Earlier this year, I was called into fulltime ministry. But before that happened, God was at work preparing and equipping me for it. One of the ways that He did that was through short-term missions trips, which is pretty much the same thing as fulltime ministry except way more intense and physical. I’ve had the privilege of being on four separate missions teams – in college I went to Mexico and with EFree I went to New Orleans twice with a trip to Russia sandwiched in between.
Missions is hard. It’s unglamorous, it’s rigorous. It’s sweaty, it’s dirty. It’s spiritual warfare. It’s tiring. But the joys of it are unmatched.
You don’t always agree with your teammates all the time.
People are people. We’re messy. We say things that we don’t mean at inopportune times. We’re emotional creatures of habit designed to feel feelings. And once we’re out of our normal environment, these emotions are escalated. It’s so important to be gracious to your teammates and vise-versa. Have a concern? Talk through it and let go of your desire to be “right.” This takes humility!
You sleep where you can, when you can.
Trains, planes, vans, airport chairs, the ground… anywhere is fair game to catch a few minutes of shut-eye. On missions trips, I’ve had my own room, slept in the same bed as Jeanne Hopper, and have also roomed with 20 other women.
Sleep is so important on missions trips. You’re often exhausted from jet lag, the time difference, and a hard day’s work. So when you have the opportunity to sleep, take it! Don’t let the enemy use your lack of sleep and energy to cause you to be irritable and diminish your ministry. I don’t ever take sleeping pills* but on a missions trip I’ll purchase the smallest box of them that I can find and take them with me. I’m a light sleeper and even more so in a new environment, and I don’t want a lack of sleep to be the reason I can’t focus in the morning.
Things you take for granted at home may not be readily available on the field.
That facewash you use calm inflammation? Take it with you. Tampons? Stock up and take them with you, especially for international trips. Even if I don’t need them, I’ll pack them anyway because there are other women that do.
Food is one of the defining factors of culture and it’s different even from city to city. Especially if you’ll be serving in a new environment, it’s good to know how your body reacts to different types of food. For example, I can’t eat a chili pepper without having 50 gallons of ice water on standby, yet for the most part I can fall asleep after drinking half a cup of (regularly caffeinated) coffee. If we know ourselves and our limits well, it’ll help us be an asset to our teammates.
Bathrooms. On one of the teams I served on, “bathroom” = the woods.
Spiritual attacks are real.
Any time you do something for Jesus, you can expect spiritual attacks because the opposition doesn’t want us to even remotely glorify God. There was spiritual warfare even as I was determining the topic, writer, and content for this week’s blog. Even as I was writing this post, the enemy robbed me of a significant amount of time. I had set aside specific nights that were “blog writing nights.” One of those nights began as I was leaving work and my car wouldn’t start at all. Even though Stephen King wrote a novel about Christine the car, Christine the human is terrible with cars. The warning light that radiated on the dashboard of my car didn’t match the issue underneath the hood of my car. That caused confusion. Thankfully my mechanically gifted coworker had the know-how to help me out. But I digress.
Confusion – the enemy likes to confuse and he’ll do that sometimes through vehicle issues (which has happened to me on a missions trip) but more often than not through miscommunication between teammates. He’ll use whatever he can to distract you from serving Jesus – it could be a delayed flight, missing baggage, a language barrier, a restless night, discouraging words, anything! Spiritual warfare happens at the most inopportune times. And nothing can prepare or equip you for it better than Jesus can (Ephesians 6).
Prepare to prepare and debrief.
There are usually a couple of months’ prepwork that go into each missions trip. You pray a lot, meet your teammates, bond with them, get to know the ministry site you’ll be serving at, read up on missionaries, send support letters (this part is especially humbling), write ‘thank you’ notes, and so much more.
After my Russia trip, we were essentially ‘on tour’ for a month. There were report letters to send out to our ministry partners, Q&A’s, ministry events to attend which support the ministry that we were part of, and we also gave verbal reports and presentations of the trip. I also did an ice bucket challenge for the ministry. These were things that I found myself wanting to do. I wanted other people to experience what I experienced because what I experienced was God on a deeper level through His people on the other side of the world. I wanted them to experience and support the ministry because I got to experience first-hand how great it was.
The endgame is beautiful.
As Christians, we live for a purpose that’s far greater than ourselves. Especially on a short-term trip, we may not always get to see the full fruits of God’s work through us. But one day in Heaven, we’ll see these fruits and oh what a joy that will be!
Words & photo by Christine Hu