First things first: How do you prepare for a mission trip?
I’m not talking about the logistics – the fundraising plans, coordinating the ubiquitous big white youth vans – I’m talking about how you, in the midst of all that, prepare your heart, your spirit, for the work God will be doing in your own life through this experience. And not only how to prepare your own heart and spirit, but also the hearts of your students as the mission trip looms closer.
Now there’s lots of articles out there on the interwebs telling you the best way to prepare spiritually for mission trips. But many can be boiled down to: Read your Bible. Prepare to share the gospel with unbelievers. And get your students a prayer partner who will pack chocolates and uplifting notes for them during the trip.
But let’s go a little bit deeper, shall we?
Question your motives.
Yep. You heard me correctly. Question your motives. Why are you going on a mission trip? Not why you should go on a mission trip or why others are going on a mission trip. Nope. Why are you?
Is it just another item on the List of Things Every Good Christian Should Do? Want to go play White Savior with the poor people? Be the hero? For students specifically: Do you simply want to travel and a mission trip is easily approved by the parental units? Or, more positively: Do you want to learn about other cultures? To learn something about yourself?
Examine your heart. Your reasons. Your motivations. We are complex creatures with complex motives. Examining your own reasons for signing up for a mission trip – whether you’re a leader or a student – is essential for preparing your own heart for the trip and opening yourself to what God may have planned for you through the experience.
2. Pray intentionally for the people and places you will visit.
I’m not talking about general prayers like “We pray tonight for Nicaragua” without having any idea what’s going on in Nicaragua, let alone the specific region and cities you will actually be visiting.
Whether you’re going somewhere outside of North America, like Nicaragua, or you’re going to a different neighborhood in your own hometown, get to know the prayers and needs of the people living there.
If you’re going local, take your students (or go yourself), on a prayer walk around the neighborhood you’ll be serving. Connect with long-time residents and hear their stories. Don’t stay strangers until the day you strap on work boots and color-coordinated team shirts.
If you’re going global, read the BBC World section or the New York Times International coverage for your country’s region. Find and follow recommended Twitter accounts from folks in country. Learn and listen to the national conversation. If you live near a place like Toronto, seek out immigrant communities in your own backyard – attend a Haitian church service, taste mole and pico de gallo at a local Mexican restaurant.
Get to know the people and places you will visit on a mission trip so that your prayers for them may come from knowledge and compassion, not ignorance and disinterest. Intentional prayer cultivates empathy, curiosity, and awareness which are essential attitudes to pack alongside those coordinated team shirts.
3. Ask for a word.
Instead of opening your Bible and searching for a meaningful verse on your own, seek out a wise person in your life – a pastor, a mentor, an insightful friend – and ask them for a word.
Ask them to pray about and discern a Scripture passage to assign to you. Then receive that word. Read it. Mediate on it. Live with it. Carry it with you. Even when you have no idea why this supposedly “wise” person would give you such a dull passage! Or so you think….until you’re packing your bag or listening to someone’s story and the Spirit brings the words of that passage to mind and you hear the voice of God for you in that moment.
In all this, remember that God is at work in this world and we have the privilege and invitation to witness to that work when we’re on a mission trip. May your eyes be opened and your hearts moved by the Spirit as you glimpse the mission of our God.
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Rev. Amanda Bakale is the youth and young adult engagement coordinator at World Renew. Based in Kitchener, Ontario, this former West Michigan girl loves her bi-national identity, her Canadian husband, and cheering for the Toronto Blue Jays in the midst of all her Detroit Tigers-lovin’ friends and family.