I went on my first mission trip when I was 12. Our church youth choir went to South Dakota to help with a new church plant (though I don’t think we called it that then). I loved the trip. I loved riding in the bus, hanging out with my friends for 2 weeks, being away from home, and just being with our youth group. I was 12. I wasn’t in love with the idea of taking the gospel to the ends of the earth, but my church was.
That was the first of 6 youth mission trips I went on while I was growing up and it set the stage for my love of mission work. As a pastor I always said I wasn’t called to be a vocational missionary but I was called to pastor a mission minded and mission active church. That all began when I was 12.
Mission trips transformed my life and I believe they transform the church. There is no better experience as a believer than to be in an unfamiliar place, doing unfamiliar things, eating unfamiliar food and being generally uncomfortable with everything around you for the sake of the gospel. It is in those moments you learn to trust the Lord and you see Him move through your life.
If you have never been on a mission trip before then 2019 needs to be your year. Find out where you church is going or find another church going and join them, or join my ministry, Exposed to Christ (ETC) Ministries on on of our trips. Find out about them here.
Let me know in the comments how a mission trip affected your life.
Over the past 2 weeks I have been from one extreme to the other. We started off in Vermont for a week and then I ended up in Peru for a week.There are so many differences between these 2 places and yet there are also similarities.
1.Language – In Vermont everybody spoke some version of English. I say some version because we met people who had lived their whole lives in New England and some who had moved there from the deep south. What a variety! But at least our team could communicate with everyone we met. In Peru of course the language is Spanish and then some other dialects unique to the various tribes of Peru. I got to use my high school Spanish a little but was very thankful for so many translators who helped us get around and share the gospel.
2. Climate – Vermont is wonderful in the summer! With highs in the low to mid 80’s and lows at night dropping to the 50’s we had perfect weather while we were there. Even the hotter days were bearable in the home we stayed in that didn’t have air conditioning. Where we were in Peru was near the equator where the weather stays the same almost all year. It was nice and warm, in the 80’s with nice nights in the 70’s.
3. Christianity – Peru has a lot of Christian history and influence with many churches. But many of the churches in Peru struggle with moving from being the mission to doing the mission. As we met with churches and groups of pastors our mandate was to encourage them to reach out to the community around them and the communities and world around them. While the cities often have many churches, the small villages do not. In this way it is similar to Vermont where less than 3% of the people attend evangelical churches. New England as a whole has a rich Christian history with 2 Great Awakenings happening across the area in the 18th and 19th centuries. But now that area is 5 generations removed from attending church and no longer sees the church as an integral part of life.
4. Our Ministry – We painted – in Vermont at the Northeastern Baptist College and in Peru at a local church. And we encouraged – in Vermont we fed church planters, pastors and their families at an annual lake picnic and in Peru at meetings with local pastors, church leaders, churches and mission teams.
And we dug a well in Peru – Now that was a challenge as part of our team spend 3 days in this remote village that had not had clean water in 4 years.
6. Beautiful people – We met some wonderful people in Vermont and Peru and we cherish the friendships and impact they made on us. I pray we were able to point them toward Christ and/or encourage them in their work but I know they did that for us.
I’m excited about this special edition today. As many of you know recently I spent some time on mission in Europe and while in Germany I sat down with good friends Marvin and Meagan Schaefer. They work with OM International and serve in a local church near Frankfurt. I hope you enjoy hearing their heart for the world and for the church as they share their story.
“Mission Central” is available on iTunes, search podcasts for Mission Central.
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What an amazing three weeks I had in Greece and other parts of Europe! Our team in Greece did a great job working hard to minister to everyone we met and we soaked in all the Biblical history as we walked the steps of Paul across this beautiful Mediterranean country.
We worked with 2 different churches in Athens, Samaria Church who ministers mostly to refugees from Afghanistan and Iran and the Greek Evangelical Church in Piraeus who focus on Greeks but also have an active ministry with refugees.
We’ve been in Samaria Church for many years now and it was amazing to see how God has grown this church. Pastor Philip is from South Korea and he has a growing staff of German missionaries who are assisting with the church. The Sunday we were there was their first Sunday to have small groups. Pastor Philip said that he had prayed and worked for over 20 years for the church to have small groups. He was understandably emotional as he introduced the 12 leaders who he had discipled to become small group leaders.
