Over the past several years, much has been said about short-term mission trips and if they are effective. You can find countless blogs about the merits of such trips and even books have been written on the topic. One of those books is When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. I highly recommend this book especially for someone currently preparing for a short-term mission trip. Actually, it is required reading for anyone traveling on one of New Hope Initiative’s overseas trips. On every team’s first day in country, I facilitate a training based on the principles of the book. The point is to help individuals from Western, wealthier nations understand the complexities of poverty and issues of developing nations and help them develop a sense of open-mindedness and thoughtfulness about what they will see and experience in a country that is very different from their own. I find it helpful material for anyone really committed to learning and experiencing all that developing nations have to offer.
For the past several weeks, we have been preparing to host almost 100 visitors from the United States in Kenya and Tanzania. It’s going to be a crazy summer, but one that I believe will be fun and fruitful. In addition to the principles of When Helping Hurts, I’d like to give a few guiding points to anyone traveling with us (NHI) or on an overseas mission trip in general. Your participation can be so encouraging, helpful and effective, but it can also be discouraging, detrimental and hurtful. By keeping a few things in mind, your short-term trip can be successful.
First, an attitude of patience, humility and flexibility will make your trip more enjoyable (for you and your host). Places like East Africa are not like America. Don’t expect things to be the same. Just because it is not like America does not mean it is bad. There are many, many things about East Africa that I find much better than America. The pace of life, the sense of community and hospitality and the weather are just a few things that come to mind. I could go on and on. Just know that there are good and bad things about other countries and, likewise, there are good and bad things about America. Coming into situations with patience, humility and flexibility will help you adapt to the new culture and find the good things to experience while you are there.
Secondly, a sense of humor is helpful. NHI Founder, Karen Baird, and I often laugh at the situations that we get ourselves into in Nairobi. For the most part, these situations are not the most desirable and should make us want to cry. But, instead, we laugh. Living and working in a developing nation requires a sense of humor. If you cannot laugh at the camel crossing six lanes of traffic or being repeatedly lied to your face, then you better not try to work in places like Kenya. Of course, it’s not always a laughing matter, but I find tackling difficult situations with humor resolves problems more effectively and keeps you sane.
Next, throw all your expectations out the window! Go with a posture of listening, learning, and serving. If you expect to be entertained, you will be disappointed. Of course, your host wants you to have a good time and experience all you can. Hosting visitors in developing countries is hard. Visitors are very dependent on the host. It is draining and as a host you always want to please your guest. For me, the best guests have been the ones that did not have their own agenda, but allowed me to show them Kenya from my perspective. One good friend of mine visited every slum in Nairobi with me, because I had work to do in each of them, and she came along for the ride. It was such a blessing to me. Another friend counted and sorted beads for our business project. It was a tedious, boring job, but it needed to get done and she was willing to do anything to serve. Go with the intention of serving your host. Believe me, they have been thinking about you and serving you for several weeks, so you will be blessed. I promise.
Lastly, learn about the countries you are visiting and the ministries before you leave the States. Do your homework. It will enhance your experience and give you a sense of how you can connect with the people and projects in the long-term. For me, success of short-term trips for NHI is helping the individual learn and grow and find ways to connect with our people and projects long-term. Short-term trips have had a profound impact on my walk with Christ and my personal development. I have always prayed for the Lord to show me how to connect long-term. If it is only about the 10-14 days you are in country, then it’s a waste. Pray about how God would want to shape you and use you through the experience.
- Have an attitude of patience, humility and flexibility.
- Approach the trip with a sense of humor.
- Manage your expectations about what you will accomplish.
- Do your homework on the country and ministry you are visiting.
With these things in mind, I believe your short-term mission trip can be a huge success and effective for both you and your host! Looking forward to having you. Safe journey to East Africa!