For now, let’s assume that the place, project, dates, and team are already selected for your trip. However, even with all of this in place, much work still needs to be done to have a productive short-term missions trip. When I lived in Turkey, we hosted about 500 short-term volunteers each year and, now that I’m on this side of the ocean, I’m part of a church that sends nearly 100 short-term volunteers around the world annually. The following posts include some of the insights I’ve gained from sending and receiving short-term volunteers. In the future, I plan on creating another series on designing short-term projects and selecting teams. For this topic, the starting point is after the project and teams are selected, ideally at least six months before the project begins.
Post 1: Personal Spiritual Preparation
Many who go on short-term trips report that it was the most significant, spiritual experience of their lives. In a short amount of time, the adventure of a completely different ministry context, helps them to get a new perspective of the world, of God, and of themselves. There is something special about jumping into the unknown, utterly depending on God, seeing Him work in a new way, and experiencing another culture that creates lifelong impressions in volunteers. Many times I’ve heard, “Because of this trip, I’ll never be the same.”
However, from time to time, the ordeal is one of the worst of a believer’s life. Sometimes volunteers end the trip disappointed in themselves because the stress of the trip caused them to act in a way that reduced the effectiveness of the team. They may have became panicked or depressed on the field, or felt guilty because of their own sinful failures during the project.
Because mission projects can be one of the best or worst experiences for a believer, it is critical to start the training with spiritual preparation. Some projects put believers in areas of the world where the gospel is unknown. This is a direct attack on Satan’s territory is a spiritual battle that reminds me of Paul’s instruction to the Ephesians: “For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens” Eph. 6:12. A spiritual battle should be taken seriously, and volunteers should prepare for the reality of walking into Satan’s schemes.
Let’s start with the basics: Paul commends the Colossians because he …heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints, Col. 1:4.
Developing faith in Christ… During the few months that you have before the trip, volunteers should take advantage of this special season to actively give attention to developing faith in Christ at a new level. This is a faith of absolute trust in His love, forgiveness, provision, and salvation. What are some ways to cultivate faith in Christ?
- Get in the Word daily and journal insights. Try to read through all four gospels before your trip and record key spiritual truths that Jesus taught, key commands for all disciples to follow, and character qualities that disciples should develop.
- Transform your prayer life. After Paul spoke of the spiritual battle to the Ephesians, his instruction to them was: “Pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request, and stay alert in this with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints. Pray also for me, that the message may be given to me when I open my mouth to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel.” Eph. 6:18-19. Let your missions trip preparation be the time to have the prayer life that you always wanted. This will take planning, focus, and personal discipline, but you’ll never regret it.
Developing love for all the saints… God so loved the world; it’s all about people. The great commandment is to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Jesus said “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” John 13:35. Love has been an essential part of the powerful message of the Gospel since the time of Christ.
- Paul asked the Philippians to, “Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others”, Phil. 2:3-4. Take a full day off of your normal activities and just focus on the interests and needs of those around you. This habit over time will help transform your orientation from an inward one to one of service.
- One of the most significant hindrances to “loving saints” is lack of forgiveness that can lead to bitterness. Read Matthew 18:21-35 about the slave with the insurmountable debt to the king. The king forgave him of the debt, but later the slave asked for a small debt to be repaid from a fellow slave. When that man wouldn’t repay, the forgiven slave had him thrown into prison. Make a list of those in your life who have hurt you. When you think of the person or a hurtful event in your life, does the emotion still rise in you? In a sense they don’t deserve your forgiveness. However, remember that person’s debt to you is like the fellow slave’s. Remember that your insurmountable debt was forgiven by the King. Christ asked us to pray for forgiveness of our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Being able to forgive those who sin against us is an essential quality for the effectiveness of short-term teams. Go to God and specifically forgive everyone on your list.
Other posts in this series: