Posts Tagged ‘international mission trips’

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

Help for the Novice Traveler

Sometimes, members of your mission group are new to overseas travel, or simply haven’t traveled for some time. Here are some ways trip leaders can help team members who are travel novices.

Don’t make assumptions about your team when it comes to their level of travel experience. You probably will have team members who fly only occasionally, or who haven’t flown in a significant period of time. So, early in your team interactions, try to get a feel for each team member’s travel comfort level.

airport screeningTalk through the travel process with your team. Make sure you address things like luggage weight and size limits, as well as the importance of making sure the gate agent puts the right tag on the bags. Explain the security screening process and the need to keep liquids in three-ounce containers inside a clear, quart-sized, plastic bag. Also discuss the boarding process.

Have a travel interruption contingency plan, especially if your team isn’t traveling in one group. You should have this plan even if you have a team of experienced travelers. For the infrequent flyer, this is vital.

Discuss what to do if a flight is canceled or delayed (see our past blog posts on Dealing with Airline Gate Agents and Avoiding Weather Delays for tips). If you purchase travel insurance through Ministry Travel, make sure that your team has the policy information and contact numbers. This insurance usually covers trip interruptions and provides 24-hour travel assistance.

Enlist travel buddies, especially for older travelers or those who are nervous about flying. Pair a team member who is an experienced traveler with someone who is not.

Explain how passport control and customs work, both for the country you are traveling to and for the U.S. on your return. These tips will help you greatly improve the rookie traveler’s experience.

Monday, January 9th, 2012

Raising Funds for a Mission Trip

The excitement of an upcoming mission trip is often dampened by the realization that the funds aren’t readily available to pay for it. That’s when we have to get creative!

With a good plan and the determination to make it happen, you can raise the amount you need.

Start by writing a letter to your family and friends describing the mission you are undertaking and ask them to consider supporting you. Hand-written letters will come across as more sincere and heartfelt than emails, so bear that in mind. Include a pre-addressed return envelope for their donation.

Reach out to friends for their ideas on ways to raise funds. They might be willing to help with car washes, bake sales and other events, and they might have contacts at restaurants and other businesses that could hold fund-raisers  on your behalf.

A great idea for a fund-raiser is to sell hand-crafted items from the country you are planning to visit, with a portion of the proceeds going to your trip. Use your social media pages to promote sales and let friends know about your upcoming trip.

Finally, take a close look at your budget for luxuries you can do without for a while. Deferring monies normally spent on those daily lattes, nice restaurants and premium cable channels to your trip fund will reap rewards in no time.

So, if you’re excited about serving abroad but are apprehensive that you won’t be able to come up with the money, pray about it and create a plan. Don’t let fear keep you from doing what you feel led to do. Use the suggestions above and you will raise the money — and grow a lot in the process!

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

Use Timeline, Checklist to Plan 2012 Trips

Next summer’s mission trip abroad will be much more successful and enjoyable if you start planning right now, and follow a careful timeline. Travelers who plan ahead and allow sufficient time for paperwork to be processed find fewer inconveniences and unwelcome surprises along the way.

For best preparation, follow this timeline to get ready for your trip.

Six to nine months ahead

Book air travel: This is the time to confirm your travel details with your destination office. Contact Ministry Travel so we can obtain the best airfare and other rates for your group. Discuss your needs for travel insurance with your agent.

Pay deposits: Your agent will provide specific details for your group, but deposits will be required not long after reservations are made. Refund terms vary depending on whether payment was made by check or credit card.

Review visa requirements: Your Ministry Travel agent will advise you how to determine the visa requirements for the country or countries you plan to visit, and assist you in obtaining any necessary documents.

Determine immunization requirements: Check with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to find out the most current immunization requirements for the country or countries you plan to visit. Then, receive the required immunizations. Check with your physician about whether you should update your tetanus, polio and other standard vaccines as well. Obtain proof of all immunizations for the visa process.

The CDC provides information and printable forms for recording what vaccines were received and when.

Four to six months ahead

Apply for visas. Complete visa applications and gather signed passports and photos for submission. The U.S. State Department’s website provides detailed visa information, searchable by country.

