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Short Term Missions | Aligning Training

Short-Term Missions | Long-Term Impact IV

· Mission,Equipping

Heads up! This is the fourth post in a series on Short-Term Missions...

#1 Relocating What We Mean by "Mission"

#2 Foundations

#3 T.E.A.M.

Think for a moment about the last trip you went on. Where did you go? What did you do? What did you take along with you? If you're anything like me you probably prepared for the trip based upon what you expected to get out of it. When I travel for a conference I'm sure to bring my MacBook, iPad, and iPhone along with printouts of the schedule and any session I might be leading. However, when I travel for leisure I leave most of those behind in favor of a good book and some snacks! You see, whether or not we're conscious of it we tend to prepare for things with the end in mind.

Structuring mission trip training, while different in practice, is no different in principle. In this post we'll explore how to can effectively and efficiently structure training to ensure a successful experience for all involved. Perhaps the most common question I'm asked regarding mission trip training is "What should we do to prepare?" Over the course of a decade of leading a missions program, as well as leading specific trips, I've found it helpful to categories training elements into five blocks. We'll take a look at each of these individually, exploring the Why as well as the How, and then bring them together to "backwards plan" our trip training.

Service and Outreach

All outreach and service you intend to render should be directly in line with what the host organization hopes for and expects. Do not hesitate to ask them what they actually want from you and if they are vague keep pressing until you get something from them that's actionable and within your ability. For example, in Myanmar our VASE team conducts a week-long program that includes: tutoring, recreational activities, and chapels. Thus we need to prepare four 1-hour long chapels, a total of 12 hours of teaching (for 3 separate groups), and various songs and dances for a closing performance. Additionally, we make plans for recreation activities such as crafts, nail painting, and playground style games. In Indonesia, we serve in a Muslim villages doing basic construction work and sports camps and so much of our training is geared towards general physical preparedness. Additionally, since open evangelism is prohibited in Indonesia our spiritual focus tends to be more towards personal growth.

Since every trip will be unique in its service and outreach it's most expedient here to emphasis the importance of attitude of service rather than the type of service. Reflecting with your team on the character traits of humility, compassion, conviction, enthusiasm, and boldness will transfer to a wide range of outreach and service activities. That said, here are a number of things to consider preparing for if you're not sure where to begin:

  •  Demonstrate how to share a testimony and pray for someone.
  •   Prepare Bible / VBS lessons.
  •   Create english lessons or cross-cultural activities.
  •   Prepare games, songs, skits crafts, small gifts, etc.

Health and Safety

Minimizing the inherent danger of a trip should be a top priority well before the departure date. With buses, flights, food, heat, and other concerns there are plenty of things that can go wrong if appropriate steps aren't taken to prepare everyone. During the sign up process ask each member to give a thorough statement of their general health, allergies, prior injuries, ailments, and blood type. The more information the better. As you look over the trip agenda list out potential dangers and how they might be addressed. Simply listing these out and talking through them with all trip members and parents can help a great deal.

For example, in our trips to Nepal we create a gameplan for how to address altitude sickness, hiking fatigue, stomach bugs, and lack of drinkable water. Below is a list of general preparedness steps we take with our teams.

Health and Safety prep:

  • Run simulations of what you might encounter (such as sleeping outdoors).
  • Do fitness activities related to your trip (such as hiking or sports).
  • Explain the importance of basic hygiene and staying hydrated with clean water.
  • Learn small wound treatment and basic 1st Aid.
  • Discuss frequent symptoms to be aware of (such as headaches and disrupted bowel movements).
  • Collect all emergency contact information for each member. 
  • Require all participants to visit a physician in the early phases of trip preparation. 
  • Provide each member with access to the CDC page for the location.
  • Role play the difference between safe and foolish behavior in situations. 

Spiritual Growth

If nothing else our participation in God's mission should cause us to more fully grow into our foundational calling as children of God. Ephesians 2:10 states, “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” The word workmanship is the Greek word poiema, which literally means “masterpiece.” In fact, it is the very word that the English language uses for “poem”. Spiritual formation is the continual process of one’s soul, body, and lifestyle being transformed to greater Christlikeness through purposeful interaction with God’s Spirit.

Allocating training time to bring the entire group closer to each other and Christ through prayer, Scripture reading, and worship causes each gathering time to be powerful. It reminds us of the the basis for our work and the empowerment available to us through the Holy Spirit. Surveying your team members’ current faith status will help inform how to frame this portion of your training. The activities and themes below tend to work well for a wide variety of groups.


