I received an email the other day from California asking what my recommendations are for preparing a group of teenagers to go on a two week mission trip to Guatemala. Here’s what I told them:
Glad to hear that a group is coming to serve here in Guatemala!
Your question about preparing this team is a great one. I wish more teams would do more to prepare BEFORE they arrive! Having worked three years with a ministry that hosts 20-30 teams a year, I can tell you that we can see a big difference in the teams that prepare well ahead of time!
Here are my suggestions:
- Pray and get informed — Meet together multiple times before the trip to pray together about the outreaches and the entire trip, review information about the ministry, people, activities and do some team-building activities. Don’t just show up at the airport.
- Be flexible — This is one of the greatest qualities a team can have.
- Ask questions — Find out from your contacts what would really be the most help.
- Listen to your contacts — You might want to build a house and play with children. They may need milk for a feeding program for babies who are too scared and hungry to play. Prepare for whatever would best help your hosts’ ministry that is ongoing whether you’re there or not.
- Read all manuals and information that your hosts send you. — Too often people don’t read the team manuals we send them and miss important information that would have helped them prepare.
- Develop good expectations:
- Low expectations of sleeping conditions, showers, electricity, etc. (Low expectations are easier to meet than high ones and help team members keep better attitudes.)
- High expectations of workload, needs, character, etc.
- Know why you’re going. Everyone should understand why the team is going. Develop a team motto or goal that you want to accomplish and communicate it in such a way that everyone knows it by heart.
- Resource up! — Learn all you can about the culture, language, geography and history.
- Learn the language — Seriously, learn as much of the local or trade language as you can (If nothing else learn a song or two, greetings, etc.) and try to take someone with you who can speak it fluently!
- Bring ministry resources with you. For ministry or work. Make sure you have enough for the expected crowds.
- Train your team how to share the Gospel and their personal testimony. (This seems like a no-brainer but a lot of people visit the mission field and don’t know what they’re doing or how to share a simple Gospel message or their testimony)
- Plan out spiritual team building before and during the trip. — Check out these devotional resources or make your own so your team is purposefully growing.
- Do a team training day (or more) — Cover things like: Prayer, Team interactions, Attitudes, Unity, Communications, Purpose of the trip, etc.
- Don’t meet your team at the airport and expect them to be ready to serve well. Prepare them!
- Don’t throw candy out of the vehicle as you drive through poor neighborhoods. — Most kids have rotting teeth anyway so there no sense in having them get run over too.
- Don’t make promises of sending or leaving gifts of money or items (shoes, clothes, computers, etc.) — If you want to do that. Talk to your hosts about how you can do that without causing problems. We’ve had well-intentioned people make promises that they failed to fulfill and then we look bad because the villagers are looking to us for what was promised.
- Don’t have a bad attitude. — Remember why you are going on the trip!
- Don’t dress like a bunch of slobs — I once heard a pastor comment that he was shocked at how poorly team members dressed for church. In most cultures people dress up for church with their best suit or dress. Plan to bring a sports coat and tie or nice skirt and blouse. If the ladies need to wear skirts, they should be BELOW the knee. Skinny jeans shouldn’t be too skinny nor should necklines be low. Ask your host for advice on things like earrings, tattoos (often seen as gang symbols), etc.
- Don’t drink alcohol. — You are representing the contacts you work with. If you are seen drinking (whether you think it’s OK or not) it reflects poorly on them. In many cultures…especially in the Western Hemisphere…drinking alcohol is directly related to drunkenness in most local’s minds. So don’t do it. (Yes. We have had this happen!)
- Don’t try and date the locals. — Come on! You’re leaving in a week. If God reveals that you’ve found your future spouse. Go back home. Pray about it. Then get permission from your hosts before you plan a “spouse hunting” trip.
Here are some additional resources that I recommend:
- A great article on why to go on short term missions.
- The book When Helping Hurts
- Team devotional resources
- OneHope’s Book of Hope and evangelism/literature resources are great!