Thursday, June 11, 2015

Mission Trips: A True Life Change

As my husband and I once again prepare for a mission trip in a couple of months, I wanted to share how stretching my faith in this way has put revival in my heart for the things of Christ. I’ve heard many Christians say, “Well, I’ve always wanted to go on a mission trip, I just can’t because (insert excuse).” Friend, had I known the powerful way God would move my heart by going on a mission trip, I would have done it much sooner! If you’ve ever felt called to go on a mission trip, or even wondered what it would be like, please investigate the possibilities. I hope you find encouragement in my testimony.

Three years ago I had reached a point of staleness in my relationship to Christ. The mundane was driving me insane, and the Lord gave me a longing to do something new to reach others for him. It just so happened our church was going on a mission trip for the first time, and I knew with confidence that God was calling me to go. Even though the trip would cost significantly less than the other mission trips, we didn’t know where the money would come from. And we had a newborn son on top of that! We could only rely on God’s faithfulness to provide the finances, spiritual preparation, and an open schedule for loving grandparents to care for our son.

And God did provide! Soon we were off on our spiritual adventure, daring to step outside our comfort zone to share the gospel. We faced travel sickness, a stolen bag (with all my clothes and toiletries for the week), and sleepless nights. We experienced sore muscles, a lack of electricity, and torrential rains that inhibited our work. We camped on a Costa Rican mountain for four nights. But God gave us the strength to heal from sickness, recover from sore muscles, and work through the rain. He gave us the fortitude to deal with a loss of possessions and a lack of electricity. The Spirit was more alive in my heart than he had ever been, so I wondered: How many of my “blessings” have distracted me from following Christ? The answer: All of them! My comfort, fortune (when compared to the rest of the world), and relative ease of fulfilling selfish desires had neutered my faith. And a mission trip was a good realignment of my spiritual motives because I was slapped in the face with my constant need for Christ to sustain me.

I’m not saying a person should go on a mission trip for personal benefits. Rather, I’m saying God will do amazing, wonderful things in your own spiritual journey of becoming more like Christ when you make sacrifices for the sake of the gospel. It will change your life.

And I won’t lie to you – it was hard. Really hard. The idea of camping in the Costa Rican wilderness for four nights did not sound the least appealing, but God had different plans. He wanted to show me a world that still needed him, and a people who needed his witnesses to pour love into their lives. He wanted to show me that his plans are so far beyond me, my family, my community, and my country. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20).” I had to spend a week in a foreign place to gain a better perspective of my mission.

God won’t call everyone to go to a foreign country on a mission trip, but he does call us to fulfill our unique part in his plan. Some believers are called to only minister in their local communities, while others minister exclusively in foreign nations. However, many believers (like me) are called to minister in both ways. If you feel the Lord leading you to go on a mission trip, here are some tips based from my experiences.

1.      Pray, pray, pray! There is nothing you can do to better prepare than pray. And don’t forget that your spiritual preparedness is much more important than your physical preparedness. Prayer gives you validation of your calling and the confidence to step forward in faith. You simply cannot neglect prayer!

2.      Get your mind in the game. Mental preparation is second to spiritual preparation. Ever heard the phrase, “Your body can’t go where your mind hasn’t been”? Imagine what it will be like to be less comfortable. Take your mind to places of discomfort and let the Lord lead you ahead of time to the appropriate, biblical responses (a great way to battle frustrations is by memorizing scripture). I’ve seen it happen: letting humanness spill out when faced with challenges will negatively affect how others view your relationship to Christ, even when you’re only around other believers.

3.      Consider recruiting a trip buddy. Having other believers on the trip with me (especially my husband) was a huge encouragement when things were tough. Ask around your closest family and friends to see if anyone else feels called to go on a mission trip and then hold each other accountable for going. Just like Paul found comfort in having traveling companions, you too will find extra strength in a friend or family member’s presence.

4.      Keep valuable goods on you at all times. I had made up my mind early on that the only way someone would get my passport and money was if they kidnapped me. And, boy was I glad the Lord gave me that conviction because those items were just about the only possessions the thieves didn’t get when they stole my bag! Keep hard to replace items close and don’t take irreplaceable items (e.g. wedding rings).

5.      Don’t bring your “American attitude” with you. Foreigners typically view Americans as pushy, entitled, and loud, so being genuinely grateful and sacrificial will go a long way when reaching others for the gospel. Your trip can’t, and won’t, be about personal preferences. Also, do your research and learn about the culture you will be visiting so you can better understand and engage with others as you minister.

6.      Evaluate your health. It’s definitely more important to be spiritually and mentally healthy, but you can’t overlook physical health. If you have a condition requiring heaps of medications or you’re carrying around a lot of extra pounds (like my first trip because I hadn’t lost all my pregnancy weight), then you need to seriously prepare for the extra toll, and hassle, that health challenges will bring. You also need to consider whether or not your condition(s) could hinder the trip’s mission in any way. Seek the Lord’s guidance.

7.      Choose your location and trip wisely. Don’t just sign up for the first mission trip you find by searching Google – ask other mission trippers where they have gone and ask for their advice. I was lucky a trip opened up through my church with our supported independent missionaries, so we had good contact before the trip. If your church isn’t participating in any mission trips, then consider reaching out to other churches to see if they allow non-members to attend their trips. You could even contact a Christian travel agent to find out if they have experience coordinating mission trips. If you’re confident of God’s calling then don’t stop searching until he opens up the right door of opportunity.

8.      Purchase traveler’s insurance. This is a must when traveling to a foreign country. In the case of a hospital visit, traveler’s insurance offers some financial protection. Other countries have their own way of dealing with hospital fees, which could include upfront payment before services are rendered. So, if you need emergency surgery, but don’t have the necessary resources, your very life could be endangered. It’s a good peace-of-mind to have traveler’s insurance!

Going on a mission trip always has an element of anxiety attached, but when I remember the gain – reaching others for the sake of Christ – the Lord starts to whittle away at anxiety and carves out the purest form of grace that I can then extend to others. It’s a beautiful experience and an addicting joy to know the Lord uses a sinful person like me to fulfill his purposes.

 If you are thinking about going on a mission trip, I would love to hear from you so I can pray for you. It’s no little task to commit to a gospel-spreading trip, but I’ve been there and want to cheer you on! Even considering such a venture is admirable, so take courage in the convictions God has placed in your heart. Seek him, and you’ll discover life as you have never known it.

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