Preparing for a mission trip starts long before you begin packing your suitcase.
It should begin with your heart, mind, and spirit. Here’s why: there is no way to know ahead of time exactly what the experience will be like or how you will react to the region and its people. The unfamiliar environment is going to test your comfort, and realities like extreme poverty will challenge your faith. So, the first thing to do in getting ready for your trip is to banish any expectations and open your heart to whatever God wants to do in and through you.
Once you are ready to participate in a mission trip, here are some practical things you can do to prepare well:
1. Study up on the history and culture of the place and people you will be visiting. Understanding the experiences that have brought them to where they are today will give you a deeper sensitivity to their struggles and their dreams. Study the social do’s and don’ts and learn a few simple phrases in their language. In Haiti, for example, you will see many children who are not in school. Knowing about that ahead of time will prepare you to be loving rather than shocked.
2. Make sure you understand the mission and vision of the ministry you are serving alongside. Many of us think we’re going on a trip to give physical things to people, when the ministry goal may be to equip the people to improve their lives on their own. That is Mission of Hope’s philosophy.
3. Learn what you will be doing while on your trip. Are you sharing the gospel? Painting a house? Helping with Vacation Bible School? All of the above? Pay attention to the smallest details shared by your host ministry so that you’re prepared practically and spiritually. You may need clothes that can get ruined and will want to have your Bible for church and devotions.
4. Prepare to minister with a humble heart. Remember that you are a visitor to someone else’s country and home. Go on your mission trip asking, “What can I learn, and who can I love?” instead of, “What or who can I teach?”
5. Pack ahead of time so you can get last-minute items if needed, and double-check that you have everything required for the trip. Carefully follow instructions from the host organization. At Mission of Hope, teams are expected to provide some of the food they’ll need for their week in Haiti, and you’ll want to make sure you take items to help you sleep comfortably and stay protected from bugs and sunburn. In addition, many ministries like Mission of Hope have specific clothing requirements for all visiting missionaries.
6. Take a journal or small notebook. Even if you don’t journal regularly, or ever, you might want to record memories and events from your trip during downtime or during team debriefings in the evenings. Down the road, you will be blessed and encouraged by going back and reading about the experiences and people God provided you.
7. Get some exercise and eat and sleep well before you go. You may be hiking, or working all day with a shovel. Your meals may vary nutritionally. Be prepared physically by building a little extra strength, taking care of your nutritional needs, and getting into a good sleep pattern.
8. Spend lots of time with your teammates before you go. Scheduling opportunities to learn, pray, and plan the trip together will build unity that will make your experience much richer.
9. Think about the bigger picture. You might view a project to paint a house or plant trees or host Vacation Bible School as simply a task. In reality, those are wonderful vehicles to show people that God sees them and loves them, a way to help the local Haitian church meet the needs of the people in their villages, and a way to participate in building the Kingdom of God on earth.
This may seem like a long list, but you’ll typically have several months to prepare for a mission trip. View each of these suggestions as a way to better bless others, yourself, and your team. All the preparation will be more than worth it!