You're investing thousands of dollars, hundreds of hours, and numerous headaches in planning a missions trip. You hope to save the world (at least the corner you'll be in) and return with photos, stories, and unforgettable memories of souls you've touched.
Nothing surges global vision in your church like team members returning from a cross-cultural experience with changed lives. Nothing snuffs the passion for global outreach like a team returning with complaining, irritated members.
What makes the difference? Having been on both sides of the experience, first as a youth pastor leading teams, and for the past fifteen years as a missionary receiving teams, I've learned specific keys that lead to success.
The first one is to get lost.
Not physically, of course, which parenthetically could lead to quite the adventure, but rather in humility, from yourself. Think Jesus. He allowed himself to be emptied of power, glory, and royalty before crossing cultures from heaven to earth. Initially he came to love and be loved; he came to learn and be taught.
Losing our will, desires, and ego to God before our passports are stamped is the foundation for the following tips:
Be flexible. "Tolerance for ambiguity allows us to persevere when criticizing or running away is what we would prefer." –Duane Elmer
Limber up your attitude and practice smiling (a lot) because I guarantee this: you will be stretched! Everything that makes you comfortable will be different. Your modus operandi will do the splits. Schedules can change; plans may modify. Events will be out of your control.
We were two days away from receiving a church construction team when we received notice that the legal paperwork for the property had fallen through. This was quite the shock, since we repeatedly had asked the local leaders if all legal documents were in order and repeatedly had received a resounding yes.
We were mortified when told the trip would have to be cancelled. Rather than face the loss of thousands of dollars invested in plane tickets and construction materials, not to mention the confidence the team had placed in us, we scrambled to reroute them to another project in a city five hours away. Everything that had previously and painstakingly been set in place (hotel, food, transportation, and schedule) was changed.
The outcome? We had a fantastic week of ministry, work, and relationship building. The key was that both we and the team chose to be flexible in the midst of upheaval.