When thinking about signing up for a mission trip, especially your first one, it can be overwhelming—you have no idea what to expect and don’t even know where to begin asking questions! You know there are things you should be asking and considering in order to prepare yourself, but you aren’t sure what exactly they are. So, I teamed up with Courtney Spink, a graduate student at Baylor’s Diana R. Garland School of Social Work, who recently returned from a mission trip and had a fresh perspective on this topic! Here are some questions we think are important for you to consider before embarking on your first (or 20th) mission trip!
- Have I considered my motivations, intentions, and reasons for why I am going on this trip?
Courtney: “If your intentions for going on the trip don’t line up with the mission of the trip or goal of the trip, it may not be as enjoyable for you or other members on the trip. If you’re looking for a tourist experience, a mission trip is probably not the right fit for you.”
Katie: “In addition, before you go, you will want to consider your personal, spiritual, and professional goals for any trip you may go on to weigh if it’s the right fit. Be sure to take time to consider if you’re going for the right reasons or have the right attitude about the trip.”
- Do I know what the “mission” of this trip is?
Katie: “Before you go, make sure you understand what it is you’re going to do, what your team is trying to accomplish, and who you are working with. If you already have some basic knowledge about the Global Partner or organization you are working with, you will be able to make the most out of the short week you’ll be serving, rather than wasting time trying to figure these things out once you arrive in another country.”
Courtney: “When you’re working on a team for a common goal, if the mission is not clear or understood there can be tension, confusion, and miscommunication among team members and how time is spent.”
- Do I have the skills necessary to aid in the success of this trip?
Courtney: “Once you have identified what your intentions are and what the mission of the trip is, consider if your vocational skills will be of value or if there is opportunity for personal growth and learning.”
Katie: “Will I be of help or more of a hindrance on this trip? This isn’t the most fun question to ask, but after having gone on a mission trip where I felt more like I was in the way than was of use, I know personally that it’s a necessary question to ask! For example, if your background is in Literature, serving on a medical mission trip might not be the best fit…. speaking from personal experience here!”
- Are there expectations before or after the trip I should know about?
Courtney: “Be sure to ask if there is an opportunity to meet the leaders of the team and other students who will be attending the trip, as well as if there will be a time to ask questions and gain a better understanding of expectations for the trip.”
Katie: “Hopefully the person leading your trip will cover this with you, but it’s always good to be prepared to ask this! Before going on a trip, ask your leader if your team will have opportunities to prepare and get to know one another before leaving the country. And if not, suggest it! If team members already know each other, it will make service projects run smoothly and be more enjoyable.”
- What do I know about the culture I will be serving in?
Courtney: “It’s important to know what is appropriate dress, to identify language barriers, and to be aware of cultural sensitivities.”
Katie: “Service requires cultural humility and respect, and this can only happen if you understand a bit about the culture you’re going to serve in. If you don’t know anything about the place you’re going, do some research. Google your country, the organization you’ll be working with, and the city you’ll be serving in. Find out what people wear, how they eat, what language they speak (if they speak English, find out if any words we use regularly happen to be offensive in their culture), and what appropriate interactions with people looks like. When I mentored a little girl from another country, she would never look me in the eye and I thought she hated me—until I found out that in her culture, making eye contact with adults is considered disrespectful. If I had known that when I first met her, it would have made building a relationship with her a lot easier!”
- Will there be different perspectives represented on the team?
Katie: “What will the team dynamic be like? Will there be opportunities to get to know people of differing cultures, vocations, and socio-economic backgrounds, or will only a one-sided perspective be represented? If diverse perspectives will be represented, your experience will be enriched. Consider the importance of getting out of your comfort zone through experiences that will stretch you and allow for growth.”
- How will this trip differ from other mission trips I have been on?
Katie: “Not all mission trips look the same, so if you go into a trip expecting it to be a certain way, it can be a shock and hard to adjust to when it turns out completely different than you expected. Be open & flexible—it’s impossible to anticipate everything. But be sure to ask about anything that will be a significant difference from your previous trip experiences in order to prepare yourself.”
Courtney: “You may want to consider, if you’ve been on mission trips before, what the expectations will be of how time is spent, the work that you will be engaging in, where you will be staying, and other safety considerations.”
- What types of opportunities will we have to engage in spiritual conversations?
Courtney: “When you go on a mission trip, consider what you have to gain from this in a spiritual aspect. Will there be morning or evening devotional times? Will there be times provided for conversations with leaders, peers, or locals?”
Katie: “Ask your team leader if there will there be time for silence and reflection built into the trip; and if not, suggest time is set aside for it. Reflection is an extremely important part of mission trips, yet often overlooked. Make sure and take time for yourself to personally reflect so you can begin to see how God has been working in your throughout your experience.”
- What will be the biggest challenge, difficulty, or barrier I will encounter?
Katie: “It is important to prepare yourself for a bit of culture shock, as well as uncomfortable, long travel or less than ideal conditions you may stay in. Again, be flexible and open to these situations. Lay down your agenda for the week and lean into these uncomfortable moments—you might just learn something from it!”
Courtney: “Once you’ve learned some of the parameters of the trip, consider what barriers will arise that will make the trip uncomfortable, unenjoyable, or difficult for you, and spend time preparing yourself in order to minimize or overcome those challenges.”
- What is the cost of this trip?
Courtney: “Ask yourself literally: how much money will this trip cost me? Will there be fundraising opportunities available? Am I responsible for the full cost of the trip or will there be other help or resources provided?”
Katie: “Also ask yourself figuratively, ‘what will this trip cost me, and is it worth the cost? Is this an opportunity I should take advantage of now or could my skills be better utilized on a different or future trip?’ If the benefits outweigh the cost, go for it! Begin preparing yourself for this incredible and life changing journey!
Special thanks to Courtney for sharing her perspective! If you have questions about how you can participate in BU Mission Trips, stop by the Bobo to talk with our staff and start to get answers or directions as you start your missions journey!