I love short-term missions, local and global. I have been going on short-term mission trips since I was 12 years old.
I am now 35, and I have been on a total of 20 short-term mission trips. I’ve been a part of trips to Colorado 3 times, Romania 4 times, the Dominican Republic, Mexico twice, inner-city Omaha, Belize, Mississippi, Ecuador, the Philippines, and Haiti 5 times.
I recently took on the role of Mission Trip Coordinator at my church. I not only go on and lead short-term mission trips, but I also coordinate other trips that my church sends out.
I love setting up opportunities for students and adults to go around sharing God’s love by serving others in a variety of ways. I am blessed to have been on so many trips, and have gained so much experience with how to lead trips as well as just having a more global understanding of life.
1. Learning to work with others – When you take a group of people on a trip to a new location for a week or more, with the main purpose being to serve others, they have to learn to work together.
This kind of thing can happen in other ways, it is not exclusive to short-term mission trips. But it happens on a much larger scale and in a more focused way than many other instances. If people are a part of a team where they live, they can still go home at the end of the day to rest and be alone. Not on a short-term mission trip…you are with your team 24-7 for the entire trip.
You can find times to go off for a little bit of privacy, but you don’t go home to your own bed and spend hours away from your team. You stay where you team stays, eat where your team eats, work where your team works, etc. On a short-term mission trip you learn how to work well as a team, because you have to.
Challenge: Dealing with inner-team conflicts. Yes, because you are always around each other on a short-term mission trip, you discover the good and bad of each other. This is inevitable. And sometimes, when one or more are not acting in a mature manner, that will cause some conflict within the team.
A leader should be prepared to deal with this, and even do some team training ahead of time to minimize it as much as possible. A leader should make sure each person on the team knows what is expected of them and help them learn the skills necessary to deal with conflicts properly.
2. Great use of resources – Let’s just be honest, we are good at wasting our time and money on things that don’t really matter. Sure they are fun, and there’s nothing wrong with fun. But we have begun to make leisure a way of life, pouring countless resources (time, energy, money) into having it. We work in order to be able to afford vacations, nicer TV’s, bigger boats, and having money to spend on our self however we choose. None of those things are wrong in and of themselves, but when they become our main focus, then that is a problem.
When you go on a short-term mission trip, you are giving of your resources to go and help other people. People who could use your help, will benefit greatly from your time spent serving them, and need to hear the life changing message of the gospel. What better way to use your resources?!
Committing to go on a short-term mission trip says you are choosing to care about others and not just focusing on using your resources for yourself. It is a great way for you to use some of the resources that God has blessed you with.
Challenge: Finding the time and money – When you promote a short-term mission trip, or hear about one being promoted, the biggest deterrent that will keep people from going will be either their time or their money. Many will be interested, but either can’t be away from work for that amount of time, or can’t spend that amount of money (even though often those going will do fundraisers to ask others for a portion of the money).
A leader should understand that this will come up as people talk to you about the trip. I’ve heard countless times things like “I would love to, but don’t have enough vacation time” or “I really want to and feel led to, but I don’t’ have that amount of money”. And what I have learned to do is not try to convince people to go, but rather listen to them and encourage them to see if they can make it work.
The reason I don’t try to convince people to go is that if they don’t want to make it work, then they won’t make it work. Instead, I listen and talk with people who express those concerns, and I offer some advice to them as they determine what they will do. If they decide to go, great. If not, we are still friends and I move forward with the team I have.
3. Gaining a life changing experience – Going on a short-term mission trip to a new location, staying there and working very closely with a team of people, meeting those you are serving, getting to share the gospel, and experiencing new cultures are all part of what makes it a life changing experience. Those who go gain new perspectives on life, develop new friendships, and will have a lot of pictures to share of the people they met and places they saw.
But ultimately the reason it is a life changing experience is because God does a work in your life and heart on a short-term mission trip. When you go on a trip like this, you are obeying God’s command to do missions work (Mark 16:15, Matthew 28:19-20). When you get away from your normal pace of life, many of your normal distractions are removed and you are able to connect with God in a fresh and new way. When you are in a new situation, you will rely on God more, drawing you closer to him.
I have had several major life changing experiences in my life, and most of them happened on short-term mission trips.
Challenge: Staying focused: Satan does not want you to allow yourself to be used by God on a short-term mission trip, or begin to connect with God in a fresh and new way. So on a short-term mission trip, it is easy to get distracted and lose focus. Homesickness sets in, getting annoyed with others on the team, wishing things would go differently than they are, and more. Those are all things that cause us to lose focus and miss what is happening and God wants to show you.
A leader needs to make sure there are regular times of devotions on the trip, that there are team meetings to discuss plans and check in with each other as a team, and that there is some scheduled rest and recreation on the trip as well. Don’t plan more rest and recreation than work, you are on a mission trip after all, but make sure there is some so people can refresh and gain energy.
A leader needs to also work to be aware of how each individual on the team is doing. For a larger team, a leader should break everyone into “travel teams” with a leader over each team who can also work to be aware of how those on their specific travel team are doing. When someone is struggling, come alongside them and encourage them. People easily lose focus, and Satan will be attacking them. Pray over them regularly and help them to be strong and keep their focus where it needs to be.
Setting up and running a short-term mission trip is, to put it lightly, exhausting. Team meetings, trying to coordinate fundraisers, making sure all the proper paperwork is done and turned in on time, communication with the team members as well as the missionaries or mission organization, being the one who makes the final decision on things when you know some won’t like it, constantly reassuring parents who are sending their students, and working hard to ensure your team’s safety as much as you are able (nothing is a guarantee).
It’s exhausting. But after I’ve recovered from a trip, I always look forward to the next trip. Even if a trip was particularly difficult and I dealt with a lot of issues…I still look forward to the next trip.
Because the benefits of going on a short-term mission trip outweigh all the challenges and difficult issues.
If you’ve never been on a short-term mission trip, I encourage you to go on one. If you have, go again, and bring a friend or family member with you.
If you lead or plan to someday lead trips and have questions or need advice, please feel free to contact me. I’d love to talk to you.