Six Tips for Doing Short-Term Missions Right

06/22/15

A short-term mission trip is a great way to better understand a foreign culture and to renew your passion to help people in need. But when you're dealing with cultures that are so different from your own, it's not always easy to know how to help without hurting. Follow these six tips to get started on the right foot with short-term missions!

1) Partner with a local church or organization.

Whatever you are doing on your short mission trip, it won’t last long unless you are coming alongside a ministry that has already begun and will continue after you leave. Local leaders are best at identifying needs before you arrive, and following up with projects after you leave. You will be strengthening a movement that is already growing instead of starting your own. 
 
If you are traveling to a country that has established churches or parachurch organizations, like Children of the Nations (COTN), work under local leaders. If there are no local Christians yet, partner with missionaries who are staying long-term. 

 

2) Ask and listen.  

You might arrive with lots of ideas of how you can help, but without a deep understanding of the issue at hand and the culture, your ideas probably won’t go far. 
 
On one of my first mission trips I arrived with money I had raised to help the ministry. When I asked the in-country director what they needed most, he replied that honestly, their biggest need was a new vehicle. I chose to ignore that request and focus on something I thought would affect the children more directly. In retrospect, I could have saved the ministry so much time and money by getting them a gas-efficient vehicle that wasn’t constantly breaking down. The director knew that all along.
 

3) Stay humble.

Look at your trip as an experience that might change you just as much as it changes the people you’ve come to help. (More on letting it change you later!)
 

4) Use your skills strategically. 

Don’t just build a wall if you can teach a typing class. Don’t just teach a class if you can train teachers. Find something you can do that will build up local staff members and workers—don’t take their jobs from them. 

Venture participant Lauren Simpson co-teaches with one of COTN's head teachers, Mr. Foday, in Mokpangumba, Sierra Leone. They both learn from the experience!
 

5) Don't let it end when you leave. 

Let’s face it: traveling halfway around the world to do a small project isn’t exactly a cost-effective way to help people. But if you become a life-long advocate for the people you met on your trip, it will be more than worth the effort and expense. Keep the people you met on your heart and in your prayers. If there is a way to support the ministry financially, do so. Tell your friends about what you did and saw and get them involved too. See if the organization you traveled with has volunteer opportunities back home. 
 
Sponsoring a child is a great way to stay involved after you travel with COTN. It’s a natural way to continue investing in a child’s life—through letters, prayer, and financial support. 


Venture participant Jill Martin met a child in Sierra Leone whom she soon decided to sponsor. Their friendship continues today. 
 

6) Let the experience change you. 

Sometimes it’s easier to leave home for a few weeks and serve people from a completely different culture than it is to simply say hello to your neighbor. Don’t just go back to the same way of living when you return. The “mission” you were on for a few weeks overseas is the same mission we are all called to every day: sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with those who are hungry for it. 
Keep working through the things you saw and experienced. One of my team leaders once had me write a letter to myself at the end of my trip. When it arrived in my mailbox a few weeks later, I was startled at how much I had forgotten about what I learned. Don’t lose whatever perspective you gained on your journey. 
 
COTN strives to create a structure where short-term travelers can adhere to all of these guidelines. If you are interested in serving overseas in Africa or the Caribbean with us, visit our Venture Program page to learn more.