For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”(Rom. 10:13-15).
My first short-term mission trip was over 20 years ago, and since then, I have been on dozens of overseas trips to several countries. I have traveled to highly-populated urban environments and also to places that Google maps didn’t recognize. I’ve been on trips here in the United States and also to countries with such an extreme level of poverty, I could hardly believe my eyes. I’ve had moments of inexpressible joy, and I’ve had days where I felt my heart break into a million pieces. I’ve experienced moments of overwhelming fear and times of tremendous peace. The reason why I love mission trips is that I have an opportunity to share the hope of Jesus with the nations, and in the process, I also get to experience God in new ways through serving others (Ps. 96:3; Col. 3:24; Eph. 6:7–8).
Whether you are thinking about, planning on, or have been on a short-term mission trip and are getting ready to go back, these tips will help prepare you for what is ahead. The good news is that God is the One who will “equip you with everything good that you may do his will” (Heb. 13:21). Wherever God leads you to spread His truth beyond your current location, you can trust Him to guide you and provide for you.
1. Prepare to be flexible.
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit (1 Thess. 5:16–19).
While you may have an itinerary before you leave for your trip, remember that things don’t always go as planned, especially when traveling overseas or when you are traveling with a large group. My advice, as they say, is to “expect the unexpected.”
I don’t think I have been on a trip yet where everything worked out as planned. While schedule disruptions are a challenge for me personally, I’m slowly learning that changes add to the adventure and allow for God to work in ways you might have not expected. I try to view the itinerary changes or deviations as God’s interventions rather than inconveniences. Give thanks that God is orchestrating the schedule (1 Thess. 5:18). It’s His trip anyway!
To give you a few personal examples, while my husband, Rob, and I were in rural Nepal serving in an outdoor medical clinic, a violent hailstorm quickly sent us packing as all our patients ran for cover under nearby trees. During a trip to Nicaragua, the medical team had been seeing patients all day, but we were still falling behind. We decided we had to create a more efficient method as the needs of the people were overwhelming! So, a young volunteer gathered a couple of clipboards, grabbed a friend, and went into the crowd to do assessments. The doctors were then able to help the people who were the sickest by providing the medicine and care they needed.
Another time, I was traveling via bus on the highly congested and terribly dusty streets of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, when a car hit us from behind. Our bus jerked forward suddenly, causing some, including me, to scream! Thankfully, no one was injured. Our whole team then carefully exited the bus and we walked the busy streets all the way back to our hotel.
It’s in moments like these that I’ve discovered I can trust God and His plans over mine. We may have our own agendas, but as Psalm 33:11 says, “The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations.”
2. Prepare to be stretched.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor. 12:9).
When I am in my sweet home in Chicago, I often settle into a comfortable and familiar routine of life. Sometimes, in the midst of my coziness, I can be lulled into self-sufficiency. On the other hand, my need for God in almost every moment is more apparent while on mission trips, especially overseas. While it is the truth that without God I can do nothing (John 15:5), my felt need for Him increases exponentially on mission trips.
As someone who has an aversion to bugs, germs, dirt, temperature extremes, strong smells, and most of the great outdoors, mission trips are stretching for sensitive people like me. While gone, I am constantly praying for God to help me. I pray for comfort when our sleeping arrangements are rustic. I ask for protection when we travel on roads filled with animals, pedestrians, motorcycles, and scooters but lacking in signs, stoplights, guardrails, or any semblance of order. There are many opportunities to pray when stopped by the local police, when customs officers hold your medical supplies for days, when the electricity goes out (again), when half your team has a stomach bug, or when you are lost in the woods.
All of these scenarios have actually happened, but I am happy to report that God carried me through each one! When I am uncomfortable with my environment, it causes me to pray more, search for God more, and look for evidence of His presence on a continual basis. For those of you, like my husband, who have an adventurous spirit and love risk-taking, I’m sure you will find your trip to be exhilarating and fulfilling. The Lord may stretch you both physically and in other ways as you serve Him. No matter how God made you, any personal growth that happens on your trip will be for your good and His glory.
3. Prepare for a culinary adventure.
Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! (Ps. 34:8).
Please note that Psalm 34:8 says to taste and see that the Lord is good, not necessarily the food encountered abroad. In my travels, I’ve had some really tasty treats, fruits, coffee, and family specialties. I have also been served everything from chicken necks to water buffalo to Ethiopian hospital food. While it seems to be considered rude in every culture to not try the food that is served, I am thankful for my husband, Rob, who is adventurous in every sense of the word. While Rob seems to be enthusiastic about trying even the mystery meat, I tend to be more cautious when I can’t identify what has just been served.