It was also in his church where we met a couple from Afghanistan. The husband had personally watched his entire family be executed by the Taliban. In the aftermath he suffered a heart attack and a stroke and had lost his speech and the ability to move his right arm. Our team was privileged to pray for him. At the end of our prayer time we were amazed to see him lift his right arm and repeatedly extend a grip with his hand!
Pastor Pavlos at the Greek Evangelical Church was a firecracker to meet! His energy and passion for reaching his community and growing his church was contagious. We loved meeting his church leaders and seeing the many people who came for a meal on Thursday afternoon. On that day, as Brock Gill offered an invitation at the end of his message the room was filled with raised hands. One senior adult couple in particular were sitting up front. Pastor Pavlos told me that his couple had come the past 2 weeks and the wife in particular was so excited to come to church. They came out of a Greek Orthodox background but as they came to the evangelical church they were in awe and overjoyed to hear the word of God preached. Pavlos said they were soaking up every word taught and couldn’t wait to come to the next service.
We also worked with Hellenic Ministries at a camp they were holding for refugee men. They had about 50 men at this remote camp site for the week and we were there on their first night of their camp. About half of the men were already believers but the other half were not yet followers of Christ. We had some great conversations and Brock presented a magic show and then the gospel. We saw several responses at the end of the night but the great news was that at the end of the week they baptized 8 new believers right there in the Aegean Sea!
The highlight of the trip is always when we get the local pastors and missionaries together for a meal and a time of blessing. We had about 17 pastors and other servants show up for dinner on Friday night as we sat beneath the Acropolis on a rooftop restaurant. Br
ock did a little show for them and then we spend time in prayer. Our team shared the night with the families and then prayed over them. We gave them gifts and cards of encouragement, many of which were written by you! It was a beautiful night to edify those who live everyday on the front lines of faith.
From Greece most of our team went home but Brock, his wife Auny, and I went on to Portugal to be with Troy and Michelle Pitney and Surf Church in Porto. We had an amazing weekend in this beautiful city on the Atlantic Ocean. At their Sunday evening service Surf Church was joined by two other church plants and we had about 150 people in what became a very cramped space. Three people responded to the gospel presentation that night. Troy said that is a big response in Portugal!
After saying good-bye to Brock and Auny who headed off to begin a 3 month sabbatical I went to London. I had lunch in London with a good friend, John Theuns, who was just about to accept a leadership position in a small church in London. He had every intent to ask me about bringing a group to help his church in 2019 but I beat him to the punch by asking first if he would like a group to come. So we agreed that I would put together a group to come do children’s and youth ministry at his church, and possibly at several others in the London area. Keep your eyes peeled for information about this trip in July 2019. If you are already interested let me know!
Next was Germany where I spent a few days with Marvin and Meagan Schaefer. They were such kind hosts and we had a great time together. I was able to share with their youth and young adult group on Thursday night and had a great time meeting them.
Then on to Finland and a weekend with Shaun Rossi and the United Community Church. Shaun is a church planter from New England who came to Finland and never went home. He has a great passion to reach Finland through the colleges. His church is laser focused on reaching the college campuses in Helsinki and the surrounding areas. With three different church campuses he stays busy and has some great support from other guys there like Daniel and his wife Kati. I preached three times on Sunday, once on each campus, at 10, 2, and 5! It was a great day and I really appreciated the great hospitality shown by Shaun and his entire team.
Many thanks to all those who prayed for us. God moved and blessed in many ways. I never cease to be amazed at how He puts people on the trip who need to be there and how He matches each team member to at least one person that they connect with in a meaningful way.
There is nothing more frustrating for a team leader, and for a team than to get to the place of service and know you are not prepared for what is about to happen. To have no idea what is about to happen, what you are supposed to do, how you are supposed to function individually and as a group, leaves little hope for anything more than low performance. A mission team needs to be prepared logistically and spiritually.
Logistics refers to the how, when and what of the mission. What are we doing? When are we doing it? How are we supposed to do it? These questions should be answered as much as possible in meetings prior to getting on the bus, van or plane. While the demand to “be flexible” is given for all participants no matter how much preparation is done, there should be a basic outline for the trip made available to the team. Some cases require more of that information because of the ministry assignment. Children’s activities need more prior planning than adult activities in general. If you are going to be teaching specific material the preparation phase is vital to the ability of the team to be effective on the field.
Making plans known in advance also capitalizes on the talents and resources of the team members. When they know what they are doing and when they are doing it they will be able to add high value to the event. Learning the plans the day of the event limits their ability to be effective and go above and beyond expectations.
