Perhaps the greatest strength of missionaries traveling abroad is their enthusiasm. They’re often bundles of energy, ready to step into the wider world and do good for people and societies in need.
However, sometimes they’re also ready to dash off with nothing but faith as their guide. While admirable, this mindset can lead to a lack of preparation, which in turn leaves missionaries unable to assist those they’ve gone to help as well as they’d like.
With this in mind, here are some baseline tips to make a mission abroad as positive an experience as possible for both you and those who will be around you for the duration of your trip.
Know the expectations of your mission
Working at anything with the intent to simply do good can sometimes lead people to become bored or frustrated if the trip isn’t what they expected, or if they feel like what they’re doing isn’t where they can do the most good. However, signing up for a mission is in many ways the same as signing up for a job, and you are taking on the responsibility of doing that job. Absolutely nothing says you can’t help people in other ways, and it’s wonderful if you do so, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of your core responsibilities. (If your mission is self-guided rather than part of a specific group effort, do your best to stick to your intended work for the duration of the trip.)
Familiarize yourself with the culture of those you’ll be visiting
In ages gone by, part of a missionary’s work was learning about the cultures they visited. This is still true; no matter your resources, you’re not going to learn all there is to know from the outside. However, in the Internet era, the odds you can find little or nothing on the people you’ll be assisting are very slim. On top of whatever information your church or mission coordinator has to offer, take time to discover whatever else you can about them that may help you understand their needs. For example, read about how they support themselves, their most important customs, and common local beliefs that may conflict with your own if you aren’t prepared for them. And, if it’s at all possible, learn the language!
Get a physical and any necessary vaccinations beforehand
The tales of people traveling to a new land and being laid low by a disease with which they’ve never had to contend are legion. The potential for illness isn’t a fun thing to consider, but better to make sure you’re in maximally good health and protected against as many diseases as possible than to catch something nasty and wind up stuck in bed while you’re supposed to be serving the people. Likewise, depending on where you’re going, it may be wise or outright necessary to make sure you have health insurance that covers you while abroad.
To an extent, this relates to knowing a culture and not bringing clothing or other items that will cause serious friction. However, for the most part this is a question of dressing for climate and season. Take cues from your research into the local population, if necessary. But one of the easiest ways to stay content and effective on your mission is to simply dress for the weather and not put yourself through an unnecessary struggle with the climate.
Consider some type of journal
Even if you’re not a person who maintains a record of their life on a regular basis, a mission is a unique experience. If you have online access, a blog can keep the people who care about you back home up-to-date on what you’re doing. If you have only mobile access, and therefore not much of a keyboard, Instagram can be an excellent way to keep a type of shorthand journal—one picture with a short caption every day takes a minute or two, but by the end you’ll still have a substantial collection of thoughts and memories to look back on. Or write thoughts in a paper journal, if that’s the only available option. Missions take tons of energy, and it’s very easy to forget many of the experiences you have unless you jot them down to remember later.
Try to protect yourself from unrealistic expectations
‘Try’ is the operative word here, especially if it’s your first mission. It’s easy to have goals substantially out of line with what you can realistically accomplish, to the extent that if you know this and try dialing back those goals, you may still not be able to accomplish the new ones. Rather than focus only on long-term targets, do your best to remember the small goods you accomplish as ‘good’ rather than ‘not enough good’. If you’re on a construction mission, and your team has a long, frustrating day where you only manage to put up one wall of a house, remember that’s one more wall of a house than would have been built without you. Or say you’re on a medical mission and you only manage to help two people feel a bit better one day. If they would have been lying at home miserable, and are instead on the way to recovering, you’ve done good, even if you feel like you should have been able to do that for a dozen people in the same amount of time. Small victories are still victories.
Remember that you’re a human being
It’s easy to view your mission as a time to work and sacrifice endlessly for the good of those you’ve traveled to help. But exhaustion, stress, and other factors that can reduce your ability to serve are things you’ll need to deal with from time to time. Part of your responsibility is to make sure you’re at your best when it’s time to do work. If that requires a little extra rest or downtime to recharge, take it. You will get more done overall if you listen to your body and mind and give them what they require.
Your mission can be a source of great joy, and once it’s over, great pride, as long as you’re smart about how you approach it. If your mission group needs assistance planning its air travel for a mission trip, contact us for information on making the process as smooth as possible so you can focus on the work to be done.