Two to three months ahead

Submit final list of travel group. The airline will want a final list of the members of your group several months before departure. This will vary depending on the destination and the airline. Also, remember that the names on the list must be identical to the names on their passports.

Update group members. This is the time to remind fellow travelers of the due date for the balance of the trip expense and the final amount due. Double check the names on tickets and itineraries for accuracy, and contact us at Ministry Travel if there are any discrepancies. Also, if you have not bought travel insurance for this trip, you may still do so. Your agent can explain the various options available to you.

Consider baggage regulations. Check with your airline or agent about current baggage rules and regulations. You need to know what is allowed for free and what additional baggage charges will be. In addition, it’s good to know about restrictions on imports, so you don’t bring anything with you that is not allowed into the country you are visiting.

Two weeks ahead

Check in with field office. This is the time to check with those at your destination about who is meeting your group at the airport, and obtain phone numbers for your contacts there, in case of emergency. In a safe place, record the addresses and phone numbers of the American embassies or consulates in the nations you are visiting. You can find a list here.

Double check credentials. It’s important to make sure everyone in your group has passport and visas, plane tickets, immunization records, a copy of the passport in case of loss or theft, and any applicable missionary credentials.

One week ahead

Secure transportation to the airport. Make sure your plans allow adequate time for traffic delays and airline check-in — note that international flight check-in takes longer than domestic check-in — and adequate space in the vehicles for everyone’s luggage.

Three days ahead

Confirm flight plans. Call the airlines to confirm flights for departure and return.

Day of departure

Final credential check: Before heading to the airport, make sure every passenger has his or her airline tickets, passport, visas, medical documentation and other necessary credentials for foreign travel. Check to see that all luggage is properly identified.

 

Sunday, November 20th, 2011

The Mission Trip Countdown

It’s the moment of truth: What originally seemed so far away has finally arrived. The calendar says you’re just days away from leaving on your short-term mission trip.

Those final few days can either be filled with stress, or they can be enjoyable as you anticipate the experience. The difference is often determined by how you tackle that final week. Here are some practical tips to help you make the most of the days leading up to your international mission trip.

Create a preparation list. Start working through it the final two weeks before your trip. This is a list of everything that needs to be done before you go. It includes actions such as scheduling lawn care, arranging pet boarding, paying bills, withdrawing cash from the bank, stopping the mail and, of course, packing. Try to get as many of these tasks done early, so you have time to handle any unplanned issues that might arise.

us passportBegin preliminary packing. Start early, at least a week before departure. For me, this begins with laundry. I find it easier to plan the trip wardrobe if I can see all of my clothes either hanging up in the closet or folded in dresser drawers. I then create a mission trip staging area — usually a corner of the bedroom — where I can assemble the clothes and other articles I will take. My passport is always one of the first items that go into the staging area.

Work from a packing list. Check the items off the list once when you put them in your staging area, and then again when you actually place them into your luggage. Inevitably there are things on the list that you realize you don’t have. Starting your packing early allows time to purchase those items without feeling rushed.

Finish packing several days before departure. Remember that packing often takes longer than we expect. Completely pack your suitcase and have it ready to go. Also, be sure to luggageweigh your suitcase to make sure it fits within airline requirements.

Overweight and extra bag fees can run into the hundreds of dollars on international flights. Your carry-on bag should be mostly packed by this time, with the exception of any medicines or last-minute items.

Schedule extra family time. This may mean lunch with your spouse or a special activity with your children. Your family will appreciate this, and it will ease the burden of you leaving.

What often happens before a mission trip is that the traveler is preoccupied, rushing to tie up loose ends, and thus spends even less time with family. Emotionally, this is the equivalent of being gone an extra week. By preparing ahead, you can reduce the stress on your family and make the time before your trip more meaningful.

praying handsPrepare spiritually as well as physically. Carve out some personal prayer time, enlist a prayer team and don’t neglect daily Bible reading. These activities also help reduce stress and enable you to keep the trip in perspective.

