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  • Writer's pictureKristen Bruce

Effective Short-term Mission Trips: 3 Questions to Ask

Updated: May 16

It’s almost that time of year: short-term mission trip time! Maybe you’re traveling for the first time to serve cross-culturally or it’s already part of your annual agenda and you’ve been doing this for years. Before you set off on your journey, seasoned mission trip leaders and novice team members alike should ask these 3 important questions about your upcoming time of service:


- What is my primary role in this cross-cultural experience?

- How is my/my team’s participation contributing to the long-term goals of ministry on the ground?

- How is my/my team’s participation empowering local people?



1. What is my primary role in this cross-cultural experience? It’s tempting to view a mission trip with the perspective of: us versus them. I’m here to help/save, and the nationals I meet on the field are in need of helping/saving. But I propose that even before we assign roles according to our spiritual gifts or strengths or Enneagram number, we recognize that in this unfamiliar environment we are first and foremost LEARNERS. We go prepared to serve in any way needed, ready to be the hands and feet of Jesus; but we also recognize that He has already gone before us and is working among the people. We recognize local leadership and their capacity and authority. A first-time team member might prepare for their trip with grand ideas of how they’ll use their talents and expertise on the field, then arrive and find it more difficult than they realized to communicate through translators, or with limited supplies, or with differences in cultural norms. The “what am I even contributing” feeling is common, so it’s best to lower our expectations of grandeur and shift our focus to “what is God showing me about His global church?”


2. How is my/my team’s participation contributing to the long-term goals of ministry on the ground? There should be open and honest communication between hosts and team leaders prior to the mission trip, so that the time of service fits in to a long-term ministry plan and is not an isolated event. Make a point of learning about the host ministry with whom you’re serving and how you and your team can be supportive to them. You might have your own idea of ministry on the field, and although it’s perfectly fine to express preferences; maintain a posture of service and humility and allow the hosts to answer honestly and candidly about what would be most helpful from a service team.


3. How is my/my team’s participation empowering local people? Although you as a team member might not have complete control over how the local people are empowered through the planning of your team’s service project, you can take note and be intentional in your personal participation and behavior on the field. Small actions, especially those of cultural importance, make a big difference in showing respect to locals. If you are arriving at a school or church, are you looking for the local leaders (teachers, pastors) and recognizing them before barging in and setting up? If visiting a home, do you have your phone/camera put away and are making eye contact with the head of household, waiting for their invitation, behaving as a house guest should? In your service projects, are you following the direction of those with native assets and knowledge? Construction methods may be very different than we are used to. It can seem very rudimentary, but we can take time to observe the resourcefulness and camaraderie that it promotes. There may be a time and place to recommend new technology, but often it is best to follow the local’s lead.



I am a proponent of short-term mission trips because I am a product of one. I have been serving on the field as a missionary for 12+ years, and as director of our organization for the last 6. It all began with a short-term trip to Honduras as a teenager 20 years ago. I’ve observed the good, the bad, and the ugly on the field, and my prayer is that God continues to refine us and our ministry as we commit to doing missions better; for the people we serve and for the glory of God.


 

Kristen is the founder and Executive Director of VER International, a poverty alleviation 501c3 ministry. Her hobbies include reading, writing, photography, and learning new languages. She lives as a full-time missionary in Honduras with her husband, Natán, and little boy, Kairo.

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