More important than logistics are the spiritual preparations that should take place before the team leaves home. Every team begins their trip with excitement. Adrenaline is flowing as anticipation of what will happen grows in the heart of each participant. Fear is also there. Feelings of inadequacy creep into the soul. As the days progress the reality of being around this same group 24/7 has transformed from joy to boredom to annoyance. The group is tired from long days of ministry and Satan is “roaming to and fro seeking whom he may devour.”
Prepare your group spiritually with a set of focused devotions. Remind them of the reason for the trip. Have them anticipate the challenges that plague any group of people who spend a large amount of time with one another. Open their eyes to the work of Satan as they involve themselves in the spiritual warfare of ministry. Encourage them to build a support team of prayer partners who will begin their work before the trip and continue it throughout the mission effort. Give them tools so that they can communicate with their prayer team while they are on the field.
Anytime we step into the battle for souls we are venturing into a spiritual battlefield that requires focus and faith. We must be focused on the Lord, not looking to the left or the right, and we must trust Him to accomplish His work through us. We do the work to plan and prepare the logistical aspects of ministry, but we also know that absent the work of the Holy Spirit nothing of lasting value will be accomplished. Prepare your team to accomplish the mission God has given you.
Your group loads up in the van and you set out on mission. With Google maps guiding your every turn you feel confident about how to get there. You pull up in the parking lot of the church, at least what you think is the church, but no one is there. The building looks abandoned. A quick call to the pastor and now you have new directions. They moved from that location six months ago but their website just hasn’t been updated yet. The youth in the back are restless and then your phone rings. A parent wonders why you are lost. “Where are you taking my kid? Do you know what you’re doing?”
Once you get to the church it appears evident that what you had planned for the Bible Clubs just isn’t going to work in this neighborhood. Nobody has a yard. There is no place to play soccer. Now you are scrambling to update your ministry plan and the kids are quick to express their boredom. What are you going to do? The answer lies in having asked that question at least a month before.
Having led many mission trips, sometimes I took a pre-trip and others times I did not, I can say unequivocally that the best practice is to visit the mission trip location before you take your group. This is even more important when you are traveling to a location very different than your home. If you are going to another country, a different state, a city (when you live in the country) or some other highly distinct area, you need to see the place, experience the people, learn how to travel and how long it takes to travel. I know for many this seems impossible for your budget, but it’s important enough that you should make the short pre-trip part of your overall trip budget. If the pre-trip is prohibitive, then you need to enlist someone to help you who has visited the site before. You need to amass as much information as possible or get a great guide to help make your mission trip a success.
Here are 4 reasons you should take a pre-trip before your group leaves your church parking lot:
- You need to learn about getting around on your mission trip. What are the easiest ways to move your group? How long does it take to get to and from the airport? To the church? What roads should we avoid? What parts of town should we avoid? It’s always better to learn these things before you have a van full of teenagers or senior adults.
- You need to learn about the people and the neighborhoods. There are some things best learned by observation and experience, not merely reading. Look at the venue. Get a feel for the people and what works to reach them. See the space and think of creative ways to use it.
- You need to meet the people you will be working with, the pastors and missionaries. Visiting in person is different than over the phone or even in a video conference. It’s important to meet people face to face to both understand them and their passion as well as to help them understand you and your passion. Asking questions and solidifying a plan is much easier when you can sit across the coffee table from someone. Having confidence in one another makes a positive impact on your mission trip.
- You need to get a feel for the things that will and won’t work on your mission trip. Whatever preconceived ideas you might have about what you will do on your mission trip must be subject to the reality on the ground. When you see the location, meet the people, and experience the culture you can get a clearer picture of the things that will be effective. Being able to properly plan before you leave is better than having to change everything once you arrive.
None of these mean you won’t still have to invoke one of the cardinal verses of mission trips: Steve 4:6 “Be flexible.” Making that early visit to the site does allow you to have a better beginning from which to change.
One last thing: If you can’t afford to take an overseas pre-trip, you can help yourself by arriving a day or two before the rest of the group. On that extra day, which will only cost you housing and meals, you can do much of the legwork to help with travel and you can also begin thinking about any other program changes you might need to make.
