5 Things Successful Groups Consider Before Leaving for Their Summer Missions Trip
It is that time of the year again when schools are preparing for summer break and groups are being assembled to bring the love of Jesus to a struggling country in Central America. As a missionary living in Guatemala for the last 16 years, I have seen many groups come and go. Many of these groups were amazing and we are forever grateful for the time they took to invest in the communities we work in. That said, we also had some groups come that left us with some regret for having connected them with the families we work with. We know that they came with a sincere heart to serve and help, but unfortunately, they lacked some preparation that could have helped them avoid some of the mistakes that they made. In light of this, I felt that it would be good to write a blog on some of the things that successful groups do before leaving for their summer outreach.
1. Form a Clear Purpose for Their Trip
Successful groups take time before their outreach to develop a purpose and message for their trip. They prayerfully take time to evaluate the strengths, passions, talents, and experiences of their group. They then communicate this purpose to the host organization / missionary who can then plan activities that will give the group opportunities to communicate their message and help fulfill the team's purpose.
2. Develop Ministry Tools According to Their Purpose
Once a clear purpose and message has been determined, successful groups begin developing appropriate ministry tools so that their message can be clearly communicated and their intended purpose fulfilled. This could be in the form of dramas, testimonies, t shirts, crafts, teachings, seminars, special events, or anything else that would be useful in communicating the team's core message. The key is making sure that everything you develop brings a similar message. Otherwise, you will leave the communities you work with in confusion or with the mindset that your reason for coming was to just entertain them or take pictures of them in their difficult situations.
3. Do Research and Learn about the Community They will be Working in.
Successful teams take the time to learn about the people that they will be trying to help. They understand that the whole world is not the same as the one they normally experience on a day to day basis at home. They understand that different parts of the world have different customs and have to deal with different situations in their day to day life. They also understand that not everyone speaks English and makes an effort to learn at least some basics of the local language. Learning about and adopting the local culture / customs and language helps team members connect on a deeper level with the community, thus increasing their effectiveness in the mission. It also helps to avoid unintentionally offending those the people they came to serve.
4. Spend as Much Time in Prayer as They Spend in Preparation / Fundraising
Success in any ministry is tied directly to the amount of effort spent in prayer before heading out for the outreach. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesian church "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." (Ephesians 6:12). Though developing tools and raising funds for your trip are both extremely important, successful teams know that nothing they do will be effective without spending substantial time in prayer for the communities that they will be working in. Through these times of prayer, team members not only clear a path for success, but also discover God's heart for the people they will meet on their trip.
5. Seek to Partner with the Local Missionary / Organization
Once a group has determined it's purpose and message, successful groups not only communicate this to the local contact, but also makes sure that it falls in line with the purpose and message of the local ministry. Remember, the local missionaries are the ones who are committed long term to the community the team is working with. Successful teams strive to enhance what God is already doing through the already established ministry as opposed to doing their own thing and potentially creating a conflicting or unintended secondary message.
This is not an all-inclusive list, but I believe that if teams would do these 5 things before getting in that church van and heading to the airport, that they will be able to avoid many of the common mistakes outreach teams typically make. They will also return home with incredible stories of God moving through them, while also leaving a lasting impact in the community they had the pleasure of working in.