What to Know Before Your First Short-Term Mission Trip - Radical

What to Know Before Your First Short-Term Mission Trip

Not all short-term mission trips are created equal. Short-term mission trips can be unhelpful and unhealthy for team members and host missionaries alike. However short-term mission trips can benefit all involved parties. I want to walk through a few diagnostic questions to ask before you embark on your next short-term trip. These questions will help you have a trip that is more likely to have a lasting gospel impact for your good, the good of the workers you are supporting, and the good of the people you serve. 

Why am I going on this trip in the first place?

Before you read any further, stop and ask yourself: Why do I want to go on this trip? What are your objectives? What do you hope to get out of it? The truth is, that too many short-term mission trips are glorified vacations. You might plan on going to a refugee camp, but the main attraction is the long weekend on the Mediterranean. There’s nothing wrong with being excited to explore a new part of the world; just make sure your experience isn’t the load-bearing wall of your short-term trip house. 

Missions is a bad avenue for self-actualization.

Missions is a bad avenue for self-actualization. Don’t spend all the money required for international travel just to do some good deeds to feel good about yourself. Lots of short-term trips start with the best intentions but slide unwittingly into paternalism and racism with the mindset to help those “poor, pitiful people.” If you notice an air of self-righteousness in your motivation, take a step back and be honest about your heart before the Lord.

People interested in mid or long-term missions should try to go on a short-term trip or two first, preferably in the area or with the team they’d like to join. Getting a feel for life on the field is a great reason to go on a short-term trip. However, make sure your expectations are realistic. Short-term trips are just that—short. If you are hoping to get an exhaustive picture of the dynamics of missionary life, you might be disappointed. Expect a snapshot as you consider your long-term calling with your church. 

What’s the connection to long-term relationships and strategy?

The worst short-term trips have no meaningful connection to long-term work and strategy in the area. Talk to your trip leader about who you are going to be working with. Ask them why your team has chosen to visit them and join in their work. Does your church or organization have a personal connection to your hosts? All relationships have to start somewhere, of course—maybe this is the first trip your group has taken to this particular place—but successful short-term trips have more than that week or two in-country on their horizon. 

Take evangelism for example. It’s great to join your missionary partners in evangelism. However, your efforts should be connected to a local church that can fold new believers into their number to teach them everything Jesus has commanded, offering a concrete plan for follow-up to the men, women, and children that you are helping evangelize. 

Short-term trips work best as one aspect of a substantial gospel partnership. Your church’s supported workers are ideal hosts for trips because you’ve invested time and money in the relationship. They’ve likely visited your church and you can have confidence in their ministry before you ever step foot on foreign soil. 

Who’s serving whom?

Prepare for your trip with the posture of a servant. Your hosts are likely busy people with joyful, yet challenging ministries. Don’t place the additional burden of trying to entertain you on their backs. Consider ways to put their interests above your own. Offer to do tasks that don’t make for epic postcards back home: babysit their kids, renovate a church building, or sit with them and ask how they are doing. 

Offer to do tasks that don’t make for epic postcards back home.

Overall, work to enhance their ministry, not distract from it until you get back on the plane home. Try to leave the situation better than how you found it. Doing so will be a huge blessing to the missionaries and will in turn bless you for knowing you have been a genuine blessing. 

There’s no reason your short-term trip can’t be fruitful and encouraging. Answer these questions as best as you can before you go, and pray for God to use your trip for his glory among the nations.

Colton Corter

Colton Corter lives in Richmond, Virginia. He and his wife have three boys and are members of River City Baptist Church.


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