Taking teams on short-term mission trips was unheard of some thirty years ago. Today nearly every church, Christian college and mission agency in the United States is involved. Of the estimated forty thousand short-term sending organizations in America today, there are more than one million short-termers of all ages involved. These experiences must be more than simply “the thing to do.” They must be carefully planned and orchestrated so they do not become glorified vacations with little lasting benefit. As responsible Christian sending groups, we must be sure these trips provide the maximum benefit for both the field where the team is going and the team members.
In 1964 my husband and I took a group on our first short-term mission trip. We did not know what we were starting but were delighted that our trip met a need both on the field and with those who went. After a few trips the Lord gave us greater vision; we started a mission agency and purchased a forty-passenger airplane. Within a few years we were taking people from various cities in the US all across Central America, South America and the Caribbean. During the next forty years we took over six thousand short-termers to countries all over the world.
The Development of Through the Eyes of Christ
Although I thought as leaders we were doing everything right, one day I realized something was missing. During and after each trip participants said they would never forget their experiences on the mission field. The sum total of their response, however, was simply to save money for the next trip. This did not seem right; surely a greater response was possible. I soon had the idea for a journal, Through the Eyes of Christ: A Short-term Missions Journal, which would help team members discover how the Lord was leading them. The journal was designed to make participants think more deeply about their experiences.
Essential Elements of a Journal
The primary purpose of the journal is to help Christians who are giving both their time and resources in a short-term mission trip to have a significant personal growth experience with the Lord. They are seeing things they have never seen before; they are relating to people of another culture, both Christian and non-Christian. Questions of values, responses and direction in life arise. Participants are mentored by these experiences and it is important to grasp what the Lord is trying to teach them. The following are six essential elements in a journal.|
- A record of daily experiences. Writing down daily experiences is a way to record each day’s events and their perceived value. The missionaries may think what they are doing today is so special that they will never forget it; this may not be true. The next day has great experiences too. If not written down, events and experiences can become confused, exaggerated and changed in the minds of the missionaries. If the experiences are written down, the chances are greater that what is related later will be more accurate.
- Daily responses. Each day’s challenges and encounters are significant. As the missionaries write about these events, they can also evaluate their responses. The missionaries can consider if this is the way the Lord would have them respond to certain situations. Luxuries such as a soft bed, a telephone, a television, a cold drink and fast foods are suddenly not available. This is an excellent opportunity to reevaluate what is important in life.
- Writing thoughts to God. This is the time for each team member to be in contact with God in a special way. A place in a journal for thoughts and meditations is a must. The journal allows missionaries to write their desires and longings so that they can be used by God. The missionaries can use the journal to express their innermost feelings and responses to God as they process trip events.
- Daily Prayers. Prompts for personal prayer time help team members cover each day in prayer. Praying for and about their day’s activities, their responses, their growing vision of the realities of the mission field and their relationship with teammates and new Christian friends is essential.
- Questions. Questions arise as missionaries discover conditions that may be common in this new country but uncommon to them. These questions are not to be ignored; they are to be remembered. The journal is the place to write these questions so that the missionary can later find the answer.
- Prayer Partners. No one should travel on a mission trip without prayer partners and a journal should include a place to record contact information. Scripture is clear on the importance of having people agree together in prayer. The missionary is not to come home the same person; he or she is to be different. He or she is also to do things differently. And the prayers of his or her prayer partners can help this happen.
Using Through the Eyes of Christ
It is important to begin praying, thinking and talking to God about an upcoming missions trip several days before departure. Through the Eyes of Christ starts ten days before departure and enables participants to be clear as to why they are going, what they want to experience and how they see the Lord might use them. These pages help travelers lay any fears or concerns before the Lord and prepare their heart, soul, mind and strength for the trip ahead. Getting into the habit of using the journal in advance of the trip is important.
The next section of the journal is for use during the trip. This has plenty of space for each day and questions to help analyze each experience. Each morning and/or night travelers are to take a minimum of ten minutes to write their thoughts and experiences. The third section is a place to reflect on the trip after returning home. In this section team members continue evaluating and discovering what the Lord was teaching them. The last section is debriefing.
This is the most significant section in the journal. Debriefing helps team members discover what the Lord is trying to teach them and the direction he wants them to go. The missionaries are not supposed to simply come home and say, “It was a great trip.” Their hearts are full with what they have seen and experienced and this is a time to work through these experiences. Through the Eyes of Christ contains key questions that will help them discover what the Lord is telling them; they can also work on practical next steps in obedience to the Lord. This section also guides them in how to tell their story to their circles of influence. Included are tips to help the missionary get others interested in learning more about the trip.
Journaling and Short-term Mission Trips
There is much untapped potential of short-term mission trips and journaling helps missionaries to discover this potential. One woman recently commented, “Every experience the Lord gives is an experience intended to further the kingdom.” Journaling will help the traveler to more clearly understand this. As mission trips increase in the coming years, the need to make the most of them increases as well. A time-tested journal is a valuable resource.
For more information on Through the Eyes of Christ: A Short-term Missions Journal, visit http://www.cvministries.org/ or call (US)317-876-9884.