fact, your visit turns into a journey that makes a lasting impression on a community that reaches far beyond you for years to come.
A mission trip is an exciting time. Of course, it can also be stressful. Understanding your goals, and staying focused on them, helps to make sure that the excitement remains in place and everything you do will work toward your core mission.