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Students from Southwest Christian School in Fort Worth, Texas, sing songs with children in Talisay City on the island of Cebu in the Philippines during a mission trip.
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Planning a short-term mission? These 11 tips might help

Know your purpose. Be flexible. Coordinate with local churches and missionaries. These are among the suggestions offered by trip coordinators.

Short-term mission trips have taken Paula Harrington and her family to disaster zones in the U.S. and poor communities in Third World countries.

Paula Harrington

“We have cleaned up after tornadoes, done Vacation Bible Schools on the streets, fed others, cleaned yards and homes and played with kids,” said Harrington, a member of the Lone Oak Church of Christ in Paducah, Ky. “Every time the result was learning to serve and bless our neighbors. God allows us to see the big picture on mission trips.”

Trey Morgan, minister for the Childress Church of Christ in Texas, has organized numerous trips to help at a hilltop dump in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

The image that sticks with him: “I spent the day working with a lady in the dump, helping her dig through trash, sort trash and carry things she could recycle to sell for money for her family. I was so glad when the day was over, and I could get out of those nasty clothes and take a shower. It hit me while I was cleaning up that the lady would rise early in the morning, put back on her filthy clothes and have to do it again.”

Jana Miller, a missionary in Zambia, said short-term mission trips to Mexico helped nurture her love for mission work.

“My levels of agreement with short-term missions vary based on the type of trip,” said Miller, who is sponsored by the Edmond Church of Christ in Oklahoma. “Are you going to encourage a missionary? Sharing medical or other specialized skills? Learning from a missionary about what it means to live and serve in a different place?


Related: This is what short-term mission trips are really all about


“I think all of those are worthy reasons for shorter-term missions,” she added. “I also think there are times when the money could be used more beneficially to create local, short-term jobs surrounding the projects and special programs outside groups traditionally lead.”

Missionary Jana Miller reads with Joseph and Reuben at The Haven, which provides temporary care for orphans in Zambia. Miller recalls how short-term work in Mexico opened her eyes to “the global community worshiping the same God … and how powerful that was. It doesn’t look the same or sound the same, but we’re all serving and praising the same God.”

Harrington, Morgan and Miller were among 75 trip coordinators and church leaders who responded to a survey by The Christian Chronicle.

Based on all the responses, here are 11 tips for making short-term mission work successful:

1. Know your purpose.

“Clearly define the task, both in terms of process and expected outcome, in such a way that someone unfamiliar with the task/mission would know exactly what was to be done. Recruit team members who are capable of accomplishing the task. Train team members sufficiently to make effectiveness a probability and not only a remote possibility. Go where you are invited, not where you have asked to go.” — Roger McCown, Brentwood Oaks Church of Christ in Austin, Texas

Deanna Tuttle

“The focus should not be on us as the trip participants. God didn’t call us into his mission for me to learn and grow and have my worldview shaped. Those are definitely positive by-products but should not be the primary focus of discussion, both before and after. The focus is on supporting what God is already doing in that place of service, hopefully with a long-term host ministry whom you are simply there to support and partner.” — Deanna Tuttle, Abilene Christian University in Texas

“There needs to be a clear purpose and schedule for the short-term mission group. ‘Winging it’ is not a good idea for either the short-term group or the host church. The short-term group should organize and prepare as much as they can for the host church. It is a lot of work for a host church, and whatever the group can do to ease that burden is very helpful.” — Tristan Block, Northside Church of Christ in Wichita, Kan.

2. Coordinate details with the mission location.

“Be aware of power dynamics. If they know you as their source of support, they will be very afraid of offending you. They should be made to feel like you genuinely want their ideas and are open to what they believe works best in their own context. Listen. Listen. Listen.” — Mark Adams, Kings Crossing Church of Christ in Corpus Christi, Texas

Student volunteers clean a neighborhood in Houston during a short-term mission trip after Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

“Have a definite program of activities organized with the receiving churches. Follow their lead.” — Max Dauner, missionary in Marseille, France

“Do not plan a trip to go where the locals are not ready for you to come. Make sure that the trip is needed, and let the locals plan your schedule, not you.” — Benny Baker, Misión Para Cristo in Nicaragua

“Any trip where you can, work alongside our brothers and sisters in Christ. Don’t go do something that they can do for themselves, but do work with them as equals because that is what we are in Christ’s eyes. Find out what they want and need rather than assuming you know. Make friends. If you are planning a trip and want a project for people to do, then ask the locals what is really needed. Empower the leadership in the local church by working through them instead of at cross purposes.” — Joseph Smith, Healing Hands International in Nashville, Tenn.

