Editors' note: The following post from Rev. Wes Baker of Peru Mission is part of a blog series in conjunction with 2014 Mission Conference at FPC Jackson. You can read the other post here: The Harvest is Plentiful.
Going on a mission trip for the first time can be daunting, especially if it is to a foreign field where you don't know the language or customs. Just thinking of the strange food you'll eat, strange bed you'll be sleeping in, the cultural faux pas you might make, or even the dangers that you may face, can be enough to give you serious doubts about going. The blessings that await you, however, are immense. Apart from the satisfaction of knowing that you are laboring with Christ to fulfill His mission, you will also get acquainted with and build friendships with brothers and sisters in Christ who see the world differently than you do. The Lord will give you a bigger vision of His Kingdom and open your eyes to gifts that you never knew you had and to needs that you never imagined you could fill. It will also make you more sensitive to the needs and opportunities for ministry right here in Jackson.
But assuming that you are already know all that, what are three additional things that you should consider before going on a short-term mission? I would suggest the following:
Recognize that your greatest value to the host church or mission consists in the relationships you help them form.
Your skill as a personal evangelist will be limited if you don't know the language. Your experience in construction will be limited not only by language barriers, but also because building materials and techniques will vary. As a physician or dentist you probably won't save many people from terribly complicated medical conditions. Don't expect to be Billy Graham, Kellogg, Brown & Root, or David Livingstone on your first trip. But do go with the determination to make new friends that you can introduce to the church, pastor, or missionary that you're visiting.
Go also with the determination to step out of your comfort zone and make a concerted effort to communicate with nationals. Don't be fearful of language faux pas. If you interact with nationals you will undoubtedly say some things that that will amuse them. Be prepared to be humbled and laugh at your mistakes. Nationals aren't drawn to those who remain silent or to those who conjugate their verbs correctly. What they will find endearing is self-deprecating humility and the ability laugh at yourself.
The relationships that you form will be more important than just about anything else you do. There is only so much spiritual good that you can be to them in one short week, but by building the relationship, and by helping to connect your new friends to pastors and church members who will be there long-term you will be genuinely assisting in the growth of the Kingdom in your host country.
Be very serious about learning and receiving from the national brothers and sisters in the church you came to help.
I cringe when I think of how many times in my early years, in conversation with a Peruvian brother or sister, I started off a sentence with "Well in the United States . . . ." Approach your trip with the determination to learn as much as you can about your host culture, not primarily by making comparisons with the US, but rather by trying to learn that culture from the inside. Try to figure out their thought processes, their rationale for the things they do, and the distinctive ways that they view life and the world.
Set yourself a goal to learn a certain number of new words and phrases and look for opportunities to practice them with your new friends. Observe their faith and trust in the Lord in a context so different from your own. Consider what you can learn about trusting Christ by seeing the world through their eyes.
Begin and end the trip with a commitment to specific, sustained prayer for the individuals you meet.
Prayer is the engine that drives missions and evangelism. Use your trip as an occasion to renew your prayer life. Take a journal. Write down names of the people you meet and talk with, and take time (later) to jot down as many details about the person as you can remember, including specific things you want to be praying about for that individual. Also let the missionary and/or national pastor know about your new friendship and the specific things you are praying for them about. Also, pray for the pastor and church members who will follow up with these individuals.
Short-term missions can change your life, and the lives of the people you meet. This usually doesn't happen in the ways that one might imagine, but for those who approach a trip prayerfully, in humility, and in a spirit of service, seeking to build new friendships and relationships, they will find that the Lord uses their witness to bear eternal fruit for His Kingdom.