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Life lessons from mission trips

Thirteen insights to carry into everyday life

Thinking of planning a mission trip in 2018? I’ve had the privilege of travelling to many nations on mission trips over the past decade to Cambodia, Thailand, The Philippines, Japan, and the US. Here’s a few things I’ve learned:

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Too often we get distracted and end up doing lots of good things, but not God things.

1. Everything is subject to change without notice. Be ready to go with the flow, don’t be precious about your programmes and plans. Sometimes plans change and you need to be ready, in season and out of season, to achieve your mission.

2. Don’t get mission drift. Too often we get distracted and end up doing lots of good things, but not God things. What is the mission God has called you to do? Live your life worthy of the call.

3. Don’t be fussy about food. I’ve learned to always be grateful for whatever is served up to me. If you think it’s going to make you sick, don’t eat it. You don’t have to eat at every mealtime; you can fast if you want to. I’ve been surprised at some of the people who come to our soup kitchen. I had one guy who came in my car, then asked to get out when I told him we were having spaghetti bolognaise, because he didn’t like it! Some say, “Beggars can’t be choosers.” I think in our Western culture, we’ve all become too precious and fussy about food. Now I like a nice meal, but we need to be careful not to be gluttonous and covetous when it comes to food. Look at all the TV shows that idolise food! Our culture is obsessed with fine food, and the Bible warns that for some people “their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.” Let’s be grateful for whatever we are given.

It’s nice to have some pics to remember things by, but don’t go overboard.

4. Western culture isn’t the only culture in the world. So often our world view is formed by the country we have been raised in. The Bible was written in the Middle East, with a very strong Hebrew focus. When it talks about marriage or slavery or the poor or persecution, or submitting to leaders or many other subjects, it will apply differently to the culture you live in. The truth is still the same, but the way it’s applied is different. For example, to be persecuted in our country is very different from being persecuted in North Korea. A lot of our Christian teachings come from the US and from Christian media. A lot of these are ministries are great, but the “Americanised” version of Scripture isn’t always right.

5. Basic people skills are very important in every culture. Some people act like they are baptised in lemon juice with the look on their face! We must remember to smile, say please and thank you. Learn to get on with people, even if they rub you up the wrong way. God may have placed them next to you to be a “grace-grower” and to build your character.

Be available to go wherever the Lord leads you and he will provide.

6. You don’t have to take a photo of everything. It’s nice to have some pics to remember things by, but don’t go overboard. What’s your motivation for your pics? To show your good deeds before men on Facebook? To show donors so that they will donate more? To inspire others to go and help the mission that you’ve visited? These are all good healthy questions to wrestle with. Guard your heart. Your mission is to honour God’s calling, not to show off before others.

7. God will provide. So many times, people have blessed me financially so I can go on a mission trip. I’ve had organisations pay for my trips; sometimes people have covered the whole cost, and I’ve even had financial breakthroughs that have been enough to pay for trips at just the right time. God wants your availability more than your ability. Be available to go wherever the Lord leads you and he will provide. Don’t be ashamed if sometimes you need to ask people to donate for your trip. If your motive is pure and you are going for the Lord, there’s no shame in asking for support in a humble way.

8. Don’t be precious about sleep. Sometimes you’ll have long flights, many airports, late nights and early starts, and your body clock can be out of whack. God can give you supernatural strength and anoint you for the task. God doesn’t call the equipped he equips the called.

If it’s bad weather, or no Wi-Fi, or a power blackout or a frog in the toilet … Proverbs says, “a merry heart is like medicine to the soul.”

9. Be ready to minister as the Holy Spirit leads. Sometimes you might need to preach with an interpreter. Or pray for people, or cast out a demon. Sometimes it will be necessary to feed the poor or visit someone in hospital. Always have compassion and love. Don’t treat people as if they’re a project or a notch on your belt. Let spiritual gifts be like a bag of golf clubs – sometimes you’ll need a putter, or a driver or a sand wedge, and when you look at the conditions you need to decide which one is best to use. Sometimes people will need healing or salvation, or deliverance. Be ready to listen to the Holy Spirit’s leading. Sometimes you’ll get it wrong, but it’s OK to make mistakes. And if people don’t want to receive from you, then wipe the dust off your feet and move on to the nest person.

Often, we go on a trip thinking we are there to save the world.

10. Be an encourager. Leadership coach John Maxwell says we should always add value to every person we meet. How can we encourage and bless the people we meet? What are their felt needs? How can we inspire and equip them? One of the criticisms of short-term mission is that we blow in, blow up and blow out, without leaving any long-term fruit. How can we sow some seeds that will last and bear much fruit? Sometimes we feel that we are the Westerners coming in to save the day. We need to assess the situation and ask the Lord, “How can I serve you best in this situation?”

11. Have a sense of humour. Things won’t always go your way, have a laugh at the problems that arise. If it’s bad weather, or no Wi-Fi, or a power blackout or a frog in the toilet … Proverbs says, “a merry heart is like medicine to the soul.”

12. Be teachable. Often, we go on a trip thinking we are there to save the world. The Bible warns us, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” (Romans 12:3) God loves us the way we are, but he loves us too much to leave us the way we are. He is wanting to teach us and mould us. Be willing to learn in all situations.

13. Failure is a great teacher. If you mess up, learn from your mistakes and consider how you can improve and do things better the next time.

 

Matt Prater Senior Pastor at New Hope Church Brisbane and hosts the History Makers programme on Vision Christian Radio.

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