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Short Term Missions | T.E.A.M.

Short-Term Missions | Long-Term Impact III

· Equipping,Mission

Over the past few years, as I've worked with our High School basketball team, a renewed interest in watching the NBA has grown. While I am unashamedly a LeBron James / Cavaliers fan I can't help but be impressed with the style of play demonstrated by the San Antonio Spurs. Cohesion, unselfishness, focus, teamwork; these words typify their unique brand of basketball which places even the most talented defensive units in a frenzy. As heartbroken as I was when they bested LeBron and the Miami Heat in the 2014 NBA Finals, I was even more amazed by their masterful ball movement. The video below typifies the approach of a team whose whole is more than the sum of its parts.

Team Basketball - beautiful to behold and tragic for the competition.

I'm sure many of us have encountered the acronym T.E.A.M. as Together Everyone Achieves More. As trite as the phrase is, it does seem to hold true. Great teams generate synergy that extends well beyond the prowess of any one person. However, we'll elicit a different acronym for our purposes of building a team for a short-term missions trip or program.

Short-Term Missions: Building your T.E.A.M.

Trust: The currency of relationships.

Expectations: The articulated values that guide behaviour.

Alignment: The structure to ensure goals are met.

Mentorship: The opportunity for growth throughout the journey.


Long before ever stepping foot on the mission field the currency of trust must flow freely and fluidly among a team. Like financial currency, its abundance creates a sense of safety and security while its lack can cause one to become apprehensive, fearful, and even desperate. We've all experienced the tension of relationships that have lost trust; this tension is amplified when out of the comfort zone of home. Thus, building and maintaining trust ought to be our first priority.

A quick Google search of "Trust Building Exercises" and "Team Building Exercises" will yield a host of potential activities that can help in establishing this all important factor. These are great opportunities for building trust, but to ensure these opportunities are maximized we must dig deeper. Some questions might prove helpful:

  • How can I as a leader demonstrate to my team I am worth trusting? (What are my qualifications? How is my character suitable for this role?)
  • What are some likely concerns my members will bring into this journey? (Have they been on a mission trip before? Do they demonstrate strong cross-cultural awareness?)
  • What is the current level of comfort within the team? (Do we already know each other? Are there any interpersonal issues to be aware of?)
  • ​What are key behaviours and attitudes that will either promote or obstruct trust? (Are these the same or different for students and adults? How can these be articulated to the group?)

At this point it should be apparent that working towards establishing trust cannot be done in isolation by the leader but must be a collaborative effort with all stake holders. I offer one activity that has helped my teams take initial strides towards accumulating trust. It is called "Our Circle":

"Our Circle"

Set up:

  1. Depending on the size of your team divide everyone into groups of 3 - 6.
  2. Provide each group with a sheet of butcher paper about 3ft. in height and width.
    • If possible have a large set of markers /colored pencils pencils available for the group. People like to color and doodle!
    • Standard pens and pencils can work if that's all you got.


  1. Instruct each group to draw a circle that covers most of the paper's space.
    • Inside the circle groups will write attitudes and behaviours that they want to be part of our team (typically things like: hard work, kindness, etc.)
    • Outside the circle groups will write attitudes and behaviours that they don't want to be part of our team (typically things like: arguing, laziness, etc.)
  2. After about 15 minutes have each group place their circle in a visible place and ask them to walk around to see what other groups have done. 


  1. Ask each group to share the 3 most important items they wrote inside and outside the circle. Have them explain why.
  2. Reflect with you group about common themes. These can be used to articulate shared values.
  3. Discuss the benefits that can come from embodying the words in the circle and the hazards that can come from embodying the words outside the circle.
    • It helps to make this specific to your actual trip. For example, if "hard work" was a phrase in the circle you can explain how this is necessary for the construction work you'll be doing. Or if "immaturity" was a word outside the circle you can explain how immaturity can ruin a homestay.
    • Once the activity is over, you can use the team generated ideas to draft a "Team Covenant" for members to sign and hold each other to during the trip.


As a rule of thumb it's preferable to set high expectations for your team. I'd much rather have members strive to reach those expectations and grow in the process than stay mired in mediocrity. If possible work towards establishing Program Wide expectations. These are the non-negotiables that all members must adhere to and will serve you well if you have more than one trip within your program.

At GSIS these are:

  • Support that one of the purposes of these trips is to share Christianity.   
  • Adhere to all GSIS standards of good morals and behaviour.
  • Maintain behavior that ensures the safety of all participants.
  • Be respectful of foreign culture and customs at all times. 
  • Be willing to handle the difficult conditions of a developing nation.
  • Actively participate in all scheduled training and trip activities. 
  • Respect the authority of staff, sponsors, and government.
  •  Agree that if you are: insubordinate, unmotivated, and/or show yourself to be a liability the school has the right to remove the you from the team. 
  • Consult a physician prior to departure.
  • Submit all necessary documentation by _____.
  • Pay the entire trip cost by _____.

These expectations provide a baseline for all GSIS VASE trips, ensuring no matter which trip a participant attends (and with whom) our basic criteria are met.

