So, You’re Going on a Short-term Missions Trip?

After going on sixteen foreign short-term mission trips over the past twenty-two years,
I believe I have gained some valuable insights to be considered before you depart.
First, I must tell you, I share your joy, anticipation, and excitement about taking the gospel to a foreign nation.  My heart is with you all the way.  There are, however, many kinds of missions work available to participate in, depending on your area of interest and expertise. For the purpose of keeping this article short and to the point, I am only going to address three types of mission journeys: Humanitarian, Gospel of Jesus Christ, or a combination of both.  The insights I will be sharing will apply to all three types of trips.
My experiences involved bringing the Gospel of Christ to seven nations, and so that will be the experience I will draw upon for the remaining portion of this handbook.  I sincerely hope you will find these key areas of importance to be helpful before you leave on your first journey.
Prayer-This may sound very elementary to a Christian, but have you brought your trip before the Lord in prayer?  It is always wise to seek God about His confirmation in your spirit before going any further.  If you have done this already, then we’ll move on, trusting you have God’s blessing on your upcoming trip.
Agreement between husband/wife/family-When you share your plan with your family, are you all on the same page?  Is there peace among all of you?  This is really important and don’t overlook its potential consequences if you are at ought with your family, and decide to go anyway.
Are you travelling alone or with a group/team?  Each option has its own benefits/drawbacks, but here are a few things to keep in mind.
If you are travelling alone, it is much to your advantage to keep your eyes open to what’s going on around you.  I don’t say this to cause you to fear, but if you are alone, you are a potential target for thieves and pickpocket artists.  They are very skillful in their deeds.  Keep any jewelry and valuables to a minimum.  If you are a man, keep your wallet in one of your front pockets; it is much more difficult for it to be stolen.  Use a money belt as well.
If you are going with a group or team, one of the most important things you should do is to purpose in your heart to willingly submit or yield yourself to the team leader.  If not, chaos will soon follow and could jeopardize the entire mission.  There are to be no “lone ranger” heroes.
In my personal experiences, I had someone travel with me on the first five trips; four into Eastern Europe, and one to Kenya, Africa.  I found that to be very comforting and helpful to travel with someone who had been there before me.  It’s very nice to have a familiar person to talk with, especially on an eight-hour plane trip.
Immunizations-Make sure you are in compliance with mandatory immunizations to visit some nations.  The US State Department website is very helpful.  In other nations, none are required but recommended.  For example, I received a Yellow Fever vaccination before going to Kenya.  I also made sure my Tetanus booster shot was up-to-date.  I received a prescription for Malaria tablets as a precaution, but not a necessity.  I made sure to have all three Hepatitis B shots as well, especially before going to India.  These were not mandatory, but I found it better to be protected before I ended up in a rural village with no medicines, doctors, or clinics, and laying hands on people with all manner of sickness and disease.  In which case, if you are a “germ freak”, add Germ-X to your list of things to bring.  We will cover more of that a little later.
Travel Documents- If you do not already have one, a valid US Passport is required.  You can get the application and photos at most local Post Offices.  The cost is currently $165-$175.
Visa-A visa is required by some nations, but not all.  The cost is currently around $75.  Some require you have it attached inside your passport, others require you get it at the airport of your Port of Entry before you can leave the airport.  Always check this before leaving on your journey.  Many Embassies or Consulates now sub-contract the Visa process to outside sources.  I use Travisa at www.travisa.com  for my India trips. The application can be downloaded and filled out online, but must be mailed by Certified Mail, along you’re your Passport.  Pay careful attention to all details and instructions.  One mistake could cost you valuable time in processing your document.
Time/Finances-Many short-term mission trips are anywhere from a week to a month in length.  There are many options and destinations to choose from.  You decide.  Make your travel plans well in advance before your departure date.  Give yourself enough time for the necessary fund-raising for the trip.  Expenses incurred will include the cost of your passport and a visa, if required.  Check those things out and get your necessary travel documents in order.  Transportation is costly, but shop early for your plane fare.  I deal directly will the appropriate airline, and often find great bargains on the cost of a ticket.  If possible, book and fly on Tuesdays/Thursdays.  If you are going with a group, this will usually be arranged for you already in the package cost.  Check every detail.
When you arrive in your host nation, expect to bring enough money to cover local transportation such as bus fare, taxis, trains, and/or subways.  If you stay in a hotel or hostel, there are costs for your room and your meals in restaurants.  Sometimes, you may be invited to eat with a local family.  Don’t be shocked when confronted with a total trip estimate to be in the range of $3000.