Review travel details carefully. In the final few days before departure, review all the information for your trip, paying close attention to departure times, airport instructions, meeting locations and so on. Make sure that you have your team leader’s cell phone number, in case there are any problems the day you leave. If you are the team leader, be sure you have each team member’s phone number and that everyone knows when and where to meet that day.

Information review also means checking the conditions at your destination as well as any places through which you will be traveling. Are there any weather concerns that could impact your travel? Are there any new security or safety issues?

Assess current situation at your destination. It is always good to check the travel section of the U.S. State Department’s website right before a trip. At the site, find your destination country and look for the link to recent embassy notices. Next, click on the link for warden messages. These will be the latest updates from embassy officials about any travel concerns.

airport check-inPrint out your boarding pass. You can reduce stress by printing out your boarding pass 24 hours before departure. This saves time at the airport and can make your check-in process much smoother. International flights typically are larger planes carrying a significant number of passengers, so the check-in lines for these flights can get quite long.

Will the week before your next mission trip be enjoyable or stressful? Much of that depends on how well you plan and how early you begin your preparations. By incorporating these tips into the final days before your trip, you will experience less stress and be better prepared for the incredible adventure of international ministry.

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Frank Banfill is president of MaxPoint Ministries and regularly leads mission teams. His work has taken him across six continents. He writes on behalf of Ministry Travel, the world’s source for missionary travel.

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

Christian Mission Volunteers – Building Bridges

We continue to be amazed at the diverse ways Ministry Travel clients impact the world. Each year we help thousands of short-term missionaries serve in places across the globe–some in major urban centers while others trek off to remote villages. Once there these Christian missions volunteers do everything from starting churches and caring for orphans to providing medical care and feeding the hungry.

They also build bridges—literally as well as figuratively.

Yonathan shared on our Facebook page his mission trip story of helping build a bridge for the Bribri people of Costa Rica. He wrote, “In the last few years, many mission teams have assisted with various significant work projects, but perhaps the most crucial was a suspension bridge in the remote village of Alto Coen, deep in the Costa Rican rainforest. An isolated community of about 130 people, Alto Coen is only accessible by an hour boat ride, a half hour bus ride, and a four hour hike.”

Yonathan shared that for years the isolated village dreamed of having a 100 meter suspension bridge. “The project had been a prolonged, complex process for the Bribri as they fought to find aid and funds to build this much-needed bridge. With the addition of a bridge, families would no longer be constrained by the powerful river that divided their village. The children from the far side of the river would be able to attend school regularly, and doctors would be able to reach the entire village to provide medical attention for the ill,” wrote Yonathan.

Their dream became a reality thanks in part to the efforts of American short term mission volunteers who labored for many days in hot summer heat. But the praise, said Yonathan, goes to the village’s people. “By far the ones who labored the longest and the hardest were the people of Alto Coen. It has been nearly nine years since they first began planning for the apparently impossible endeavor, yet they never gave up. They accomplished tasks by hand that most people would only consider undertaking with heavy equipment.”

How does Yonathan feel as he reflects on that mission trip?

“It is an uplifting feeling every time I return and see them eager to work and accomplish a new project that will empower their community. Continue to pray for the people of Alto Coen,” he said.

Helping those who empower others—that’s what we do each day here at Ministry Travel. We’re glad that we can play a part in helping people like Yonathan make such a difference in people’s lives. If you are planning a mission trip, we would love to provide you with discounted international airfare and excellent service from travel agents who really know missionary and humanitarian travel. Contact us at www.ministrytravel.com or by phone at 1-877-541-5726.

 

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

Our Favorite App for Mission Trips

With hundreds of thousands of apps available for cell phones, including thousands that are travel related, how can you find the best ones for short term mission trips? Well, over the past couple years we have reviewed a number of apps as well as put several to extensive use on the mission field. Hands down our favorite is Trip Journal which is available on the iPhone, Android and Symbian (Nokia) platforms. Here’s an overview:

App:

Trip Journal

What it does:

Let’s you journal your trip through video (on video equipped phones), pictures and writing; track your travel; and share everything through Facebook. It also exports to YouTube, Flickr, Google Earth and Picasa.