3. Involve your whole congregation.

“Do not neglect to involve the rest of your sending congregation. Let them be involved in preparing for the trip, gathering supplies and praying for you as you go. Give them an awesome follow-up report so they can be blessed through the ways God works through your trip. — Adams

In a village near Siem Reap, Cambodia, local church members perform a skit about the life of Joseph as children and campaigners from across Southeast Asia watch. Coordinators of the mission, called Angkor of Faith, worked with the Cambodian congregation to arrange the event.

4. Plan carefully.

“Talk to someone who has gone, and get yourself a good packing list of essentials (like peanut butter). Find out what shots and meds you need. Do this early. Take a crash course in some of the language.” — Trent Wheeler, Lake Butler Church of Christ in Florida

“Have several meetings with the group going to ensure communication stays open. Make them invest in the trip in such a way that they have some ownership in the mission.” — Salli Page, Carter Lake Road Church of Christ in Bowie, Texas

“Set expectations that will help each person understand the goals of the mission, explore their personal faith, learn about culture and develop community with their team.” — Karen Owen, Rochester Church of Christ in Rochester Hills, Mich.

“All details and what ifs should be worked out ahead of time. Always consider food and water supplies. Always remember that the people will be looking up to you. Watch your conduct in every way. Your speech and your dress are always being watched.” — Buzz Toland, Bellefonte Church of Christ in Harrison, Ark.

5. But be flexible.

“If you cannot be flexible, or if you cannot be happy when things don’t go as planned, you need not be a part of a campaign.” — Dale Jenkins, Spring Meadows Church of Christ in Spring Hill, Tenn.

“I was once told, ‘Blessed are the flexible, for they will bend but not break.’” — Jennifer Graham, Mesquite Church of Christ in Texas

“Don’t over-organize. People need time to connect with others on the field.” — Ron Clark, Agape Church of Christ in Portland, Ore.

Windle Kee hands out invitations to a medical clinic and Bible study in Belize.

Windle Kee hands out invitations to a medical clinic and Bible study in Belize.

6. Be a blessing, not a burden.

“The purpose of a short-term mission trip is to be a blessing, not a burden. You don’t go to be served but to serve. It’s surprising that many struggle with this concept. It’s a lesson I learned early.” — Kent Risley, Edmond Church of Christ in Oklahoma

“Focus on who you are serving, and be sensitive to their needs.” — Stephanie Rhoton, Madison Church of Christ in Tennessee

“Remember, you are a guest. Do not always assume your way is the right way. Be humble.” — Teresa Lewis, Mannford Church of Christ in Oklahoma

The mission team from the Reidland Church of Christ in Paducah, Ky., prays with Puerto Rican brothers and sisters as the groups prepare to say goodbye.

A short-term mission team from the Reidland Church of Christ in Paducah, Ky., prays with Puerto Rican brothers and sisters as the groups prepare to say goodbye.

7. Go to serve, not to take a vacation.

“Empathetically emphasize to every potential worker from the beginning that this is a work trip, and you are not going on this trip for a fun or enjoyable experience. That being said, you will have fun, and the experience will bring great joy.” — Dan Cooper, Pitman Road Church of Christ in Sewell, N.J.

Mark Blackwelder

“Be ready to work — you are not a ‘vacationary.’ Be willing to serve the long-term missionaries. Plan a full and busy schedule. Inactivity is frustrating to the campaigners.” — Mark Blackwelder, Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tenn.

“Have a specific goal to be achieved. … Make sure that the trip isn’t just a ‘vacation’ for those going out on short-term missions. Go with an attitude of servitude. Don’t make the group so large that it overwhelms the people you are trying to help. Show love, and form relationships.” — Joshua Stone, Rose Bud, Ark.

8. Respect the people and the culture.

“Absolutely do not go to change the culture or the way the local culture does church. Let the gospel and the work of the Holy Spirit do that. Do not flaunt American wealth or patriotism; we are not there to show them how much better we are. Do not ignore the counsel of the local leadership regarding practices the team should not do or places they should not go.” — Roger Pritchett, Sylvan Hills Church of Christ in Sherwood, Ark.

“Learn some of their language. They will appreciate your effort and respect.” — Morrisa Summers, Leavenworth Church of Christ in Kansas

In Antwerp, Belgium, teens on a mission walk to a basketball court with immigrants.

In Antwerp, Belgium, teens on a mission walk to a basketball court with immigrants.

“Do not try to convert the people to ‘Americanism.’” — Lee R. Jamieson, Timberlane Church of Christ in Tallahassee, Fla.