If you are travelling to Europe, most airlines will have you there in about seven hours from the east coast.  Remember to be aware of the time zone changes: five to six hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time.  If you are going to Africa or India, you will change flights in Europe.  If possible, allow three hours between flights as you will have to go through Security again before boarding your connecting flight.  That time frame also gives you more time to allow for any minor delays, and a little more time to get off the plane, especially if you are seated in the rear of the passenger cabin.  That can easily take you a half hour to forty minutes before you get off the plane and into the terminal.  For journeys to these countries, I have checked out nearly all European airlines for the best schedules many times.  I have found three to be the best for where I went. If you are going to Africa, my suggestion is British Airways.  You will fly direct to Heathrow Airport in London from JFK or Logan in Boston.  From there, you will fly nonstop to your destination in Africa, about 10 hours of flight time.  Learn to sleep in an airplane seat, even if it’s a few short naps along the way.  My other choice of airlines to Africa is KLM.  You would fly to Amsterdam, and change once to your final destination in Africa.  The fewer the stops, the better, since you can expect to spend about 18 hours of flying time, plus time between flights added on as well.
For trips to India, I fly either British Airways, or Lufthansa.  Both are excellent carriers with good prices, schedules, and great onboard service.  British Airways will route you first to Heathrow, then on to your port of entry in India, about 10 hours nonstop from London.  Lufthansa’s best route is to Frankfurt, Germany first, then a 9-hour nonstop flight to India.  Depending on where your final destination is, you may have to change flights to a domestic air carrier, once you arrive in India.
When you arrive in your host nation, expect to bring enough money to cover local transportation such as bus fare, taxis, trains, and/or subways.  If you stay in a hotel or hostel, there are costs for your room and your meals in restaurants.  Sometimes, you may be invited to eat with a local family.  Don’t be shocked when confronted with a total trip estimate to be in the range of $3000.
On my first five trips with others, our team was divided up to stay overnight with families most of the time, but a hotel was provided for a night or two during our stay.  After I began going alone, I always stayed with a host family.  Use your pre-departure time wisely to make sure your housing arrangements are made.  Don’t be surprised upon arrival, that these arrangements can and do change, but everything always works out with patience and prayer.
Things to bring/not to bring- One of the greatest tendencies to resist is bringing too much unnecessary luggage.  It is easy to do, especially the first few times you travel.  Do some online research about the place you are going to visit and bring appropriate clothing for the climate and weather you will encounter.  I wore sandals for two reasons: they were very practical to remove easily during the airport security screening process, and easy to remove before entering anyone’s home at my destination.  This is always a custom in both Africa and India.
If you are going to a third-world country, this is really important.  Think it not strange to be wearing the same clothes you left home in for the next two or three days.  I went to India and found this to be a very true statement.  And then don’t expect to find a nice washer and dryer everywhere you stay.  Many people have no such luxury and most have no electricity or running water.  Clothing was washed by hand in the backyard on a flat rock.  If you are staying in a large city, you won’t generally have these issues.  If you go to any rural areas, it is a certainty.  Learn quickly to conserve the amount of water you consume.  Most is hand-carried in water pots from one well in the village.  Don’t expect a nice hot shower every day either.  Generally, a small amount of water is heated so you may enjoy a sponge bath.  Just think of it as a real camping trip!
Toilet paper is a must.  If you forget to bring any, you’ll have to be creative and use your imagination.  You will find very few western-style flush toilets in rural villages.  Squat-holes are the norm in many third world countries.  Some are inside the home; others are in a covered shed outside.  For the most part, don’t worry; we missions people adjust quickly to our new surroundings.
Do not bring an inflatable air mattress if you are staying in a private home.  You will receive the best accommodations your host family has to offer you.  An air mattress would be a huge slap in the face to their hospitality.  Others might be sleeping on the floor to give you a bed, or a cot with a hard straw mattress.  Always be thankful and remember-these trips are only for a season.  You can do this!  Do not bring any unnecessary electronic gadgets because there may be no electricity where you stay.  You are not a tourist; you are carrying the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Avoid wearing any jewelry that makes you a target for thieves, thinking you are a rich American.  As I mentioned previously, bring several small bottles of Germ-X.  You may not always have the opportunity to wash your hands any other way.  Compression stockings are invaluable for such long journeys.  They help prevent blood from collecting in your lower legs from so many hours sitting in an airplane seat, thereby reducing the risk of blood clots forming.  Small personal items to bring would include such things as Imodium capsules to help with diarrhea before it gets out of control and you become very dehydrated.  Sometimes it is not due to any sickness, but simply adjusting to new foods and will clear up in a day or two.  Bring your own hand soap, toothpaste, and perhaps some aspirin.  Depending on where you are, you may not be able to purchase these items.  It is far better to bring them and not need them, than to need them and not have them.
