Welcome to part two of our series on planning a short-term mission trip! Monday we discussed selecting a destination. Today we consider the question of the work done on a mission trip.
How do you choose what work your mission team will do on your mission trip? And when do you make this decision? In part one we talked about youth mission trips that have a set agenda and adult mission trips outside the U.S. The differences between these trips call for a different time to decide what kind of work will be done.
The Work Sets The Trip
If you are planning a youth mission trip like the U.M. ARMY camps, perhaps you don’t have to choose what work you will do. It may be decided by a planning committee. U.M. ARMY trips have planning teams that begin the work at least a year in advance. They have groups of people who work on “pre-site” organization, finding people whose homes need work that can be accomplished in five days or less by a team of teens with very little experience. This work may include flooring, wheelchair ramps, painting, yard work, and occasionally more complex work if the team is experienced enough. Electric and plumbing are not part of the work done by these teams.
If you are planning an adult trip to an area in need of disaster recovery, your work may be set by the Conference coordinator. Following hurricanes, floods, or tornadoes, many United Methodist conference offices will establish a volunteer coordinator. This office will assess the work needed to be done, and match the skills of volunteer teams coming into the area with the needs of the homeowners. Specialized groups of Early Response Teams can come in immediately after a disaster. In the greater Houston area, these ERTs helped to “muck out” houses, cutting out wet carpet and sheetrock, removing damaged furniture and appliances. Later teams come in over a longer period of time to help with rebuilding.
This kind of work is important. Helping people in disaster areas or in rural areas that struggle with poverty is one key way that the church shows the love of Christ for our neighbors. Is physical work always necessary when planning a mission trip?
Learning and Relationship Building Instead of Work
Many years ago I went on a mission seminar to southeast Asia. The purpose of the trip was to learn about the work being done by the Methodist Churches in that area. Methodists from Singapore, Korea, France, and the US worked together to minister to children, to offer education to young adults, and to establish churches. Meeting the people, worshipping together, learning the history of the area, these impressions have stayed with me over the years. Our group asked one missionary what he wanted from the U.S. church in the way of support, did he want mission teams to come over? He asked for prayer. He wanted to be joined in prayer first and foremost. He preferred relationship over work projects.
I am part of a group called “Be The Bridge To Racial Unity” and one question that has come up several times is whether groups need to do a work project on a mission trip. The feeling in the group is that just coming in to do a work project doesn’t always help develop relationships. Often these trips have cross-racial learning as a major component, and the home church insists on a work project because the trip is called a “mission trip”. One person recently asked about a trip like this, because she is taking time to discern whether the work piece is absolutely necessary. Through careful planning she is allowing time to have the conversation with the people she will meet with at her destination, and allow them to set the agenda. They will know what is needed in their area, and they will know what might be a good project for visitors to work alongside residents.
Work And Learning as Part of a Practice-Reflection Cycle
Working together on a project that is a priority for the residents makes space for relationships to form. Maybe they will decide that sharing stories of their experience is more important than work. Maybe they will work one morning in a community garden, followed by an afternoon’s discussion about access to food, structural racism, and foodworker justice. A morning’s work followed by reflection on scripture, listening to the people who live where you are working is an important way to be in mission. Work together, then listen to scripture together, then hear each other’s stories. This way, we learn together about how God is already at work in a place, and discern how we can join in that work.
As you plan your mission trip, what questions do you have about the work your group hopes to do? Consider setting aside time for a practice-reflection cycle. Sister of Hope Ministries is available to facilitate mission trips with work/scripture/discussion sessions. Contact us for more information!