Many Christians have the heart and good intention to help others, especially those in other countries who are without resources and the gospel. For many Christians, they don’t know where to go with their intentions. They need insight, opportunity, and connection. Mission trips and organizations are perfect ways to develop a missional mindset and lifestyle.
What is a missionary trip? A missionary trip is a trip to another city, state, country, or continent done by a religious organization. Christian mission trips tend to focus on spiritual development, community development, and holistic humanitarian type aid. The priority of Christian mission trips is to share the gospel of Jesus Christ and bring others to salvation through faith. They also work to improve the quality of life and care for those in need.
Before choosing a mission trip, you should be aware of what different trips are available. You should know what to expect, the benefits, struggles, and what to avoid. Continue reading to find the best trip that works for you as an individual.
Types of Trips & What to Expect
There are various types of Christian mission trips. These vary based on duration, focus, location, and need. The purpose of the trip also impacts the type of work that is done. For example, shorter-term trips tend to focus on training individuals for missions and preparing them for discipleship. Longer-term mission trips focus on the area and community in which they reside.
Long-term missionaries may work with short-term missionaries to complete projects in a cost-effective and time-conscious manner. Additionally, they may provide experience to inexperienced Christians who are seeking to do missions or ministry. This can be a great way for believers to gauge where they need to grow and where the Lord might be leading them.
No matter your experience with missions or ministry, there is a mission trip for you. You can help no matter your skill level, age, or life experience. However, there are some things to avoid on mission trips, which we will discuss later. First, we will look at the types of mission trips and what to expect in each one.
Short-term mission trips usually span from one week to a few weeks long. The work done on a short-term trip is alongside an organization, church, or long-term missionaries. Since the time spent is short, there isn’t as much that can be done. Short-term trips can open opportunities for evangelism, work within a local church or ministry, community outreach, and labor projects.
What to Expect:
- To fundraise or work to pay off the financial cost.
- Expect to see a lot of need that you will not be able to fully address. Prepare yourself to do the work that you are able to. Pray that God would raise up others to complete the work, or consider returning long-term.
- Evangelism, working within a local church, partnering with long-standing missionaries.
- Being led by other leadership, and assuming a position of service and humility.
- Having time to explore the area. Many areas, especially those visited by Western churches, allow the volunteers a day or so to tour the area. Some trips must include tourism since that is a part of the Visa expectation.
- Eat the food that is served to you. Most cultures overseas are hospitable. They will want to feed you. It is polite to eat their food.
- Confusing cultural differences. You may stumble upon cultural differences that you were not expected. Ask the long term missionaries or your translator what to expect and how to respond.
- You may be staying in a village, hotel, home, compound, or church.
Long-term mission trips occur for a year or more. They can be life-long, yet they aren’t always. Some missionaries will spend a stint in one overseas location and then move to a different culture or location. Long-term missionaries are usually sent by a supporting church or organization. However, missionaries can be self-supported and sustained.
What to Expect:
- Learning a new language.
- Learning a new culture, adapting and assimilating.
- Laying aside privilege, opportunities, and positions that you had in your home country.
- Leading others and potentially being the site leaders.
- Living in conditions that may not have electricity, running water, traditional homes, conveniences, or resources.
- Fundraising and relying on reliable supporters.
- Working a job in another country to support yourself or your family.
- Teaching locals and other missionaries to do the work of a missionary.
- Developing communities in a holistic manner. Focusing on spirit, mind, body, emotions, health, relationships, and finances.
- Being unwelcome and misunderstood. Not always seeing fruit in a timely manner and having unmet expectations.
- Facing difficulties and experiences that your friends and family back home won’t understand.
- At times feeling lonely and discouraged.
- Consistent reliance on God through prayer, worship, reading of scripture, fellowship, faith, and perseverance.
Priority projects tend to be done on short-term mission trips. An example of this is building a house, church, or a resource building in a community. However, priority projects can become long-term. Those who are gifted and skilled in areas such as business, health, teaching, and finance, may be called to work within an organization to fulfill a particular need.
I have a friend who’s family lived in Africa for five years because her father was called to train pastors and spiritual leaders. Furthermore, other individuals will live overseas for a specific purpose to train others or help an organization stay on its feet.
What to Expect:
- Expectations depend on the type of project, its duration, and the overall need.
- At times, but not always, priority projects seem to be focused on a physical need.
- Teaching valuable life skills that are practical enough for locals to complete on their own.
- Simplifying matters and creatively finding new ways to implement resources, according to what is possible and impossible in a certain culture or economy.
- Incorporating spiritual development in relationships. Don’t focus solely on work if you have the opportunity to share the gospel.