  • Devotionals and reflection time.
  • Corporate or individual prayer.
  • Sharing of testimonies.
  • Journalling


  • Mission: John 3:16; Matthew 28:11
  • Service: Mark 9:33-37; Philippians 2:1-11
  • Godly Love: 1Corinthians 13:1-8; John 13:34-35
  • Unity: 1 Peter 3:8, Philippians 2:2
  • Christlike attributes: Gal. 5:22-26

Building Resonance

In his book Primal Leadership, Daniel Goleman offers a compelling case for the importance resonance within a team. Simply put resonance is the phenomena that occurs in a group when there is unity, understanding, trust, and synergy towards a common goal. We've all been there before: those moments when the team seems to be firing on all cylinders and everyone is so locked into each other it feels as if there's a conversation taking place between all members at a subconscious level. Investing time towards establishing and building resonance within a team pays of great dividends throughout the course of the journey. The opposite, of course, is dissonance that feeling of disconnect, disenchantment, frustration, and isolation. Below are three ideas to consider to build resonance for your team.

Fun: An expedient way to generate resonance is to have fun! Research has shown that laughter is the fastest way for an individual's limbic system (our brain's emotional wiring) to sync with another; thereby making people feel happy and at ease. From silly team building games, to sharing funny stories, to going to a trampoline park together; opportunities for fun are readily at your disposal. A personal favorite of mine is just playing fortress dodgeball; yeah... creative huh! The activity itself isn't the point; getting everyone moving, laughing and syncing is.

Sharing: The act of sharing (time, thoughts, and even food) enhances resonance by promoting empathy. Talking through hopes, fears, and concerns reminds everyone that we're human. It also puts others at ease when they see that someone else feels the way they do. A low risk activity to initiate sharing is to have students write their Hopes and Fears on post-it notes and stick them to a wall (this can be anonymous). Give everyone time to read through what was written and ask them to select one hope and fear that they connect with. Have everyone sit in a circle and talk through what they selected and why. In doing so the anonymous person was advocated for and the speaker has practiced empathy.

Self-Management: Not all persons in your team will have equal influence in the emotional climate of your group. In fact, it's likely that the trip leader has the greatest influence of all. In order to ensure your words, demeanour, and actions enhance resonance be mindful of yourself. Here are a list of attributes to consider:

  •  Flexibility: Willing to adapt to changing situations and environment.
  • Achievement: A drive to improve oneself to meet personal standards for excellence
  • Transparency: Displaying honesty and integrity; authenticity.
  • Hopefulness: Intent on seeing the “upside” of events.
  • Self-Control: Keeping disruptive emotions and impulses under control.
  • Empathy: Awareness of and concern for the feelings and perspectives of others.
  • Development: Strengthening others through encouragement, cooperation, and feedback.
  • Building bonds: Cultivating and painting a web of relationships.

Cross-Cultural Preparedness

Perhaps a story is in order:

A typhoon stranded a monkey on an island. In a protected place on the shore, while waiting for the raging waters to recede, he spotted a fish swimming against the current. It seemed to the monkey that the fish was struggling and needed assistance. Being of kind heart, the monkey resolved to help the fish.

A tree leaned precariously over the spot where the fish seemed to be struggling. At considerable risk to himself, the monkey moved far out on a limb, reached down, and snatched the fish from the waters. Scurrying back to the safety of his shelter, he carefully laid the fish on dry ground. For a few moments, the fish showed excitement but soon settled into a peaceful rest.

— An Old Eastern Parable

This story is as humorous as it is indicting of any work we may do when we lack cultural intelligence.

The very fact that you and your team will be serving those who are Other guarantees that some level of cross-cultural interaction will take place; even if you're traveling nearby. David Livermore, executive director of the Global Learning Center at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, has done great work in the field of cultural intelligence. In essence this the ability to empathize with those who are Other, navigate through internal and external cues, and arrive at a greater level of appreciation. My teams have incorporated following practices with great success to build greater cross-cultural preparedness:

  • Embracing "Different":  Rather than dismissing things as "weird" or "gross", it's best to just call them "different". This helps us to not be pejorative towards our host culture when we encounter things that aren't customary for us.
  • Food: People connect with food on deeply personal levels and sharing meals is key for deep relationships. If at all possible eat what and how you will eat once on the trip. In preparing for a trip to Nepal my team had a great time learning to eat lentils and rice completely with our hands!
  •  Cultural Research: Prior to training do research on the location and its demographics to have the basics of population, income, language, age, and such ready for your team. I typically make a 3-5 page handout for students and parents to familiarize themselves with the location. Assigning additional cultural "homework" is a great way to keep the trip in people's minds when you're unable to meet. Creating a social media thread for members to post their findings is an organic way to build collective knowledge.

Putting it all together

As an example here is the outline of one training session for a recent trip to Myanmar. See how many of the training elements you can spot!

Well there you have it, aligning training! Is there anything you'd add or ask? Let me know below! Want to connect? Shoot me a line, I'd love to chat!

If you found this useful at all please share or comment below... it really means a lot:) Up next we'll take a look at the logistical crud that comes a long with trip leading.

Until next time,

Keep giving what you have to give.

- Eddie

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