I will just confess now that I have a reputation for overpacking and having the largest suitcase on our team. However, most of my bag is filled with snacks from home, like nuts, crackers, candy, trail mix, granola bars, and almond butter. People make fun of my large bag, but many have also partaken in my delicacies.
Depending on where you are, I would be very cautious about the water you drink. I usually stick with bottled water and use it for brushing my teeth. I also try to limit my raw fruits and vegetables, just in case they are contaminated by the water or fertilizers. On the other hand, Rob usually eats everything and rarely has any gastrointestinal discomfort. I make sure to pack everything from Tums to probiotics to one prescription for antibiotics in case of indigestion or other stomach “issues.” I also recommend not skipping prayer before mealtime. Pray that everything you eat or drink would bring nourishment and not harm to your body!
4. Prepare for resistance.
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you (James 4:7).
When you take a bold step of obedience in following God, you can expect that the enemy will try to distract you, discourage you, lie to you, and attempt to get you off course. In my past mission trip experiences, the enemy has tried to prevent me from going, tempted me to be fearful, and caused me to even doubt the decision to go.
I have experienced several pre-trip distractions, but there is one that caused the most anxiety. Rob and I were driving to the airport in my stepdad’s car to go to Ethiopia. As we were on the expressway, the brakes failed, and we narrowly escaped being part of a multi-car pileup. Through God’s protection, we were able to pull over to the side of the road and arrange for a different vehicle to transport us to the airport. My step-dad immediately took his car to the repair shop. After a thorough examination, the mechanic stated that the brakes and the rest of the car were in good working order. My step-dad never had any further brake problems the rest of the time he owned this vehicle.
On another occasion, before a mission trip to Jamaica, my passport seemed to disappear into thin air. As an organized, “Type A” person, this loss was uncharacteristic of me. I searched for hours to no avail and felt frazzled, frustrated, and angry at myself for losing such an important item. After much prayer and many long hours of waiting at the passport office in Miami, I was able to obtain an emergency passport! I don’t share these stories to alarm you, but to remind you that Satan gets angry when we take steps against the darkness by spreading the powerful light of the gospel. We have no reason to fear, because Satan is a defeated foe and “he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
5. Prepare to be refreshed.
A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed (Prov. 11:25 NIV).
After my first mission trip, I was surprised to discover that I was the one blessed by my time serving. I found my heart filled to overflowing because of the endless smiles from the locals, the energetic, happy children, and the numerous sincere expressions of gratitude. It’s humbling to see how people with no material wealth can live with such a joy, contentment, and thankfulness. Their grateful hearts have always served as a priceless gift I bring back home with me.
Even when we give something as small as a cup of water to someone in the name of Jesus, He sees it and we can count on a reward from Him (Matt. 10:42). It’s when we serve that we are living the way God designed us. As we help others, we are walking in the footsteps of Jesus, who modeled a servant’s heart when on earth (Matt. 20:26–28). When we meet the needs of others before our own, our needs get met in the process.
6. Prepare to serve Jesus.
“‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me’” (Matt. 25:40).
You may wonder if what you’re doing is making any sort of eternal or significant impact. I have been tempted to think that way in the past—that my efforts were small in countries with huge, ongoing political, economic, and social challenges. Rather than being overcome by the scale of the problems the people you serve are facing, remember it starts with serving one of the least of these. Change starts with loving and serving one person at a time, who will then go back to their family and hopefully do the same. Sometimes we want to do big things for God, but many small acts of kindness in the name of Jesus amount to a sizeable difference in the lives of the people you serve.
While supplying material needs or medicine is a help to others, the truth is that only the gospel will bring eternal hope and blessings. Only Jesus can meet the deepest desires of people’s hearts and fill the voids they carry. As you plant seeds of hope through the message of the gospel, trust God to bring growth and pray He will bring others to water the seeds you planted (1 Cor. 3:6–9).
Forever on Mission
As Christians, we are to always live on mission as ambassadors for Christ, not just overseas but also in our current neighborhoods (2 Cor. 5:20). In whatever context God had called us to go, across the street or across the world, we are to make disciples of all nations and point others to Jesus every day of our lives (Matt. 28:19).
If you sense God calling you to go on a mission trip, I’m so excited for you to experience Him in new ways through this adventure! It also makes me happy to think about the people you bless as you serve them. As God brings you to the place He has prepared for you, He will go before you and pave the way for your beautiful feet that bring the good news (Ex. 23:20; Rom. 10:15).
May God bless you as you “declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!” (Ps. 96:3).