Before You Fly!
A short term missions trip can be a life changing experience. When you take the time to immerse yourself in a completely new and unfamiliar culture, you’ll receive a certain perspective that will forever alter how you look at life and those around you. You’ll even begin to see and notice things within your own culture that you take for granted and perhaps some elements that need to be changed. Your world-view shapes who you are in every way. Hopefully your time abroad will expand that view into one that is more internationally informed and spiritually focused.
When outside the USA, the most noticeable differences will be seen in three areas: ethnicity, language and culture. Each of these will come with its own unique challenges that might possibly make you feel out of place or vulnerable. This can easily be remedied by taking time to prepare yourself so you know what to expect, what you’ll be doing and what you can do now to be ready for your trip.
1. Ethnic Differences
Ethnicity is all about one’s background, ancestry or special defining marks of the society in which he/she is born. Ethnicity touches aspects of life ranging from religion and one’s physical appearance to common foods and how people dress. These differences will be easily seen as they’re the most visible when touching down in a foreign country.
2. Linguistic Differences
Unless English is the national language, it won’t take long for you to realize that everyone sounds different and you have no idea what’s being said… anywhere! Be prepared for this and come with a pocket dictionary or language app to assist in your travels. If possible, have key phrases memorized so you can at least find the nearest taxi or restroom. 😉
3. Cultural Differences
People interact socially and acquire specific traits that are shared by members of that society. This is culture. The more you learn about people in the country you’re visiting, the more you’ll start to see shared beliefs, values, habits, traditions, and unique ways of doing things. Culture isn’t about genetics but rather learned behaviors. This means that while difficult, one can adapt to a different culture that they weren’t born into.
Are you physically prepared?
Trips to majority world countries are not for the feint of heart. This isn’t meant as a challenge but as a fact and reality check. One who is interested in taking on this type of adventure should be aware of their own limitations before making this commitment. We live in Africa. This is one of the most brutal and harsh environments on the planet and just about every insect, animal or reptile is poisonous and can cause immense pain or death. In addition to this, many of the diseases that have been eradicated in the first world are quite prevalent in Zambia, some of which include Yellow Fever, Typhoid, Giardia, Dengue Fever and Malaria. Now, the chance of contracting any of these are quite minimal but at some point, we or people we know have beat the odds. Take precautions and be wise to learn what’s on the ground. Months before your trip start a regimented exercise plan to stay healthy and as a friend once told me, “Take lots of vitamin C!”
Are you spiritually ready?
Mission trips usually involve both physical and spiritual work. One of the best things you can do in preparing for ministry overseas is to involve yourself in ministry Stateside. If you’re not active in serving others where you live then you’ll struggle just as much in a foreign country. The truth is that taking an international trip will bring out the best in people and also the worst. You’ll be pushed to your limits in ways you never imagined while working with little to no sleep. How you react to situations with your team will set the whole pace for the trip. Remember to show grace to others for the sake of the team and for the cause of Christ. Be quick to encourage those in your team that you may see struggling along the way. Before and during your trip, make sure you have a quiet moment each morning to center yourself, pray and meditate in the Scriptures. Ask God to prepare your heart to be used in any way He chooses.
Questions to ask yourself before boarding the plane:
- What are my motives or reasons behind wanting to go on a missions trip?
- Based on my current motives, if I started my journey today, what would be my primary focus throughout my time abroad?
- Is my relationship with God at a place where I feel comfortable to help others with their spiritual problems or needs?
- Am I physically, emotionally and spiritually ready to travel in a harsh environment?
- What will be my primary purpose on the team?
- In what ways will I be able to contribute to my team’s goals and objectives while abroad? Am I aware of these goals and am I prepared to assist if called upon?
- Am I willing to follow instructions, even if they don’t make sense or I don’t agree?
- Am I willing to go outside my comfort zone and do things that I’m not used to?
- Am I up-to-date with all my vaccines and is my passport current within the proposed time frame of the trip?
- Am I financially able to save enough money to cover all the expenses for this trip?
- What are my own personal expectations for this endeavor outside the United States?
Being prepared as much as you can will ensure a safe and profitable trip. You’ll learn so many invaluable lessons and make memories that will last a lifetime! If you’ve traveled before, share something you learned in the comments below!
Safe journey and God speed!