“Prepare those who are going to be culturally aware and sensitive. I was embarrassed more than once by group members who said or did insensitive, ‘ugly American’ things on our trips.”

Mark Yeakley, Northside Church of Christ in Wichita, Kan.

“You must not ignore the local missionaries. They live and work with the people you are serving and have a better understanding of how to reach them.” — Linda Griekspoor, RiverWalk Church of Christ in Wichita, Kan.

“Try to learn as much about the place you are going before you go. Take the time to ask local people about life there. Go with a spirit of learning rather than a spirit of knowing what’s best for another people group.” — Miller

“Don’t carry in suitcases full of shoes, socks, clothes, etc., when those things can be purchased or made locally. You may actually be robbing a local Christian of their livelihood. A corollary: Don’t bring clothing that is offensive in the local culture, even if it is stylish in America.” — Ralph Williams, Monduli Juu Church of Christ in Tanzania


Related: A new day for Puerto Rico


“Be humble. Be a servant. Realize that no job is ‘beneath you.’ Be adaptable — I mean, really adaptable.” Rick Odell, West Ark Church of Christ in Fort Smith, Ark.

“Ask the question, ‘What would Jesus do in this culture?’” — Gailyn Van Rheenen, North Atlanta Church of Christ in Georgia

9. Eat. Pray. Love.

“Go with an open heart. Be yourself, but take it seriously. The people you meet will touch you, and the experience will shape you.” — Halee Ring, Belle Church of Christ in West Virginia

ERIK TRYGGESTAD In the Central American nation of Panama, Larry Brady from the Davenport Church of Christ in Alabama leads a mission team through tall grass to reach a remote village.

In the Central American nation of Panama, Larry Brady from the Davenport Church of Christ in Alabama leads a mission team through tall grass to reach a remote village.

“Spend time with the local members. Share meals, play games, and give of yourself to make their lives better.” — Angela Ward, Southgate Church of Christ in San Angelo, Texas

“Never turn your nose up to something offered to you in love — a shirt, food, anything. Be gracious, say thank you and accept their love.” — Morgan

“Prepare to be friendly and outgoing and talk about Jesus and his salvation.” — Roger Dennington, Snellville Church of Christ in Georgia

“Love is a universal language. A hug goes a long way when you don’t speak the language.” — Stachia Washington, Childress Church of Christ in Texas

“Go with the intent to form relationships.” — Donna Griffith, Mount Hope Church of Christ in Joplin, Mo.

“Do not reject anything offered to you, especially food. Accept it with gratitude, and eat joyfully without asking questions. Be gracious in all things. Saturate the whole mission with prayer from beginning to end.” — Terrell Lee, Reidland Church of Christ in Paducah, Ky.

Evan Barker, Andrew King and Brady Ross, youth minister for the Crestview Church of Christ in Waco, Texas, work on building a house during a mission trip to Honduras.

10. Make a long-term commitment to the mission location.

“Find one place, and keep going to it year after year. The relationships we build are far bigger than the projects we do. The projects just open the door for us.” — Clint Brumit, Brentwood Hills Church of Christ in Nashville, Tenn.

The relationships we build are far bigger than the projects we do.

“When churches send groups to locales where they already are financially committed, then the group tends to be more encouraging and mission aligned than if not. If you’re sending people on a short- term trip without being a financial partner otherwise, then just send the check. Short-term teams without long-term relationships are taking more than giving. And something is askew if the only missions spending you do is for your people to travel.” — Caleb Borchers, The Feast: A Church of Christ in Providence, R.I.

“Missionaries want sponsoring congregations to be involved in their ministry. Sending money is important, but visiting to encourage missionaries and see them in their community is very important and meaningful to them.  It’s also difficult to assess what needs people have without physically visiting with them.” — Jimmy Hinton, Somerset Church of Christ in Pennsylvania

Students from Southwest Christian School in Fort Worth, Texas, sing songs with children in Talisay City on the island of Cebu in the Philippines during a mission trip.

Students from Southwest Christian School in Fort Worth, Texas, sing songs with children in Talisay City on the island of Cebu in the Philippines during a mission trip.

11. Open your eyes to see what God wants to show you.

“Process the experience in real time. Begin each day with a short devotional, and end with a time to debrief and ask questions like ‘Where did you see Jesus today?’ and ‘Where did you see the devil?’” — Jeff Smith, Disciple Trips, a ministry of Sunset International Bible Institute in Lubbock, Texas

“Look for God while you’re there, and don’t be surprised when you see him. Allow this trip to change you and your community when you return.” — Harrington

“Look for God while you’re there, and don’t be surprised when you see him.”

Got other advice to share? Please feel free to comment and join the conversation.

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