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Short-Term Missions | Navigating Logistics

Short-Term Missions | Long-Term Impact V

· Mission,Equipping

Before you start... 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.

#4 Aligning Training

Each summer, as we prepare to return to California, my wife and I compile a list of what we need to take out, what we need to bring back, and what we need to accomplish. Since she's significantly more thorough than I am her list is considerably longer! Having these things listed out with their corresponding dates helps us to plan the rest of our vacation to make it as enjoyable as possible. We've accounted for what we have to do and when; the rest is chill time!

Preparing for a mission trip comes with its own unique set of logistical concerns. Depending on the type of trip and the organization you're working with your list might have a few items or as many as twenty. Below are the logistical considerations that are common to a missions program:

There's no way we can cover every logistical concern in one post. First off, there's simply too many of them and second everyone's organization and situation is too unique. Fortunately, some have been addressed in the previous posts T.E.A.M. and Aligning Training. For now we'll look at four items: Budget, Applications, Communication, Travel Prep.

Budget

Your operating budget is determined by the total funds necessary to pull off the trip. It helps to begin by doing some informed guess work on all the known expenses. That means doing things like checking Amazon for cost of supplies, Expedia for cost of flights, and getting an estimate from your local contact for expenses during the trip. I recommend adding a 5-10% buffer just to be safe; you don't want to set the trip cost too low only to ask participants for more money later. Below is an example budget from a past trip to Myanmar. Note that Korean Won is being used as the primary currency which makes things fun when we receive quotes in both US Dollar and Burmese Kyat! BTW, I use Google Sheets for budgeting as it's easy to set up a template and saves changes in realtime.

For this trip our total expenses were around 28,000,0000 KRW (about 27,000 USD - we'll use USD from now on for convenience) with an estimated 23 total participants. From there we're able to divide up the cost per person. For this GSIS trip I've structured payments so that the leader pays 1/3 and chaperones pay 1/2 the amount of standard participants. Since the leader and chaperones are doing extra work before, during, and after the trip I feel this compensation is well warranted - you can adjust this ratio as your organization sees fit. This is what the payments will boil down to: One trip leader pays 350 USD, two chaperones pay 700 USD (each), and 19 participants pay 1,400 USD (each). Our total paid in is 28,350 which gives us plenty left over for miscellaneous expenses, an emergency fund, and even a celebration dinner for participants and their families.

Applications

It's best to set your application open and close dates in tandem with the amount of preparation needed and when you'll purchase flight tickets. At GSIS we typically begin our annual launch about 6 months prior to the actual trip. This provides us plenty of time to have to filter all applications - around 100 for 6 trips- and have multiple "backs and forths" with our local host and travel agents. Be sure that a simple and clearly articulated application process is prepared in advance for potential participants to follow. On gsisvase.com we've distilled the process like this:

When setting up your application consider the following:

  • Decide between what info you need at the beginning of sign-ups and what info you can collect at a later date.
  • Choose a method / program that is easily accessible for applicants and allows you to format and sort according to your needs. We like Google Forms @ GSIS. Feel free to have a gander at one of our past forms for ideas.
  • Have a mandatory Safety Waiver / Indemnity Agreement for all participants to sign. This should be prepared in conjunction with your organization's legal counsel. 
  • Include a few action items in your form. This helps ensure people are actively thinking through what's presented to them. For example, on a page that has important dates our form has a heading that "Important Information: Read, then add it to your calendar." 
  • Set and communicate clear timelines for the application process: 1) Completing the Form, 2) Submitting Documentation, 3) Payment, etc.

Communication

Good communication is absolutely essential for your team's success. With 6 months between initial sign-ups to the actual departure date I try to not go more than 2 -3 weeks with at least communicating something to our stakeholders.

Communication Basics:

  • Be as concise as possible and when you need to go long (although you probably don't!) include a TLDR version at the top or bottom.
  • Leverage a social media platform if possible. Creating a FaceBook group allows everyone to stay connected without having to wade through multiple email threads and even allows you to create polls and set event dates. Our school happens to use Schoology so that's what we do.
  • It's typically best to reserve sensitive and disciplinary topics for face-to-face conversations. The power of  vocal tone and non-verbal cues cannot be overstated.
  • Mix it up! In one post you can highlight a social issue taking place in your destination and ask participants to reply with their thoughts on it. In another you can share a Bible verse to encourage the group. 

Below are some additional thoughts for communicating with specific groups:

With Participants:

  • Include something actionable. Most of my posts include action items such as "Upload a photo of all the stuff you plan to bring." when I post about packing. This way I know they've not only read the post but have reflected on it to some degree.
  • Communicate important information more than once and in different ways. Let's say you're really trying to get the idea of having a servant's heart across to your team. In one post you can share a thought from Philippians 2 and how it describes the humility of Christ and in another you can take time to recognize members for the ways they've been serving each other.