Why we like it:

The app has a beautiful interface and neatly organizes trips around waypoints. Once you have identified a waypoint you can shoot video, take pictures, make notes, or locate yourself on a map. Trip Journal tags these with the waypoint name which makes it easy to view your trip. You can jump back and forth between waypoints, media and your notes. When you later review your photos you know right where they were taken—no need to tag the photo as Trip Journal does that for you.

The app includes an interactive map and uses both GPS and cell tower triangulation to locate your position. It even provides your elevation. Trip Journal’s statistics feature shows the total distance traveled, elapsed time, high and low elevations, and average speed. The Facebook connectivity is excellent. With one tap of the screen it not only uploads all of your pictures and videos, but it also organize them with your notes and maps before placing the entire trip into a complete online journal.

How we use it on mission trips:

One of the biggest challenges on mission trips is keeping a journal. Every day is filled with interesting and exciting experiences and you want to capture as many of those experiences as you can. With the fast-paced nature of these trips, however, there is little time to sit down and write. Plus if you wait until the end of the day to journal, chances are you will forget a lot. With Travel Journal you can make notes on the fly quickly and easily with just a few taps on your cell phone.

We’ve used the app to find our coordinates at remote locations in Africa that are not on any maps. Once we got home we plugged those coordinates into Google Earth and had a nice visual for our post-trip presentations.

Cost:

Trip Journal is currently on sale for $0.99.

At Ministry Travel we are always looking for ways to not only help missionary travelers and humanitarians save on their international airfare, but also provide tips and resources to help them have more productive trips. When you need help with missionary travel arrangements we are just a phone call (1-877-541-5726) or mouse click away.

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

New International Religious Freedom Report Released

The U.S. Department of State recently released its report on international religious freedom. Many organizations and churches engaged in international missions, including those doing short-term missions trips, will find the report especially useful.

The report is divided into individual country reports that provide great detail on the religious conditions in every nation of the world. Included in the country reports are religious demographics, overview of the country’s religious laws, restrictions on freedom, and summaries of religious abuses.

The report documents what many mission groups and global Christian leaders already knew: violence and discrimination against Christians continues to grow in many parts of the world. What’s not in the report, however, is what has many religious liberty watchers upset.

By law the State Department must designate as “countries of particular concern” (CPCs) nations that engage in or tolerate severe violations of religious freedom. This report included the same list of CPCs as the last report released in early 2009. “Repeating the current list continues glaring omissions, such as Pakistan and Vietnam,” said the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom  (USCIRF) in a written statement. USCIRF is a bipartisan federal government commission appointed by congress and the president to review international violations against religious freedom and make policy recommendations.

The eight countries keeping their CPC designation are Burma, North Korea, China, Eritrea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan. The USCIRF earlier had recommended adding to the list Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria and Turkmenistan.

The report highlighted religious liberty issues in Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Venezuela, and Vietnam in addition to the eight CPC nations.

The report specifically mentioned the government of Eritrea (located in the Horn of Africa) as it continued to “harass, arrest, and imprison thousands of believers.” It noted that 2,000-3,000 pastors and church members were being detained without trial. The report went on to say that the Eritrea government demands that “adherents renounce their faith, or force them to relocate or flee the country.”

The report also explored countries that allow some religious freedoms but whose governments discriminate against some groups or favored one religion over another, such as Russia and Belarus. It noted that in 2010 the Russian government brought criminal cases for the first time against individuals who possessed banned religious literature, and that the government restricts access to places of worship.

The complete report can be found at http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2010_5/index.htm. Scroll down the page to find the country or countries that interest you. Countries are organized by world regions.

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

Coming Off the Mountain: Overcoming the Post Mission Trip Blues

“I could buy that field, build a little house there and do this full time,” said Lori, a 39-year old high school geography teacher as she drove past an African village during the last day of her short term mission trip. Larry and Karen, Lori’s teammates, nodded in agreement. The couple wasn’t considering moving there, but they were planning a return trip. Like Lori, they knew that in a few short hours their mountain top experience would soon be over. Their Christian mission trip to Africa was coming to an end.

