Planning a mission trip is a lot of work. I am not super experienced in this realm; I don’t have years and years of experience. But I have planned and led two mission trips for the church I went to in college (shout-out to the University Lutheran Chapel in Ann Arbor, MI—much love). The first trip I was a part of planning was to Houston, TX, in 2018 after Hurricane Harvey. We were part of the wonderful disaster response efforts with Heart for Texas, an LCMS-affiliated organization.
The next was in 2019 to Wilmington, NC, in response to Hurricane Florence. We worked with WARM, an organization that focuses on accessibility updates for the low-income elderly. After Florence, the work they had increased. For both trips, the coordination between my church, my planning team, and the organizations we partnered with was extensive. We had to figure out housing, transportation, meals, and, since both of these happened during our college spring break, time for rest. Most important, we needed to figure out the spiritual aspect: How would we make sure we were centered and focused on Christ during all of this?
This was surprisingly one of the more difficult parts of planning both trips. Here are some ideas for resources and things you can do to center your trip on Christ.
Use a Published Study
In Texas, we did a Bible study during lunch breaks. Because we were working hand in hand with the homeowners, we wanted to make sure we spent some time in God’s Word with them. I combed the internet for hours to find resources. It was a lot of work, and while the study we ended up doing was pretty good, it wasn’t necessarily the best use of time and resources.
I wish I had thought to find a published study for these trips, but planning a trip on top of seventeen credits’ worth of classes makes your brain go a little fuzzy. When picking out a study to do, think about what time of day you’ll be doing the study and what type of content you want to focus on. Do you want a study that focuses on being in service to God? Or do you want to study one specific book of the Bible? Are you looking to do this with people outside of the group you’re bringing, or is this going to be done in a small group? Thinking about these questions helps you to find a study that fits.
Don’t forget to spend some time before the trip going over the content of the study. Doing this allows you to already be thinking about the questions so you'll be able to reword some questions if your group finds them difficult!
Plan to Sing
The first night of our North Carolina trip, we brought a guitar out to the docks of the camp we stayed at. We had a talented musician with us and wanted to make use of her gifts. We sang hymns and praise songs along with our study of Scripture. As we sang, other people who were staying at the camp heard us and joined us for study and singing. I will never forget praising God as the rain started to come down heavily, but we were sheltered on the covered dock.
Because of that night, we planned for another informal worship session around the campfire. The musician and I sat down and wrote a set list for the night; we would take requests but wanted to make sure that we had some of our favorites ready in case people were too shy to pipe up. Because of the unity created through worshiping together, we felt a deeper connection to the kingdom of God. As we all were working with the same organization but at different worksites, it allowed us to give thanks for one another’s work.
If you know you have musicians in your group, see if you can bring instruments along. If not, that’s okay; a cappella will do just fine.
Because we did our Bible study during lunch in Texas, we wanted to have something at night to debrief what we had seen that day, praise God for the work we were able to do, and grow together in community. So, we asked for people to volunteer to lead a devotion and then assigned each of them a night. Each person came up with his or her own devotion. Whether they simply talked about what God was teaching them through the work or asked us questions on a passage from Scripture, we were reminded together of God's work among us.
Go ahead and ask your group members individually if they would like to lead a devotion. Guide them by letting them know what it could potentially look like, and remind them you are thankful for their service. Asking group members makes them feel like they have agency in the spiritual aspect of the trip. It gives motivation for them to participate more in others’ devotions, because they know they want participation in their own. You are on mission for Christ as a team—everyone has a role in every aspect of the trip. Sharing responsibility for devotions reminds everyone of that.
I had no idea what it looked like to plan for spiritual development on a mission trip before I was asked to lead this aspect. I now am aware of what worked best for the groups I was with and what didn’t work so well. Planning will pay off, so I pray these suggestions give you a little bit of guidance.
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