Though short term mission trips are sometimes (rightly) criticized, I can’t entirely knock them. God used my short term experiences in Ethiopia to lead to long term work there.
But one of the biggest weaknesses I see in many short term mission trips is that they have a “one and done” feeling to them. People get excited to reach across cultural divides in faraway lands (which is great!) but they are not committed to reaching across cultural divides in their own context, either before or after the trip.
I think the typical experience of a short term mission trip caters to our desire to check things off a list (help people in another country—done!) rather than involve ourselves in messy relationships and complex global issues.
A well-done short term mission trip IS possible, though. There are many principles to be followed which have been written about elsewhere, but for our purposes today let’s just talk about one thing:
Your mission trip will be a more helpful experience (both for you and for those you go to serve) if you do one simple thing: befriend immigrants in your own country before you go to another country.
Why? For at least three reasons.
- Befriending immigrants allows you to experience the joys and struggles of crosscultural communication before you go. Communicating across cultural barriers is a learned skill, and the only way it can be developed is through practice.
If we’re expecting to go from 0 to 60 as crosscultural communicators a 7-14 day period of time, well…we should probably reconsider our expectations. If we are learning and growing in this area well before we leave, however, our time spent in another country will be just a continuation of the things we’re already learning back home about how to connect with people from different backgrounds and worldviews.
- Befriending immigrants will give you the experience of walking with someone going through culture shock before you experience of a taste of culture shock yourself.
Culture shock is a real and…well…shocking experience that can blindside people who are not expecting it. I’ve written more about what it feels like in another post, but here’s a good short explanation: when you go through culture shock, you feel as though someone changed all the rules to the “game of life” but didn’t give you an instruction manual, so you have to bumble around and figure it out as you go, like a child.
Everyone experiences culture shock (or culture stress, as some call it) to some degree, and we will experience it too—more intensely the more we connect with local people or take part in local rhythms of life—on a short term mission trip, albeit to a less difficult degree since we know we’ll be returning home.
It will be helpful to you to know others who are going through culture shock in order to prepare you, and you will come back with a new appreciation for your immigrant friends and all that they deal with internally as they live a crosscultural life in a new land.
- Befriending immigrants provides a context to apply what you’ve learned after you return, continuing to learn and grow instead of checking “mission trip” off your list and moving on.
Many short term mission trip participants come back to their home countries infused with a new passion for advocacy, service, and global-mindedness. But that passion quickly fades when it finds no outlet in the business-as-usual life.
But what if crosscultural connections to vulnerable communities had been formed before the mission trip? Then the passion of new awareness could be channeled into deeper friendships, strategic partnerships, and sustainable initiatives that would help create lasting change!
What else have you done to prepare for a short term mission trip that has long term effects?