When you are putting together your mission calendar for this next year don’t fall into the lazy habit of doing the exact same trip every time. We don’t say it out loud, but there are several reasons we do the same thing year after year. “It’s easy because it’s familiar.” “It’s non-threatening to our members because they know what to expect.” “It falls within their comfort zone.” “I know I can get people to go on this trip because they’ve been on it in the past.” “We know how to do this.”
The challenge in all organizations is to get people to move outside of their comfort zone, to stretch themselves. In church we don’t just talk about stretching mentally, but spiritually. We like trips that are spiritually familiar, where we are doing things we have done before. Don’t jump ahead of me, I believe in doing things at which you are good. But there is a place for the challenge, the trip that pushes us spiritually, that stretches our faith and our willingness to trust the Lord.
Consider these things when you are putting together your plan for the mission in your church:
- Do something that is entry level mission. This is a trip that anyone could go on, even someone who may not be a believer. Often this can be a construction or disaster relief type trip. Non-believers benefit from being around believers all day, seeing their attitudes and listening to the way they speak to one another.
- Do something that requires spiritual preparation and depth. This might be a children’s or youth ministry trip that offers a sports camp or VBS type of ministry. The work may be familiar to many but it also demands more preparation. You might find some new VBS or youth workers on this type of mission trip.
- Do something that challenges your church staff. Helping a new church plant get off the ground, teaching discipleship, street evangelism, cross-cultural relationship building or direct outreach opportunities are examples of things that require more from the missionary. Taking your members on this kind of trip can open their eyes to the opportunities that abound right across the street.
Don’t mistake the entry level trip for something that isn’t spiritual, just recognize that there are some things that are more spiritually challenging than others and we all need to be stretched. You’ve got some people in your church who have done so many construction trips that they don’t even think about the spiritual dimension of mission anymore. They need to be challenged.
One last thing, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to be challenged spiritually. Go to the International District in Houston to reach the nations. Go help the church plant in the next town as they canvass a neighborhood. Go!
The Great Commission is clear; we must go to the world. Every day we walk outside our home we are going, but we also must go outside our normal patterns, our normal life path. When we get beyond our day to day life we are given the opportunity to grow, to be challenged, to learn new things, to explore new paths and perhaps to hear something fresh from the Lord. This is one of the best things about going on mission trips and one of the reasons church leaders want to see their members on mission trips both near and far.
But where will you go? How will you decide where to go? I can’t say I know where you should go, though I’d love to make a few suggestions J. I can say I have a learned a little over the years about how to find the place that fits your church, your goals and your ministry.
- Always begin with PRAYER. The number one goal is to find the place where God wants you to go. If we can agree that the Lord has called us all to go, then the only question is to discern His leadership as to the place. Don’t get so spiritual here that you are looking for God to form the clouds in the shape of the country, but do begin by seeking His guidance and asking Him to guide you as you seek His direction.
There are some practical things you can do that I believe God uses to help us understand what He wants. Don’t throw darts at the map, prayerfully seek Him as you work towards His guidance.
- What is your budget and how much will you ask people to spend on a trip? It is not unspiritual to ask this question. Funds are a limiter for most people and groups. Obviously the more you have available the farther you can go, but that doesn’t mean you should go as far as your money will take you. It can mean that you understand the limits you have on where you will look.
Of course, the Lord can burden your heart and provide the funds to go beyond your perceived ability, but don’t take that step before the Lord has led you to do so.
- What kind of group do you want to take? Think of this in two ways, size and age. Are you taking youth, families, senior adults, median adults? Different ages can go different places to do different things.
Are you planning to take 150, 50, 25, or 5? Again, the size of your group directly affects the places you can go and be helpful. A large group may overwhelm a small church and leave large numbers of your group with nothing to do. A small group may not be able to accomplish the task, meet the need at one location but would fit perfectly at another.
- When are you planning to go? How long will you be gone? Will this be a summer trip? Spring break? Fall? Of course, this affects who will go but it also impacts how far you can go, how long you can stay. Don’t plan a week-long trip where you will spend 2 days driving up and 2 driving back, leaving only 3 days for ministry. At the same time, it’s difficult to recruit people to spend $3000 to go overseas if they only get to spend a few days in the country. Not many people will give up their entire spring break for a mission trip either. Plan accordingly.
- What skills do your church members, potential mission team members, have? What have you done in the past? Consider not only what you have done on mission trips but also at your own church, in your own ministry field. Do you have people who will go who are good at construction or experience working with children or teens? The answers to these questions may help guide you as you explore opportunities to serve, but don’t limit yourself to past experiences.
