The plane hits the dirt runway, slows and then begins to taxi toward the small brick building that serves as the airport’s terminal. As the plane comes to a stop, you and your ministry team duck your heads and exit at the back of the turbo-prop before stepping onto foreign soil. The moment that you have planned and prepared for has finally arrived. Your international ministry has begun. Now it is up to you as the leader of this short-term mission team to make sure things go right and the outreach is a success. Here are seven key items to tackle that will enable you to effectively manage your group’s field ministry.
1. Think 24-48 hours ahead. As the leader, you need to anticipate what is in store for your team and plan ahead. By thinking in terms of what will be needed tomorrow, you will have the necessary time to make the appropriate arrangements.
2. Coordinate logistics. This will be ongoing from the moment you arrive to the time that you leave. The “big three” in this category include transportation, lodging and food/water. With transportation, you will want to not only make sure that you have it lined up for all of your activities, but also that there is enough to accommodate your team and any supplies or materials that you are carrying.
If your team is staying at a hotel or similar accommodation, be sure to write down each team member’s room number as you check-in your group. Also, be sure that they have your number in case there are any problems. If you are staying with host families, be sure to get a name and phone number for each home.
When it comes to food, you will quickly discover that meals need to be planned well in advance, especially if you have a large team. So always be thinking 2-3 meals ahead to ensure that you will have what you need and when you need it. Also, check with your team members each day — even multiple times during the day — to see if they have enough bottled water. Dehydration is one of the biggest health issues we see with mission teams.
3. Conduct field orientation. Even if you did extensive pre-trip training, there still needs to be orientation once you reach your ministry destination. Your team may or may not have been listening in previous meetings — but I guarantee they are listening now that you are on the field. You will want to cover three areas in your orientation: logistics, health and safety.
For logistics, make sure the team knows their way around the hotel or lodging facilities and how to get in touch with you and other leaders. Remind the team about handling valuables such as their passport, and make sure each person has a business card or something with the hotel’s address on it.
Health topics would include food items that can and cannot be eaten, as well as instructions about bottled water. Safety includes things such as not venturing out alone, what to do in case of an emergency, and other concerns that you might have.
4. Conduct daily meetings. The primary purpose for these briefings is to make sure that everyone is on the same page. Many teams find that the best time to meet is during a meal — usually breakfast. Keep the meetings concise and focused, but still allow some time for questions and a brief recap of the previous day’s events. You will want to review the schedule for that day, troubleshoot any problems that have surfaced, and give a brief look at what to expect the next day. Some ministry teams also use this time for worship and a devotional message.
5. Take the team’s pulse. During the trip, try to spend a few minutes with each team member to see how they are doing and to help them process events. Whether a member is a veteran or a newbie, look for ways to maximize that person’s trip experience. Are there things that you can do to help him or her better utilize their gifts and abilities? Are there personality conflicts between team members or with national workers that would necessitate a change in work groups? What about fatigue? Do you need to work in some down-time so that your team can recharge a little?
As team leader, you will want to make sure that you do not isolate yourself or spend time with just a couple “favorites” with whom you feel comfortable. Instead, talk to everyone and try to observe everyone at work. If your team is spread out, make it a point to visit each work site some time during the trip.
6. Plan for future ministry. It is easy to get caught-up with the activities of the moment and fail to look ahead. If you plan on working there again, take some time during your trip to prepare for your next team.
On the last evening of my last trip to Africa, our team went to a pizza restaurant as a special treat. As we were walking up to the building one of our national hosts commented that the hotel across the street was new. Knowing that we would return in a couple months with another team, we decided to visit the hotel after dinner. It was beautiful — much nicer than where we were staying, and it was less money! Needless to say, we booked it for our next group. That team will be very glad that we planned ahead!
7. Prepare for re-entry. As your ministry abroad begins to wind down, there are a couple items that need to be addressed. First, verify your return flights with your airline 48 hours before departure. Also, discuss with your team the travel logistics such as flight plans, filling out customs forms, reclaiming luggage and so on.
As you address these seven items during your mission trip, you will find that the trip is more manageable and runs smoother. I would encourage you to develop a checklist around these issues and work through it during your time on the field. This will keep you on task and help ensure that nothing falls through the cracks.