Additionally, there is a correlation between Team Structure and Team Expectations. At GSIS we have a three-tiered structure consisting of: Trip Leader, Chaperones, and Students (further classified by returners and first-timers). Each have their own relevant descriptors: 

  • Trip Leaders: These are the primary leaders of each trip and are expected to Shepherd the entire team, Lead all facets of the program, and Empower each member to have ownership based upon experience and ability.
  • Chaperones: These are the secondary leaders of the trip and are expected to Co-Shepherd the students, Problem Solve (rather than complain!), and Support the trip leader (maybe book-keeping, leading devotions, or overseeing a particular service component).
  • Returning Students: These are the students that have been on this particular trip. They are expected to demonstrate Growth from the previous year, Mentor the new students, and Lead particular elements of the trip (maybe English lessons or a portion of a Soccer Camp).
  • New Students: These are the newbies! Their job is simple: Try new things with a positive attitude, make the most of every opportunity to Grow, and Reflect upon their journey regularly.


Aligning your team's (or organization's) Strengths and Resources with your partner's Needs and Goals will be one of the most practical things you do for your trip and program. Every team has something they can leverage. Take Moses for example. During his dialogue with God at the burning bush Moses protests his commission by stating, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you’?” [Exodus 4:1].

God completely side-steps the question by drawing Moses's attention to what he had in his hand; a staff. The most mundane of tools became the very instrument through which Moses would bring about the wonders of God. Anything, when leveraged appropriately can be used to accomplish something substantial; even the Simpsons understands this:

Sorry... I couldn't help myself!

Aligning our Strengths and Resources with the Needs and Goals of our partners helps us to determine the type of services to render and the necessary preparations to make. I've touched on this in an earlier post but for convenience we'll revisit this below. Let's begin with a quick list of Strengths and Resources within the GSIS community:

  • English fluency
  • Students and staff who participate in a wide range of co-curricular activities 
  • Well educated, experienced, and enthusiastic staff members
  • A rigorous academic program
  • Financial support structures

These don't seem all that impressive on their own, but once they are coupled with our partner's Needs and Goals in meaningful ways they become substantial.

English Fluency: In Indonesia and Myanmar we develop English lesson and tutoring plans for students in impoverished communities. As educational support is a rare commodity this simple lessons help children of host countries while providing an atmosphere of fun.

Wide Range of Co-Curricultar Activities: In Indonesia we run sports camps for two Muslim islands that have almost no access to athletic supplies. GSIS students are able to leverage their love and talent for athletics in a way that blesses others.

Professional Educators: Our teachers are some of our greatest assets. On one end of the spectrum their enthusiasm and experience help to ensure that our student participants are well guided and cared for. On the the other our teachers offer professional development opportunities for village teachers that have received little training throughout their careers. Our professional resources become a means of equipping locals who in turn become better educators for their children.

Financial Support Structures: Each year through a very simple bake-sale fundraiser we generate around 2000 USD Additionally, the Youth Club of GSIS does an annual book and clothes drive so that we can take books and clothes in good condition to our partners (one location recently lost its library in a fire). This enables us to incorporate the greater school community in the mission. It's not just about who goes on these trips, but what we can do collectively to bless our friends in other countries.

Create a community Strengths and Resources inventory and partner Needs and Goals chart. By asking "what do they need" and "what can we offer" you can help ensure your efforts are both desired and effective. Churches and schools, no matter how well intending, can fail the people they are attempting to serve by pushing their agenda rather than humbly seeking what is most desired.


View every component of your trip as an opportunity for growth. Dealing with difficult members can be an opportunity to grow in patience. Logistical headaches can be opportunities for growth in administrative abilities. Deadlines can be opportunities for growth in time management. Foreign food and customs can be opportunities for growth in empathy and cross-cultural awareness.

Prior to trip departure give everyone the opportunity to write down their personal growth goals. This can be as simple as a bullet point list or a letter drafted to oneself. Give everyone the opportunity to voice these goals to other members; when we voice things they become real and we become accountable.

During the trip keep an eye out for impromptu growth lessons. For example, your team may have rushed to arrive at the scheduled time of 8:00AM only to discover the local workers won't arrive until 10:00AM. Use this as an opportunity to reflect on the need for flexibility and how different cultures view time differently.

A structure that I've developed for my teams is: Encourage -> Embark • Return -> Reflect. Each day we begin with an overview of what we hope to accomplish and what we might encounter along the way. This is partnered with a word of encouragement to give the team a vision for what the day could be. Upon return we provide our team with quiet journaling time for about 20 minutes or so. Each member has internalized the day's events differently. This is their space (and yours) to make meaning of what was experienced. Afterwards we talk through the day: the good, the bad, the mundane - all of it. Towards the end I try to bring it back to the original word of encouragement that we began our day with to bring a sense of closure.

Well there you have it: TEAM! If you found this useful at all please share or comment below... it really means a lot:) Do you have any questions or any topics you'd like to see addressed? Hit me up and I'll see what I can do. Up next we'll take a look at how to organize training sessions to optimize readiness and the chance of success.

Until next time,

Keep giving what you have to give.

- Eddie

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