As many of you know, we took a group of students and adults to Managua, Nicaragua this summer.  It was the first youth missions trip for our church, and the first missions trip we’ve led.  By  all accounts, the trip exceeded our expectations, especially for our first trip!  The trip went so well for a few reasons, listed in order of importance:

  1. God’s provision and care
  2. A great team
  3. Prayer
  4. Study, research, and learning quickly

If you are in youth ministry (or just have a heart for missions) you can plan a missions trip too!  I learned so much doing this trip, thanks to people who had gone before.  Here are some helpful tips for planning and executing a missions trip, learned by experience.  I’ll have to break it into a few posts; some are more obvious than others, but all are very important.

1) Start early.
This is one of the obvious ones.  This is a huge project for anyone, especially if you’re a volunteer.  You can definitely do it, but expect to spend 100+ hours in planning and preparation.  Have you considered doing a missions trip next summer?   Where are you going?

Start talking about it with the people who will grant their blessing at your church (senior pastor, executive pastor, youth pastor), and start gauging interest from parents and students.  Those discussions will also expose existing connections to ministries, the obvious options for where to go for your trip and what to do.

Here’s the rough timeline we used:

  • Fall: Pre-discussions, gauged family interest, gained permission from leadership, narrowed our choices
  • November/December: Final country decision, advertising, generating interest, providing information
  • December/January: Registration (with $100 deposit to show you’re serious), booked flights
  • February-June: Planning and training
  • July: Trip

2) Connect with a local ministry.
Feeding Program

Wherever you go, you will have the most impact if you plug in with an existing ministry.  That ministry has been working there for years, most likely.  They have the network; they have the resources (or access to them with your help); they have the knowledge to get you into places that you’ll make an impact.  They’ll also help keep you out of trouble with officials or bad neighborhoods.

Donna Holland School

In Nicaragua, we partnered with a few organizations: a church, a school, and a feeding program that already exists.  We were able to serve in all of them and be a blessing.  Without those connections we would have been frustrated and less effective.  As you’re thinking about the ministries you’ll serve, remember to…

3) Manage your expectations (and your students’ expectations).
You may have a heart for missions – I do, too.  We can get caught up in the excitement of the trip, hyped up for Jesus, thinking “We’re gonna set _________ (insert country name) on fire for Jesus!”  No, no you’re not, sadly.  Those ministries that you will partner with have been there full-time for years.  Years.  You are going for a week, or maybe two.  Yes, great things will happen.  Yes, people will be blessed by the things you do and give and minister.  Yes, you will be part of the greater work God is doing in that country.  But the most significant change will happen in you – your heart and your life.

I have many more thoughts on this, so stay tuned for them in the next few days!

Have you been on a missions trip before?  Where did you go?  What’s an important thing to do or know before going on a trip like that?

All photos courtesy of Nancy Ray