I love taking youth out of country in mission. Nothing awakens kids spiritually more than being about the great commission in a foreign context. Like a morning glory flower, their hearts and mind open to Christ and they are formed in ways I rarely witness at home. While I am thankful for these opportunities, we do not do foreign missions often – only one out of three years. Great mission trips don’t happen in a vacuum.
So, how does one prepare for departure out of the country with a bunch of youth? What will be most helpful in terms of communication and information?
Diversity is key.
Parents want packing lists, immunization requirements, passport information, flight numbers, departure and return times.
Kids want off days and roommate information.
You want spiritual preparation.
Here is how we connect all the dots.
Spiritual Preparation (Everyone)
-The Why. One of the most helpful things to communicate is we are going somewhere where Christ is actively pursuing relationship with men, women, boys and girls. I remind our teams that we are going somewhere where there are established churches. We are going to be in partnership with established church ministries and help them. It is in the spirit of that cooperation among the body of Christ that we will find ourselves most useful (and most blessed). We go with established mission church partners in other countries that we have ongoing relationships with and with a mission travel organization that handles arrangements. Our teams will seek to meet felt and unfelt needs. Our hands serve, but our hearts lead us. We remind our team that they are on mission and that mission is not a project, it is who they are as Christians. Wherever they are they are on mission, whether it is on public transportation, at the local bakery or laying block for a new church.
-Include parents in pre-trip meetings. Above all things, parents want to know their child is safe. Give them an avalanche of details. Better yet, give an avalanche of details. The perfect meeting is the one that ends with no questions.
-Be honest about the unknowns-Not every question can be answered until you are onsite. When I have sensed parent reticence I have reminded them that we are in partnership with a local church and in partnership with an organization that frequently handles missions.
-Introduce your chaperones-Make sure parents know the chaperones going on the trip. Many parents have been calmed by the presence of peers they trust on the trip.
-Outline medical emergency procedures. This should include local care for injury or sickness as well as flight plans back in the country. Most mission organizations have a low cost per person insurance that will fly someone home in case of an emergency.
-Start early. If you are going out of the country try to get the dates and destination out a year in advance. Out of country mission trips are expensive and require financial preparation. Doing so early honors family budgets.
-Prepare your team to respect cultural differences. It can be puzzling for a youth when they enter a church that has men on one side of the aisle and women on the other. Study cultural differences, prepare for it and have fun with it.
-Teach them how to eat. Prior to departure cover what students can and cannot eat or drink. Most sickness actually occurs when we thoughtlessly do something we normally do all the time like brushing teeth out of the tap or opening our mouth and drinking water from the shower. Teach your team to avoid unpeeled fruit and salad. Any food washed in local water can make your tummy rumbly. Cooked food is good. Eat up!-
-Teach your team to receive hospitality. One universal practice of hospitality is when the host feeds you. So eat – thankfully and joyfully. If you can’t eat it make sure the host doesn’t see you. If they offer you something like fruit mentioned above, just apologize and let them know that though you wished you could eat, your stomach will not allow you to. When you can eat however, practice the missionary mantra, “Where you lead me I will follow, what you feed me I will swallow!”
-Teach a few ways to connect. Teach hand games, string games or bring bubbles that your team can play with local children. Seek relationship. Avoid handing out junk. Focus on relationships, not things.
-Name your fears-The first night onsite we name our fears. Once named, we can address them to the best of our ability and prepare for them.
-Devote, Debrief, Decide-Use the mornings prior to work to gather as a team or in small groups for devotions. Use evenings to debrief the experience.. Ask the team what they saw, heard, touched, felt, thought. Decide as a team how to serve better the next day. Do you need to be more open? Do you need to try something new? Do you need to reach out in new ways? Do you need to stop something you are currently doing and decide to do something else?
-Translators and transportation. If your team is going to be broken into smaller work groups during the week, make sure that each small group has a translator and transportation. Demand this from your mission organizations. The organization may not feel it is necessary, especially if you have a large group they are trying to accommodate. If a student gets hurt and you have no transportation or translation, what would you do?
-Prepare you kids that they will be an oddity once they arrive. Prepare them to honestly share why they are there. Many indigenous folks see a lot of foreign mission teams in and out of their country. Teams can be seen simply as vacationing missionaries and if we aren’t careful can actually harden the heart of those we wish to serve. Prepare your kids to articulate why they came. Have them practice sharing their faith with others on the team prior to departure. Encourage your students to take the posture of a learner and a prayer (One who prays). Encourage them to ask questions of those they serve, to learn about their life and to offer to pray for them.
-Lastly, it is important before your team returns to prepare them for the difficulties of reentry. I shared the following with our team recently on their first day home-
Dear mission team,
Most everything others deem important today may seem insignificant or even stupid after your trip. Keep in mind that your “mission” is not a project, it is who you are and how you represent Christ to the world. Don’t rush to get things back to “normal.” Give the Holy Spirit time to work out what he has worked into your hearts. The disequilibrium you will experience in the next few days are the raw growing edges of maturing faith. Call me if you want or need to talk. Love you guys a lot!
Sharing the realities of the mission experience prior, during and after your trip can help your youth stretch their faith and help your ministry build God-honoring, culturally helpful mission opportunities.
Happy mission tripping!