Abbie Thiebaut of Experience Mission provides five great questions you should ask before leading a mission trip with your college students.
The spring and summer are the busiest season for mission trips. Whether you find yourself about to embark on a spring break trip or you’re questioning if a trip is even worth it for your group, we think there are a few questions you should ask yourself.
If you have ever attempted to plan a mission trip for your students, you know just how complicated it can be. From arranging transportation to finding a place to stay and organizing a meaningful outreach schedule, it can feel a bit overwhelming—even for the most seasoned ministry leader. Add in the negative stereotypes and problematic implications that short-term trips can often have, and you might find yourself asking, “Is it all worth it?” If this is you, we’ve compiled 5 incredibly helpful questions to ask before your mission trip.
1. Why are we going on a mission trip?
As you’re discerning what your group’s involvement in missions will look like this year, consider the reasons why you want to go in the first place. It can be so easy to start planning a mission trip simply because you feel like you have to—or because every other ministry you know is doing it—and totally miss the incredible experience a mission trip can be. Since a mission trip involves other people and cultures beyond just your students, it’s so important to identify what you actually hope happens on your trip. Hopefully, upon closer examination, you’re motivated to help your students serve others and engage with other cultures by learning and contributing in meaningful ways. Once you have a purpose and goal for your trip, you can start heading in that direction.
2. Who will benefit from this trip?
The easy answer here is, “our students.” Right now, you probably spend all day, every day focusing on your students’ personal growth and development. It’s only natural you would plan a trip with these things at the forefront of your mind. But there’s a bigger opportunity here, too. As you go and serve, do everything you can to keep the people you are serving at the center. Whether you’re building a school, hosting a kids program, or attending a local worship service, helping your students focus on building relationships with local community members will not only help the people you serve feel respected and honored, but it will increase the opportunities for learning, growth and meaning ten times over. This is the upside-down Kingdom of Jesus in action! By making your trip about the people you meet and their stories, your students will walk away immeasurably more changed than when you make it all about them and what they’re here to do.
3. How do we see ourselves?
There’s a natural tendency when we set out to serve to believe the work we do is going to “save” the community, and without us, all hope would be lost. Unintentionally, we start to see ourselves as “heroes” because we have time and resources to give to people who need them. But the truth is, wherever we go, God was present in that community long before we ever planned our trip. We are not the start or the end of the restorative plan God has for His people around the world, but we get to experience the joy of in being in the middle of it. Mission trips can absolutely provide life-changing experiences for the communities and people you serve, but the reality is this “superhero” mentality inhibits most of those transformative experiences from taking place. Instead, we must learn to view ourselves as one small part of the process of bringing hope and restoration.
4. How can we do it better?
We go on mission trips every year. It becomes routine. But each year, we should be asking ourselves these questions: Are there ways we can love people better? Ways we can listen and learn from people, upholding their dignity through each interaction? How can we make it less about ourselves and more about what God is doing? Being open to changing the way you serve will improve your trip experience in incredible ways. Ask good questions. Make sure your mission trip partner organization cares about dignity and relationships. Allow what’s happening within the local ministry to inform the ways you serve. As soon as we get complacent and just assume “a mission trip is a mission trip,” we lose sight of the reason we even felt the call to go on a mission trip in the first place—to love our neighbors as ourselves in big and powerful ways.
5. Why does any of this matter?
So… “Is it all worth it?” At Experience Mission, we believe the answer is “Absolutely!”—but only if we approach each trip with intentionality. Take the time to develop a philosophy of missions. Adopt core principles for your ministry which inform exactly why and how you serve. The growth of your students and the opportunity to make a huge impact (or hardly make one at all) is on the line. A mission trip can be about so much more than putting on a program or completing a work project. It can be a gateway into a life of service that forever changes the way we see the world.
If you’re not sure where to start, check out our approach to missions at Experience Mission and begin the journey toward your most meaningful mission trip experience yet.