1. Communicate well with the participants and parents about expectations and preparations. We have meetings and I send out any new info I get ahead of time. Don’t hide information that will be important because you’re afraid students will drop out if they know it (no air conditioning, can’t take cell phones, etc). Make sure students and parents understand if the work will be physically taxing or emotionally difficult. Make sure students understand how you expect them to act and respond to others.
2. Commission students and adults who will be serving, helping them prepare to serve God during the mission. You might do this ahead of time, but we usually just do it at the beginning of our trip, praying over and blessing their hands that will serve. Since the closing worship setting during our trips often ends with foot washing, this makes for nice bookends.
3. Schedule for enough sleep and enforce lights out to ensure a team that is as well-rested as possible. Rested students are safer at worksites, better able to serve others well and more emotionally able to handle the stresses of the mission environment. The Youth Cartel has an interesting piece this week on lack of sleep in teenagers. Read it here!
4. Bring snacks for the drive. It allows you to stretch out stops a little more and it keeps everyone happy. If possible, find a church member who can pack goody bags for the students with treats and surprises to keep them busy along the way. Try to provide some healthy options alongside the more traditional choices of candy or cookies.
5. Work from a budget when you’re dealing with money. Make sure you’ve raised/asked for as much as you’ll need plus a little cushion for unexpected events. Make sure the money you need during the trip is accessible
6. Invite parents and church members to write notes to the students going on the trip. I usually collect these ahead of time and deliver them throughout the week, saving letters from their parents for midweek or the second to last day of work, when we all need a morale boost.
7. Give students a chance to debrief their days, allowing them to tell stories, reflect on what went right or wrong, and talk about where they saw God at work or where they were aware that God was working through their offerings of time and talents. This is where students begin to understand what mission work is really about and how God might be calling them to serve others every day.
8. Thank the people who backed your team financially or in other ways. Sign cards or take a picture of the group during the trip that can be turned into a postcard.
9. Be patient and grace-filled. No one’s perfect. Not students serving in new arenas. Not adults working beside you. Not the people you are serving. Not trip coordinators. Not the leadership of big missions organizations. There will be mistakes on various levels of leadership, students will act hastily or in ways you wish they would not, some of the people you serve may not respond like you were hoping they would, Know that Jesus knows all about this and be willing to allow people to grow where they are.
10. Be flexible and willing to make changes. No amount of organization and prep work can save you from the things will pop up unexpectedly or just go completely wrong. Schedules and plans can usually be adjusted but leaders have to be willing to adjust them for the sake of the group!
Mission trips are great opportunities to serve others, share the Gospel, experience a different culture or community, confront stereotypes and to learn and grow as followers of Jesus.
Is your church sending students on a mission trip this summer? Where are they going and what will they do there?