- Are there some things you haven’t done but would like to do? The mission trip can be an opportunity to train your team in new skills that will be useful on the trip and also when they return. Jump start evangelism training by taking your team on a trip where part of the task is street evangelism. By training to do something on a mission trip they will learn skills to use at home and gain confidence to share their faith at work or school. I learned to share my faith while I was in high school, preparing for a mission trip to Pittsburgh.
- God often uses past relationships or passing acquaintances to open doors for you. Who do you know already who is in a place that could use your group? Who have you met recently that might be able to open a door for ministry? Call them or send a quick email. They may not need a team but they might know someone who does.
Ask your friends in the ministry where they have been. Talk to other pastors, denominational leaders or mission leaders to discover good opportunities.
- Finally, consider what kind of strategy you want to have as a church as you approach the world of mission opportunities before you. I’ll talk more about this in a later post, but you should begin to ask questions like: How do we want to impact the kingdom? Where in the world is the heart of our church? Do we want a long-term relationship?
Pray, Pray, Pray. The Lord will lead you and your church to the opportunities He has for you.
I went on my first mission trip when I was 12. About to enter 8th grade, the mission trip was the highlight of our summer youth activities every year and there is no doubt those experiences made an indelible impression on me that affected much of my future life path.
In the many years since then I have been on at least one mission trip every year and I have led more than 30 trips myself. I am a believer in the value of the short term mission trip.
I believe in them for these reasons:
1. A good mission trip puts the believer in a new environment, challenging their faith and their preconceptions about the life others lead. Whether it is a foreign country or a different culture or just a different life environment, we need to see how others live, how their faith is incarnated every day and how the gospel is applied in a situation unfamiliar to us. It is too easy for us to think that how we live is how everybody lives or to think that our problems are the worst, when the reality is that many go through much more difficult life situations every day.
It’s impossible to not be affected when we see kids without homes and families, or refugees without representation or those raised in areas where there has never been a gospel witness. It is also very powerful to meet believers who live under threat of persecution in countries closed to the gospel. It is important for the Christian to see these situations and find a way to bring encouragement, mercy, grace and the gospel.
2. A good mission trip challenges our spiritual disciplines by forcing us to trust the Lord in ways that go beyond the normal day to day life of home. I first learned to share my faith during preparation for a mission trip and the first time I did so was as a high school student on that trip to Pittsburgh, doing home visits for a church.
Mission trips bring some urgency to our faith and the application of it that is needed. Some of my best worship experiences have been with a group getting ready to go on mission. Just recently we were at the University of Texas Baptist Student Ministry commissioning service for their summer missionaries. As we sang worship songs and prayed for the students who were going around the world on mission the intensity of the worship was much different that the typical worship service. The words of the songs had a stronger meaning to all of us. Everyone knew that the challenges of faith would be great and the need for trust in the Lord was paramount.
3. A good mission trip encourages those who are serving on the field, whether they are missionaries or indigenous church members. When possible we love to take trips that are connected to a local church. No matter where that church is or how big that church is, when a group comes to stand alongside them and assist them in their efforts to reach their community, it is an encouragement.
Sometimes we are more involved with missionaries, especially in foreign countries. As much trouble as short term mission groups can be, when a group comes with the goal of encouraging and assisting, not correcting or patronizing, it serves as a great encouragement to the vocational missionaries. Those who give their lives. and the lives of their families, need to know that there are others praying for them, thankful for them, supporting them and eager to help them.
4. A good mission trip makes the team members better church members and better Christians when the trip is over. Those who take on spiritual challenges with faith responses grow in their walk and become better disciples when they get home. It is the natural pattern of growth and the natural result of seeing life differently. Students gain a greater appreciation of what they have had all along. Adults often come home to see ways they can apply new skills learned on the field to their home mission field. Mission team members become better financial supporters of all mission work and of church budgets. A church will never regret sending people to the mission field.
5. A good mission trip program results in more people responding to vocational ministry and mission calls. Short term trips open the door for us to consider long term mission work. Countless thousands over the years point back to a mission trip where they clearly heard the call of the Lord on their lives. By making sure we send this generation to the field, we plant seeds of faith that will bring a harvest of missionaries to the world.
I believe in mission trips. We began ETC Ministries with the goal of helping churches get on the mission field, connect to new opportunities and become more mission minded. My hope is that we see many more Christians begin to plan, prepare and go. “We can, if we will!”
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