Eleven Factors For Helpful Short-Term Trips

As one who grew up as a TCK and who has also served as a missions pastor and as a missionary, I have seen my fair share of short-term trips. Most of them were a blessing. A few went off the rails. All of them were costly, both to those who invested their time and money to go, and to the missionary teams that received them. Over time, our own set of best or preferred practices for short-term trips has emerged. The following is a list for your consideration the next time you are involved in this kind of trip.

  1. Actually take a trip to serve your missionaries. Short-term trips are an important way to partner with and care for the missionaries your church has sent out or closely supports. Visits from friends and pastors can mean a lot to those on the field and provide timely encouragement and support, and modern air travel makes this surprisingly accessible. It’s not a bad goal to plan at least one trip per term. This will help the church to pray in a more informed way and deepen the rope-holding relationship, as well as provide insight into what kind of distance pastoral care is needed. If you have a missionary serving somewhere, your church or pastors should be willing to visit them. Some single women or families with small children serve in dangerous places overseas, but the church leadership isn’t sure it’s wise to visit them due to safety concerns. This is disheartening to those on the field. If we send them to dangerous places where they live daily with risk, we must be willing to visit them and share with them in that potential suffering.
  2. Know what kind of trip it is. There are different kinds of short-term trips. A team could be involved in visiting new areas to help missionaries gain access, building relationships with locals that residential workers could later build upon. Or they could be doing projects that strengthen the work identity of the missionaries. These could be things like English camps, medical trainings, or service projects. There are short-term teams that focus primarily on sharing the gospel and those that focus on doing trainings for local believers or leaders. Some short-term teams focus primarily on caring for TCKs or investing pastorally in the missionaries. Others are vision trips, where a potential partner church comes mainly to build the new relationship and better understand how to partner, or where missionary candidates come to see if God is calling them that particular place or team. The key is to know beforehand what kind of a trip it is and therefore what the appropriate goals are – and for this to be agreed upon ahead of time by both the short-term team leadership and the missionaries on the ground.
  3. Send qualified people on the team. Send the kind of people who add value to the team according to what kind of trip it is. Even though it can be hard to recruit for trips, it is far better to have a smaller team than one full of people who shouldn’t be there. I remember one trip in my middle school years that included teenagers from a youth group who were struggling with their faith and with drug use. Maybe the logic was that the trip would be a shot in the arm for them spiritually, but the level of immaturity of the team members caused quite the headache for the missionaries on the ground. While a short-term trip is a great opportunity to disciple those on the trip, aim to primarily send team members who fit with the nature of the trip and will be a blessing to those they are visiting.
  4. Ask about what you can bring over. It can be surprising what is and is not available in the markets of foreign countries. There are almost always baking items that are hard to come by, or just favorite foods that aren’t available locally. We have often had teams bring over good coffee, pre-cooked bacon, our daughter’s diabetic devices, homeschool curriculum, and a good book or two for me also. The key is to offer ahead of time to bring things over in your luggage and to not assume you know what they need. After carrying over antibiotics for friends in China, I took some with me on a visit to friends in Central Asia, only to find out that they were easily accessible in the local pharmacies there. You can also very helpfully carry things back to the home country for your missionaries, such as kids artwork to send to the grandparents.
  5. Learn about your destination’s culture, norms, and security beforehand. Request a summary orientation beforehand so that your team knows the basics of how to dress, how to conduct themselves with locals, and how to talk about the nature of the trip. For trips to our part of Central Asia, it’s important that women and men dress smartly and modestly, and that they know to avoid physical contact with the opposite gender. They should also have a STS (short truthful statement) about the trip if asked by security officials or other locals. We also need to prep teams about which vocabulary they need to avoid, such as the name of our organization, or terms like missionary or evangelism. While you’ll likely receive some kind of orientation on the ground, you’ll want to know some of the most important things before you ever get on the plane.
  6. Bring enough cash or credit to cover everything. This is one simple way to bless those you’re visiting and to acknowledge the costs they are incurring by hosting the team. When I was a missions pastor I was given a generous budget and orders from our elders to not let our missionaries pay for anything when our team was on the ground. While I wasn’t always able to outmaneuver them, most of the time we covered all our expenses and the expenses of the family or team hosting us. From being on the receiving end of teams now for seven years, I know how helpful this kind of a posture can be. Planning is needed, however, if it’s a cash-only economy or if Western credit cards don’t work or aren’t accepted at local merchants. But in general, bring more cash than you think you’ll need. You may discover a significant financial need while on the ground and be able to cover it on the spot.
  7. Go hard while on the trip. Short-term trips are not a marathon, they are a sprint, so go hard while on the trip. Stay up late having pastoral conversations. Take that extra trip to visit isolated believers. Take part in potentially uncomfortable cultural experiences and cuisine (and bring your stomach meds). Preach last-minute if invited to. Short-term trips are not set up to be spiritual retreats or vacations, so gird up your loins, ready to work hard without grumbling. On the other hand, if the missionaries plan a slower pace for the week than you were hoping for, then use that time in prayer and exploring the local area.
  8. Invest spiritually in the missionaries and the TCKs. Missionaries are often in roles where they are constantly pouring out spiritually, whether sharing the gospel, discipling, teaching and preaching, or training leaders. They are in need of others to pour into them. Don’t underestimate how life-giving it can be to have friends open the word with you in your own language and pray for you. Don’t worry about needing to have missions-specific content to encourage them with. Simply point them to the gospel and to the character of God and this will be for them like drinking water in the desert. Speaking of water in the desert, offer to watch the kids so that parents can go on a rare date night and have the chance to connect deeply with one another also. And when spending time with the TCKs, really invest in them. Teach them new skills, learn their stories, and delight in them.
  9. Invest in the local believers. I have often been surprised at the lack of initiative short-term teams and visitors have taken when we are spending time with local believers who speak English. If you have the privilege of spending time with local believers on your trip, by all means, seek to make the most of the opportunity. Ask them their testimony. Tell them yours. Share what God has been teaching you and ask them what they have been learning. These conversations can be more impactful than you’d expect and can lend some welcome backup to the missionaries who are investing in these relationships. In the age of social media, you may also end up with a new long-term friend on the other side of the world.
  10. Invest in the short-term team itself. I remember hearing David Platt once speak about the tremendous discipleship opportunity provided with the team members on a short-term trip. It makes sense. Similar to a pilgrimage, a short term trip to another country can be a time of unique spiritual focus and intentionality. God can use these trips to implant a love of the nations, to spur on toward greater faithfulness, and to provide needed renewal in spiritual passion. So don’t neglect the members of the team itself and what God may be doing in their lives.
  11. Watch out for the trip home. Finally, be aware of the adrenaline drop that happens once the team gets on the plane to head home. After a week of pouring out and serving others, at this point its easy to feel entitled to some “me time” and to get short with the other members of the team. Even the thought of getting back to life as usual can bring some sadness and grumpiness. This final leg is not a throw-away part of the trip, but an important time, especially for the trip leaders, to care for the team and help them finish well.

Photo by Ross Parmly on Unsplash

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