Mark Hampton is currently a student at Criswell College pursuing a B.A. in Biblical Studies. He also works as an intern at Metrocrest Community Church in Coppell, TX where he plays a role in music, media, and missions. Last June, he returned from a six-month mission trip to India and will be returning this summer to work with pastors in rural environments. Follow him on Twitter: @markismoving.
As summer approaches, churches across the nation prepare to send out teams for their summer mission trips. Those who are going on trips typically go through some type of training, but as flawed individuals, it’s more than easy to make some mistakes. Some are only minor and will lead to a good laugh and a great story to bring home; however, there are others that can have more collateral damage than meets the eye, and could prevent the work we do as missionaries from being effective.
Here is my list of eight important things that I have learned from doing mission work and I hope that it helps all of us going on trips this summer to have a greater impact, realistic mindset, and do the least damage to others and ourselves.
1. Serve Incarnationally
One of the foremost things to remember when going on mission is that you are there to serve. Whether you are evangelizing, teaching, or building a house, it will mean more to someone if it comes from a servant’s heart. Keep in mind the attitude of Christ who “came not to be served but to serve” (Matt. 20:28). Also, be incarnational when you do so. By incarnational, I mean that we should strive to be as much like those we are serving. As Paul wrote, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (1 Cor. 9:22b). Embrace your host culture in every way that you can; eat they eat, wear what they wear, do what they do. This is what Christ did to come in the flesh and take “the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Phil 2:7). Trust me, you’ll do more to reach people from a different culture if you can empathize with them, rather than trying to maintain your American identity.
2. You Don’t Have to Be ‘Called’
That’s right! So, if you happen to be waiting for a great sign from God for you to go on mission you can quit waiting. You don’t have to be called because you have already been commissioned (Matt. 28-18-20; John 20:21; Acts 1:8). As a new creation in Christ, you have the authority to go and proclaim the Gospel to all nations (2 Cor. 5:17-19). You can go and serve out of obedience to Christ’s commands without having received some specific “call.”. As a disclaimer, prayerfully consider what God would have you do though. There may be a specific reason He does not want you to go and you should concede to stay home. On the other hand, God may specifically call you to go somewhere and likewise, you should obey what God has put on your heart.
3. Support the Stayers
Most of us who go on summer trips aren’t going to pack up and move there. However, we will probably be working with someone who has committed to a specific area or people group for a long amount of time. Keep in mind that they have more experience in the area and that they will build relationships with people that will extend outside of a 1-2 week period. Often, encouraging and serving them is as vital a part of missions as working with the unreached. Your support can help them press on in difficult working conditions. Cleaning their house, watching their kids, or any other behind the scenes work can help them be better servants to those you are collectively trying to reach. Try to build into the ministry they have to help create something long term, rather than just performing hit and run ministry.
4. Don’t Build Things That Won’t Last
This is probably one of the easiest and most dangerous things that we can do on mission trips, and I must admit that I am guilty of it. This most often happens with the relationships we form, especially with children. In missions where you work with children, they are probably the less fortunate. They have probably been abandoned or experienced some type of loss before, and they do not need to form a bond with someone who is going to leave them never to be seen again. Now, I’m not saying to avoid children when you go on mission, but bear in mind that you do have a flight home. Don’t make promises you can’t keep, but rather, try to lead the people you work with into better relationships with those who are there for the long haul.
5. Embrace the Awkward
Get out of your comfort zone and practice doing so! Seek out a community that is different from your own somewhere near where you live. Take a team member and go visit them and talk with them. Sure, it’s not going to feel natural, but if you go with a genuine interest to get to know the people you may be surprised how quickly the walls can come down and how quickly relationships can begin to form.
6. Have a Stay-at-Home Mission Partner
Remember, not everyone you come home to has had some awesome experience over the past few weeks. Realize that life has carried on as normal for them and that they won’t have the same enthusiasm as you do when you come home. Get a close friend (preferably someone who has been on a mission trip before) to be there to talk about everything you did, hear all of your stories, and look at the 3,000 pictures you took. Have this person praying for you every day from the moment you know you’re going to the day you come home. Try to send them a postcard if you can and bring them home a small gift. When you tell them of everything God did they will know that they were also a part of what took place.
7. Manage Your Expectations
The key word here is YOUR. By YOUR, I mean YOUR expectations about YOURself. God will be God, and He will do amazing things, but you are not God. There are going to be times when you are worn out, spiritually exhausted, tired of the living conditions or the food, and are frustrated. I recommend memorizing a specific Psalm you can say to yourself when these moments occur. It’s also important to keep your expectations realistic for when you come home. It’s easy to come home with the “Mission High”, and again, I’m guilty of doing so. We think we’ll be completely different when we come home, but it just doesn’t last. God works on us over time. Yes, going on a mission trip can fundamentally change you, but understand that there may be more subtle things that have changed about you as a result that may take a while before you see what they are.
8. Pray for the Ridiculous
Surround your mission trip in prayer! Enlist others to pray, as many as you can, and don’t be afraid to pray for God to do things that seem absurd. Our biggest vulnerabilities can turn into God’s greatest victories if we are obedient and trust in Him to do the work. Pray for your time on mission from every angle possible and don’t let one detail escape being prayed for. Invite the Holy Spirit into every facet of the task at hand and pray constantly before, during, and after your trip.
I hope and pray that this list will challenge, encourage, and inspire those who are going on mission trips this summer. Certainly, this does not cover everything that could be said about missions. This list merely comprises what have been some of my greatest (and hardest) lessons that I have had to learn both on and off the mission field. Remember, that in our weakness God’s strength is perfect (2 Cor. 12:9), and because of that promise we can take hope in what God will do through us to reach the lost and hurting of this world. Therefore, be bold! Go and serve and you will see what amazing ways God can use His people!