Before long, Lori, Larry and Karen, along with the rest of their team members, were back home in the U.S. and back to their “normal” lives. Although they had only been gone two weeks, it seemed like a lifetime of experiences. As they went about their tasks, their minds wandered back to the dusty African roads and the faces of so many people who they had touched while serving abroad. The trip’s excitement had turned to sadness. “Will we ever have that kind of experience again,” they wondered.

Mission trips are a life-changing experience. Usually team leaders do a great job preparing the team to go, but they don’t always do such a good job of getting them ready to come home. It’s not uncommon to have some post-mission trip blues. If that describes you, then here are some ideas to help you transition out of them.

Embrace reality. Very few people actually get to live on top of a mountain! It is great to visit, but the experience doesn’t last forever. We need to celebrate our experiences but not live in the past. We should focus on being thankful that we got to go and be determined to incorporate lessons from that experience into our everyday lives.

Focus on serving those around you. Know that many people find themselves in some kind of a valley right after a mountain top experience. When that happens, the key is to turn our focus off from ourselves and onto others.

When I return home from a mission trip, I often think of the Old Testament prophet Elijah and his literal mountain top experience at Carmel. There he humiliated hundreds of false prophets in dramatic fashion. But where do we find Elijah right after that incident? He’s down in a valley—a desert actually—under a tree asking God to take his life. The story is told in 1 Kings 19, where we see that Elijah had become very self-focused. “I’m the only faithful one left,” he said, “I’m the one who has been zealous for the Lord.”

God told him that he in fact was not the only one. There were 7,000 others who had stayed faithful. Then God gave him a job—mentoring a young prophet by the name of Elisha—and that task changed Elijah’s outlook. In the same way, when you come off a spiritual mountain top, ask yourself how to use your experience to help someone else. Is there someone who you can mentor? Try making ministry a lifestyle not just a two week experience. It’s a lot easier when you go from one ministry abroad right into another ministry at home.

In addition to these ideas, the travel guide Lonely Planet recently had on its website some suggestions for those suffering from post-travel blues: dream big, start a piggy bank, share your passion, and make art. While the article focused on vacation travelers, we can adapt it to missions travel as well.

Dream big! “Turn your post-holiday depression into pre-holiday anticipation,” says Lonely Planet. For our purposes, we would say that it’s okay to begin dreaming about your next mission trip. Just like Larry and Karen were contemplating a return as their Africa trip wound down, you can begin thinking and planning for your next outreach.

Start a piggy bank. Begin saving now for your next trip. Even if you have family and friends who help support your endeavors, you should still try to do everything you can to be ready financially. In doing so, you may find yourself asking the same question that a Lonely Planet blogger asked herself. “I have to ask if getting so caught up in the possessing of stuff distracts us from what’s really important in life?”

The blogger, who only goes by the name “Steph,” felt that she had too many “things” and that the cost of owning all of those things was stifling her ability to do what she really wanted to do. So she started selling her excess stuff to use the proceeds for what she considered important. While her focus was not on mission trips, her thinking certainly does apply to those who have a desire to serve internationally. Maybe eBay, Craigslist or a good old fashioned garage sale is the way to get that piggy bank started and get you on the road to your next mission trip.

Find a community of people who share your passion. You may want to organize on-going fellowships with others who went on your trip, or participate in conferences dealing with the region of the world where you worked. You can also find similar interests groups online through Facebook or by following people on Twitter who minister in your focus country. In addition, you can stay abreast of developments in the area by following humanitarian news feeds from services like www.Alertnet.org.

Make art. “Instead of boring your friends with your travel stories, do something creative with your memories,” says Lonely Planet. “Make photo books and playlists, turn your journal scribbles into travel writing.” They also suggest spicing up the old fashioned slide show with music and snacks that match the destination.

The mountain top experience of a mission trip is a good thing. Celebrate it! Enjoy the moment, but be ready to re-enter your world. Jump into ministry and look forward to impacting more lives in the future. You mission trip can be the beginning of a lifestyle of service and global focus that will quickly drive away any post-trip blues.

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Frank Banfill is president of MaxPoint Ministries (www.maxpoint.org) and recently launched ManageMyMissionTrip.com to provide administrative support to those who lead short term missions. He writes on behalf of Ministry Travel (www.ministrytravel.com) the leading provider of discounted airfare for missionaries.

