“It will all be good when we get on the road.” This is my mantra in the months and weeks leading up to the high school mission trip. Once we’re on the road, everyone is present, the paperwork is in, fundraising done, teams assigned, and hopefully my towel and extra contacts are packed. And it is all good. We see God’s love embodied in those we work for and with. We see adults and students creating lifelong relationships. We see God speaking to students through people, work, and worship.
Start with Questions
But how do we get there? There are so many places and people asking for help and so many groups sending you information. Where do you start in planning a mission trip? I start by asking a few questions to identify what’s most important for the mission experience, both for me, the leader, the adult volunteers, and the students.
- Why are we going? Are we looking for a mission trip focused on evangelism, repair work, an opportunity for student to grow in faith and leadership? Do we want a trip that encourages relationship building and cultural understanding?
- What type of experience do we want? All-inclusive or do it yourself? Urban or rural? Domestic or international? Denominational or non/interdenominational?
- How are we preparing? What is the pre-trip need for fundraising, skills building, cross-cultural understanding? The answer could add more time and demands before the trip.
There are no right answers to any of these questions. Once you ask some of these questions, talk to people. Ask about other churches’ experiences. If it’s your first trip or you have a small group, think about joining another church group. When I led my first trip with Appalachia Service Project, it was invaluable to have a more experienced group walk with us through the deadlines and preparations. And there was a year I had one youth committed to our mission trip. We joined another church to make it cost-effective and more fun.
Brainstorm your Options
- Global Young People Mission Site
Ready to brainstorm options? Global Young People has a great place to start Here you can sort through 65 United Methodist mission sites for location, mission work, price, and age level.
Haven’t found what you’re looking for? It’s not an exhaustive list,but a great place to start! Here are a couple of places I have been:
- Motown Mission
This is United-Methodist based urban work mission experience in Detroit. They provide lodging, food, organized work, worship, and reflection on the economic state of Detroit. There is free time to explore Detroit and attend a Tigers game. I helped with an urban garden.
- Appalachia Service Project
This is a ministry to make homes warmer, safer and drier in Appalachia. They provide pre-trip study sessions to understand culture and home repairs as well as lodging, food, organized worksites, worship, and reflection on Appalachian culture. There is an emphasis on building relationships with the family each group is serving alongside and students volunteers are asked to lead morning devotions. ASP takes a lot of pre-trip planning, which is worth it. If it’s your first year, talk to ASP about finding a church near you to help you get started.
- Creating your own
I wanted to balance our mission trip experiences. High school youth had a tradition of serving with Appalachia Service Project. So the I had flexibility to plan a middle school mission trip to an urban area. I called the neighboring United Methodist Conference office and asked about churches or mission opportunities in Indianapolis. We found Fletcher Place Community Center that welcomed our 6-8 grade students for two days of cleaning, food sorting, and clothes hanging. Then, I called UM churches nearby to inquire about lodging. We slept on the floor, had shower and kitchen access. Part of the youth’s responsibilities for the week were meal planning, grocery shopping, cooking, and dishes. It was inexpensive and more logistical work but a great fit for our youth and goals. We returned several years.
For further thoughts and resources on mission trips check out this incredible article at the Fuller Youth Institute.
May God be with you as you plan, learn, and serve!