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Secrets to a Life-Changing Short-Term Mission Trip

Have You Prepared Your Heart?

By Marti Wade

So you’re getting ready to go on a mission trip. But you find yourself obsessed with staying healthy, packing, fundraising, or that special person on your team – you know, the one you hope might go out with you when the trip is over!

Maybe you are overwhelmed by excitement or anxiety about going somewhere you’ve never been and doing things you’ve never done. You imagine how it might all play out; you wonder what it will reveal about the kind of person you really are.

The good news? Such concerns are perfectly natural and normal. The bad news? If they keep your eyes focused on yourself, they can cost you the opportunity a mission trip offers to surrender your concerns to God, hear from Him, and go into the experience prepared to learn, grow, and serve.

Have You Prepared Your Heart?

“God has His reasons for wanting you on this trip, some of which you already know and some you can hardly guess. I have a core conviction that short-term mission trips are life changing for you and for those you go to serve. However, I believe that positive life-change occurs in direct proportion to how prepared you are. No doubt you have a lot to do before you go, but a prepared heart should be the number one priority on your list.” – Cindy Judge

Veteran mission trip trainer Cindy Judge wrote the book thousands of short-termers use to get ready for mission trips. It’s called Before You Pack Your Bag, Prepare Your Heart: Short-Term Mission Preparation Guide. Consider making it part of your preparation to go, or keep it in mind for a friend.

What Do You Expect?

Many find it helpful to articulate their expectations, talk about them with others, and yield them to God. You could start by asking yourself questions like these:

  1. What are my personal goals for this trip? How do I hope to achieve them?
  2. What do I expect from my teammates, leaders, and hosts?
  3. What do I expect to encounter in terms of food, weather, living environment, and culture?
  4. How do I think I will respond to internal and external conflicts, ambiguity, or weariness?
  5. How do I expect God will use me, help me grow, or show Himself to me?
  6. How can I be flexible and adapt if my expectations prove unreasonable or are not met?

Jot down some of your hopes and fears, even if they’re small. Think about where they came from. Try to find out if your expectations and concerns are accurate. Take some time to ponder what Jesus teaches us about worries and fears in Luke 12:22-31.

A Heart to Serve

It is said that those who go on mission trips get far more out of them than those they serve. While this is often the case, you can keep a healthy balance by committing in advance to serve others and recognize what God is doing in and through them. Tim Dearborn’s Short-Term Missions Workbook recommends embracing these helpful attitudes and practices:

Walk with humility.

Remember, God has been at work among these people long before you arrived!

Live with vulnerability.

Don’t be afraid of weakness – it’s normal.

Practice flexibility.

Expect the unexpected – you’re not in control. (God is!)

Live as a student.

Be determined to learn from everyone.

Work as a servant.

Be willing to do whatever needs to be done.

Struggle with this? Meditate on Philippians 2:1-8, where we see God’s perspective on superiority and servanthood. Rest on the reassurance offered in Philippians 1:6 and 2:13.

Going Deeper

Mission trips provide a great opportunity for personal growth. To make the most of this opportunity, be intentional about seeking God before, during, and after the trip. Ask him to guide you, shape your attitude, help you interpret what you’re seeing, hearing, and feeling, and lock in the lessons you learn.

» Daily devotions on your own or with your group often help. See our FAQ’s on Finding Mission Trip Devotions and Mission Team Training.

Marti Wade has been a mission mobilizer since 1995 and has trained dozens of short-term teams for relationship-based research among the world's least-reached peoples.

This article first appeared in the ShortTermMissions.com eNewsletter.