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

Helping the Mission Trip’s Bottom Line: Ministry Travel’s Social Media Month in Review

Expenses are always a factor in missions. Yes the focus is on ministry, but making the most of every dollar is critical to missionaries and those on international mission trips. This past month we highlighted several stories in our social media channels Facebook (www.facebook.com/ministrytravel) and Twitter (www.twitter.com/ministrytravel) that were relevant to finances and mission trips. Here are a couple of those items in more in depth.

The first was a fun chart created by a group of number crunchers over at The Economist (http://econ.st/q7YTnm) and put into a more visually appealing format by the folks at Credit Sesame (http://bit.ly/nKsIUL). The chart compares the value of a Big Mac in different countries. This is a guide to the purchasing power of the dollar around the world.

Why is this important to mission travel? It will help you in budgeting and could even be a factor if you are choosing between countries for your mission trip destination.

A Big Mac in China is 44% cheaper than the U.S. which implies that the Chinese currency is undervalued against the dollar. Take a missions team to Brazil and you will pay 51% more for those two all-beef patties with special sauce. The implication, at least in theory, is that you could expect your in-country expenses in Brazil to be 51% more than what you would pay for something comparable in the U.S. once you factor in exchange rates and the value of the currency.

By the way, India has the best deal on Big Macs and Norway has the worst.

Arthur Frommer, of Frommer’s Travel Guide, recently blogged that the best deals on currency exchanges are at ATMs rather than at airport or train station exchange kiosks. In Frommer’s example, he saved 15% by using an ATM. We have heard similar stories from our missionary clients.

One word of caution, however, is that not all debit or cash advance credit cards will work at all ATMs around the world. Europe seems to be the most compatible. You should, however, always do your homework before you rely solely on ATMs to get your cash.

The biggest expense for any mission trip is usually the airfare, and that’s where we work hard every day to help keep your costs down. Contact one of our missionary travel consultants for your next trip and let us stretch your international ministry dollars. You can request a no-obligation quote online at www.ministrytravel.com or by calling 1-877-541-5726.

Also, if you’re not getting our daily Facebook or Twitter updates, be sure to sign up today and we will keep you informed on all the latest travel news, stories and tips that are relevant to Christian missions and travel.

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

Missions Round-Up: Peak Season for Short Term Missions

With summer officially here, it means a multitude of volunteers are embarking on international mission trips. While we provide mission trip airfare throughout the year, summers are definitely the time when the majority of Christian mission trips occur. Our travel consultants have been busy helping groups finalize their plans and get their teams onto flights to every corner of the world. This month’s Missions Round-Up blog post focuses on short term missions.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) recently applauded short-term mission on its website when it wrote, “Short term mission trips have critics but can foster advocacy, sharing and education.” The article reminds us what mission trip participants all learn—they they receive as much or more than they give. “We go to learn from and about the people and projects we are visiting and to share our gifts — ours with them and theirs with us — whatever they may be, and then to educate the people in the churches back home, which is also sharing,” said Michael Hyatt, a church official from Tucson.

Some mission teams heading to Haiti this summer are refocusing their ministry in light of a cholera outbreak. Mission Network News reports that 1,300 people in Port-au-Prince have the disease and it is pushing hospitals to full capacity. Recent heavy rains have caused the sanitation to again deteriorate. Short term teams as well as ministries and NGOs working long-term on the island have incorporated cholera prevention, education and treatment into their services.

There will be a lot more short-term teams working among unreached and unengaged people groups if the Southern Baptist International Mission Board (IMB) has its way. The IMB recently launched an “embrace the ends of the earth” campaign to mobilize prayer and direct church participation with 3,800 people groups that have little or no Christian witness. In September the IMB kicks-off Embrace Equipping Conferences around the country to help churches get started in ministry to unreached people groups.

Ministry Travel would like to remind you that it is not too early to begin planning your 2012 international mission trips. With airfare usually the largest single mission trip expense, it is good to have a realistic idea of cost as you begin budgeting and planning your outreaches. Our international missions travel consultants are here to help you.