Airport-For those of us who live in the northeastern states, there are several very good international airports to leave from.  Among them are:  Logan airport in Boston and JFK in New York City. For those of you living in other geographic areas, you will know where to fly from for your particular trip.  However, a few tips are important.  Always arrive early.  International flights require you to check in three hours before flight time.  Check in all luggage except your carry-on bag.  Make sure your suitcases are checked all the way to the final destination as whenever possible.  This will eliminate you needing to deal with that any further.  Your boarding passes will be printed at the same time.  Check with your airline for all other important details about their check-in policies.
Security-
Have your passport and boarding passes in hand when you approach the TSA officer.  They will verify your documents and allow you to proceed to the screeners.  You will be required to take off your shoes, remove belt, outer jacket or sweater, empty your pockets of everything and put them into a plastic tray provided.  Your carry-on bag will also pass through a scanner to check for anything not permitted.  Make sure you play by the rules. Check with the airline for items permitted and items not permitted.  If you do not, it will hinder you considerably.  Don’t ever argue with a TSA agent or become contentious.  They have the legal authority to have you arrested on the spot.  But I know you will all follow the rules, so this should be no problem.  While your carry-on bag and plastic tray are going through the scanner, you will also pass through a scanner and may also be “frisked” to make sure you are not carrying anything on your person.  The first time can be a little intimidating, but remember, it is a small inconvenience to make your journey safe and fruitful.  Once you are onboard the aircraft, relax and enjoy the flights with all the great accommodations for your comfort.   Before you land at your destination, the flight attendants will hand out Immigration and Customs forms for you to fill out.  Make sure you read and complete carefully.
When you arrive at your destination airport, you will first be directed to an Immigration desk for inspection of your travel documents by an Immigration Officer.  If all is in order, he will stamp your passport and send you to Customs.  Here you will declare if you brought anything into the country to have to pay any taxes or fees.  This is where you will give the Customs Officer the paperwork you filled out on the plane.  Then you will be free to proceed to Baggage Claim and retrieve your luggage.  Just outside that area is where your contact will be waiting for your arrival and will take you to where you will be staying.
Overcoming jetlag-If you travel through many time zones, your body may have some minor difficulty in adjusting to the new local time.  I have discovered some simple thing which has helped me tremendously.  Whenever I arrive at my destination, I get outside in the sunshine as soon as possible.  It doesn’t have to be a long time, but somehow, it helps reset our biological clock.  When I go to India, the flight always arrives around midnight to 2am India Standard Time.  That is 9 ½ hours ahead of east coast time here in the states.  I stay up for a couple of hours, take a short nap, and then get outside.  I then stay up all the rest of the day and go to bed at my usual time.  When I wake up the next morning, I am fully rested and have no further issues with the time change.  Returning back to the states, the flight and time is exactly opposite and we are flying “backwards” through the time zones.  I readjust in the same manner.  I hope you’ll try that and see if perhaps it will help you also.
Final Comments-Always remember you are going as an invited guest.  Submit yourself to your host family or church group so will have a proper covering.  You represent the Kingdom of God first, secondly, our nation.  You will be judged by the locals as to how well you exhibit that in your mannerisms and lifestyle before them.  Be gracious and respectful, not haughty.  Be thankful for the provisions of food and shelter which have been provided for your stay.  Guard your heart from murmuring and complaining.  Rid your vocabulary of any unnecessary slang words such as the excessive use of words as these:  “you know”, “like”, as these words will not make any sense to anyone translating for you if you do any speaking where you need a translator.  Practice speaking short and to the point sentences to help the locals better understand what you are talking about.  Keep your eyes open for rats, roaches, snakes, spiders, and perhaps an occasional scorpion.  These are very common in a third-world country and you need to get over being squeamish.  As concerning food, whenever possible, eat home-prepared meals. Your host knows very well how to prepare good and safe meals.  Buy bottled water to avoid drinking from a contaminated source.  You’ll be glad you did.  These kinds of journeys are not for everyone, but if you have read this article to the end, you will do great and mighty exploits for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  You will come home enriched beyond measure in your inner man.  Your testimony will touch many hearts.  May God richly bless your journey.

*Rick Blaisdell is the author of two published books:  One Life to Give-the daily journals of his trips.
His second book has just been released on January 20, 2015: One Life to Give-Living Water for Thirsty Souls-an expanded, updated text with 30 full-color photos.  Both books in paperback and e-book version are available on Rick’s book site: www.onelifetogivebook.com.

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