With Parents (if your trip has students):

  • Introduce yourself early on; taking time to explain who you are and your hopes for the entire experience.
  • Provide parents with as much information and documentation you can. I provide parents links to the CDC, a cultural handout, a list of participants, important dates, packing list, and a basic schedule of our trip. Not only is this important information to have it also reassures them that you've thought through the things that concern them.
  • Invite parents to an info session with you. Often times they prefer having a face to connect with rather than just an email account.

With Local Hosts:

Your work as a cross-cultural missionary begins long before you ever step foot on foreign soil. The people you will serve alongside of in other places will have their own assumptions and ideas of what a healthy partnership should look like. The following values will help guide you through a positive experience with foreign contacts:

  • Keep in mind that your role is to support them in their God-given ministry and all your communications should reflect this.
  • Consider how cultural differences (which you should have researched) can affect your interactions. For example, with one location I begin my emails with "Dear brothers in Christ,"  as this form of salutation is common among churches.
  • Take the input and advice of local hosts seriously. They know the culture and context far better than you.
  • Do not hesitate to ask for clarity regarding any uncertain details of the trip. At times local hosts will leave out information that you feel is important for the simple fact that they're not approaching the trip from the same vantage point as you.
  • When making requests do so in a spirit of humility. 

Travel Prep

Booking Flights:

  • Using a travel agent or booking the flights on your own is really a matter of preference. I've found that when booking flights for 100 participants on six trips having a travel agent makes things a lot easier. However, if the number is smaller (say less than a dozen) it may be advantageous to book your own. When working with a travel agent explain to them you'll need their support in investigating visas, travel insurance, and fight cancellation policies.
  • While its true that flight costs can drop as the departure date approaches don't tempt fate. We had a near disastrous experience one year when our agent waited for ticket prices to drop only to learn that they had become unavailable!
  • Consider the route you'll take including departure and arrival times. Ask your local host for suggestions as you might find you'll need to pay extra for an overnight bus or something along those lines. 
  • Depending upon the distance you travel make preparations for jet lag.
  • For international travel investigate the visa application process for the location you'll travel to. You'll need to be aware of essential documentation, cost, and estimated visa arrival time.
  • For international travel ensure that each member has at least 6 months remaining on their passport from the date of your departure. If your trip is January 2nd, 2018 then each passport must be valid until at least June 2nd, 2018.
Packing List:

As obvious as it sounds I should state that what you pack will be determined by where you are going. When preparing a packing list I like to organize it by mandatory and optional. I simply tell my team that everything in the mandatory section must be in your bag and IF you have space feel free to include things from the optional section. Below is a packing list I made for an in-country trip with 8th graders. An out-of-country trip packing list would be largely similar but would also include things like passports, travel clothes, and money in the local currency.

Depending on the rigor of the trip I've found it helpful to conduct a packing simulation as part of training. Simply provide members with the packing list in advance and instruct them to show up to training with everything they would bring if they were leaving for the trip that day. Ask them to keep track of the time it took them to pack as well. During training have everyone empty their bags and arrange their stuff to see how it fares alongside other members and most importantly the packing list. I also use this time to show how I pack and give them a few tips I've learned along the way (like using compression bags to minimize space).

Smooth Travel:

Things are going to be hectic on your departure day so it's important to take steps to minimize any undue stress as you travel. These tips might help:

  • Give yourself more time than you think you need at the airport. Checking in large groups takes considerably more time than it does for personal travel. I typically shoot for three hours at the airport as this gives everyone time to get coffee, eat, and exchange money. 
  • Depending upon how much you trust your team you might want to collect passports in advance and only give them to trip members when checking in and going through immigration. I still remember they day when I found out a student (not on my team!) placed his passport into his CHECKED LUGGAGE for safekeeping!
  • When passing through immigration and boarding the plane it's a good idea to have one adult in front and one adult behind so that all students are accounted for. 
  • Before letting members wander off designate a meeting time at your flight gate for the entire team.
  • Confirm with your chaperones that all members have boarded the plane.
  • Use your time on the plane to relax and unwind.

Well that wraps up our time on navigating through logistics! Is there anything you'd add or like me to cover? Let me know in the comment section below! See those social media icons at the bottom? Go ahead and click one to share this blog - it would mean a lot to me:)

Up next we'll take a look at how to thrive on the field. Until then,

Keep giving what you have to give.

- Eddie

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