There’s nothing like a proposed mission trip to stir up fervor. Whether it’s a congregation, youth group, or professional association, volunteers are quick to sign on, even before the details are ironed out. It may take a while for the exhilaration of knowing that so many are trusting you with their time and energy to wear off, perhaps until the next morning. But then you wake up wide-eyes, realizing, as Harry Truman so famously said, the buck stops here.
If you find yourself hyperventilating, take comfort in the knowledge that a mission trip is far from a fly-by-night affair. Time is on your side. Mission management professionals all recommend starting the planning process at least three months in advance. But if this will be your first experience, you might want to give it six months.
Planning the details of a mission trip means answering to two requisites. Not only must you organize a trip that responds to the everyday needs of people in crisis, but you also bear the responsibility of providing the members of your group with an experience that nourishes their charitable spirits. There are organizations you can turn to as well as colleagues who have already led successful missions, but they are of little help until you come up with your own answers to the questions who, what, where, when, and why. You may recognize these as the five building blocks of any news story. But they are also questions whose answers can build the foundation of a rewarding trip of all involved.
Oops, there are a few how’s that must be addressed before going any further.
- How far do you want to travel? Which is related to…
- How much do you want to spend? And, oh yes…..
- How much time will the members of the group be able to take off from work or school?
In many cases, summer is the perfect time for a mission since school is out and people take vacations then. However, consider the climate of your destination. Summer can be hurricane season in the tropics. If part of your work will be to give instruction to school children, check to see when school is held in the country you will be visiting.
With all this in mind, you can circulate the proposed dates and survey participants for their preferences.
Who/Where ? (or Vice Versa)
There are areas of the world that are always in need of assistance, and there are some that have been recently ravaged by storms or earthquakes. Your group’s areas of expertise can go into deciding where they might best serve.
If members are skilled in construction, plumbing, carpentry, or even just willing to learn, you might consider the Caribbean, Texas, Mexico, or anywhere else recent natural disasters have brought life to a halt.
If you have members in any of the medical fields, poverty-stricken areas in Africa, Haiti, or inner cities of this country should be considered.
If you will be traveling with a youth group, age plays a determining role. If they are of middle school age, you might want to stay very local and make the trip short, or for ninth and tenth graders, plan something regional. Older youths, if they are emotionally mature or have previous outreach experience can be included with adult groups.
The relationship between who and where is much like the chicken and the egg, it depends on how you look at it. Who is in the group and the experience they bring can determine where you go while in other cases, once the destination and purpose are made known, some may choose to sit it out. So this is a good time to schedule a meeting to update all your participants and encourage those who feel they have no expertise in the particular work required that there will be tasks they can perform. For example, hospitals may need someone to cut and roll bandages or sterilize instruments and construction crews always need someone to replenish materials and clean up the site.
This is a good time to schedule the first of many meetings you will be holding, this one to address team members’ reasons for undertaking the mission.
It should be emphasized that in undertaking the mission trip, volunteers will sharing an incredible experience with residents of the host community. While the residents will, of course, be receiving assistance with planting and harvesting, literacy lessons, construction, or healthcare and hygiene, they will also be nourished spiritually just by knowing it was all delivered in the name of love. And in the process, you and your missionaries will find out in countless unexpected ways that love is a two-way street, and that giving is far better than receiving.
What Needs to be Done?
At the next meeting of those who have made a definite decision to take the trip, you can give these committed members a list of what they must take care of for themselves.
Unless you will be staying in the United States, or its territories, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, or Guam, everyone needs to get a passport if they do not have one. And the sooner, the better. The process can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months, and that’s after you have filed the application.
Where you’re traveling will determine whether you need to get immunization shots. If the trip takes you to a developed country, everyone may already have all the vaccinations you need. For less developed ones, you will need to get a few more. If you decide to work with a mission travel management company, you can consult them, or you may want to comply with the following recommendations.
Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean – Hepatitis A, Typhoid, Hepatitis B, Malaria
South America – All of the above, plus Yellow Fever
Africa – Hepatitis A, Typhoid, Hepatitis B, Meningitis, Typhoid, Yellow Fever, Malaria
Asia – Hepatitis A, Typhoid, Hepatitis B, Japanese Encephalitis, Malaria
Enlisting Financial Support
The overwhelming majority of mission trips require seeking donations from friends or relatives. Be sure to point out that by supporting members of the mission, contributors themselves will become part of it and the good that it accomplishes. The word can be spread at Sunday services, in email blasts, and of course Facebook. Creating an interesting post can be especially effective if you ask friends to like and share it on their pages. You might also want to take a look at our 15 Super Simple Ways to Raise Money for your Mission Trip.
When all is said and done, the primary reason for undertaking any mission trip is to serve God and spread his word, you may find that you and your fellow missionaries come back not only enriched by accomplishing all you set out to do, but bonded to each other in a way for which there are no earthly words.