- Form relationships with those you are working with and with community members.
Trips that are focused solely on spiritual development will be less humanitarian. Meaning, the trip is not focused on supplying resources, training, or aid for physical needs. Rather, the purpose of the trip is to bring the gospel in a rapid amount of time and to further disciple those who already have the gospel.
One example of this includes the evangelistic work of Billy Graham and the like. Trips focused on spiritual development also include training sessions, the study of scripture, leading nonbelievers to Christ, and preparing others to continue the movement once the missionaries are gone.
What to Expect:
- Share the gospel.
- Pray for the sick, demon-possessed, mourning, hurting, lost, confused, and spiritually broken.
- Teach the scriptures and lead Bible studies.
- Preach messages to groups.
- Work one-on-one to disciple others.
- Plant churches.
- Train local leaders.
Holistic Focused Trips
As humans, we have various types of needs. We have spiritual, physical, mental, emotional, and relational needs. Of course, the redemption of spiritual depravity is our greatest need. However, scripture also makes it clear that as Christians we are to take care of other Christians in a holistic manner. We are also called to advocate for the oppressed, set the captive free, minister to the needs of others, and supply aid in physical needs.
Holistically focused mission trips can be short-term or long-term. These types of trips include in-depth spiritual development, as well as economic, social, communal, cultural, physical, and holistic development.
What to Expect:
- You will have the opportunity to evangelize, pray for others, form close relationships, disciple, teach, study scripture, and fellowship.
- You will be able to use your gifts to improve the quality of life within the community.
- The priority will be providing for both the spiritual and physical needs of individuals.
What to Avoid on Mission Trips
Many Christians go on mission trips with good intentions. Unknowingly, they may be creating more harm than good. There are a few things they should be aware of before going on a mission trip. Additionally, wrong motivation can cause issues for the missionary, and for the people on the other side.
- The “white savior” complex. Too often, Western missionaries go overseas and draw more attention to themselves than God. They lead in a dominating manner, instead of with humility, grace, and service, as Jesus demonstrated. These individuals use their money, resources, and knowledge and lord it over locals, at times without knowing it. They let their privilege esteem them as greater than the locals.
- Going for the experience, vacation or adventure. Think of the people in need and let this be your motivation. Don’t go on mission trips for selfish reasons. Think of these things as an added bonus. If you want a vacation go on a vacation and not a mission trip.
- Pushing your culture. Christianity is not cultural. The Christian way is not in Western culture or one culture in particular. Be careful that you are spreading the truth of scripture and not your own cultural bias.
- Judgment and pride. You do not have all the answers. Be teachable and learn from your teammates and from the locals. View them as people made in the image of God, just as you are. Ask questions and seek to understand, rather than advocate for yourself.
- Posting pictures in the wrong way. Too many people post vulnerable and personal pictures of the local people they worked with without thinking twice. If you do post pictures from your trip, be intentional and understanding about how those individuals would feel if they knew you were posting.
Here are some mission trips and organizations that I recommend.
If you have never been on a mission trip, a great place to start is through your local church. If you have already been on these types and trips and want greater experience and training, consider the following.
- LEAD Venture – This is a gap year program at Bethany Global University. Students receive 30 college credits, in-depth training on campus, a certification, and a 16-week overseas internship. Gap year students can return to the university to complete an Associate’s or Bachelor’s Degree.
- YWAM DTS – These schools are located globally and typically last from 3-9 months. Students do holistic mission work, including spiritual and physical development. They spend part of the DTS learning in the classroom and the other half in cross-cultural ministry.
- Bridge Street Ministries – This is also a gap year program that earns college credits in Grand Rapids Michigan. Students will spend the first three months in a classroom setting and ministering in an urban city. Next, students serve overseas for 3 months. The last 3 months are spent back on site to debrief and prepare students for their next step.
Long-term trips can be established individually, through a local church, additional network connections, or through an organization. Here are some of the best organizations, Universities, and programs for long-term missions.
- Bethany Global University – Provides fully accredited Bachelor’s degrees that are functional and practical. During the four years, students live overseas for 16 months to gain first-hand experience serving in another culture. After graduation, students can continue as missionaries for Bethany International or do missions independently or through another organization.
- Bethany International – Is a missions organization that works with unreached people groups of the 10/40 window. It trains, sends, and partners with other missionaries to take the church to where it is not and to help others do the same.
- Adventures in Missions – Works with all levels of mission work, from youth mission trips to adult mission trips and long-term work. These trips can focus on fulfilling spiritual, physical, and holistic needs globally. This organization trains missionaries and establishes them in long-term work.