Short-term mission trips are an established part of the landscape for many churches. But there is different kind of trip to consider within your missionary community, perhaps an even more valuable one: a missionary care trip.
The purpose of a care trip is to care for and encourage the missionary on the field in a holistic manner. This could include myriad helps—counseling, rest, assistance with their ministry, provision of material needs, etc. Much of what a care trip entails comes from your partner’s expressed needs.
I became involved with the missionary care ministry at my church a couple of years ago. While our care ministry is a thriving one, care trips were a new venture we had not considered until recently. Here is what we have learned from our first missionary care trip.
Pray for the Partner
Consider the missionaries your church partners with and commit to pray about who is most in need of a care trip. As you pray, be sensitive to God’s leading and who he continually brings before you.
“The purpose of a care trip is to care for and encourage the missionary on the field in a holistic manner.”
As we prayed about the possibility of taking our first trip, one particular team kept coming up in our conversations. They had attended our missionary care retreat in the US the previous fall and more than once had expressed a desire for us to visit. We stayed in regular contact with them in the months following, and it became clear that this was the care trip we needed to make.
Ask for Permission
Permission from your partner is imperative. It’s easy to plan a trip based on what fits your church’s schedule rather than what is best for your partner. If they haven’t approached you first, be sure to ask for permission. Let them choose the time (and the length of stay) that fits their schedule.
Make sure they know that the priority of the visit is to care for them rather than to serve in the traditional structure of a short-term trip. Typical short-term trips require the missionary to do a lot of planning to find ways for you to serve while you’re there. The last thing you want to do is place an undue burden on your partner to plan things for you to do.
Granted, some planning is inevitable, but we learned a little too late that our visit may have added an extra level of stress that we would rather have avoided. In hindsight, we could have been clearer in communicating the intent of our trip so that our partners did not feel pressured to prepare for our arrival and to plan extra things for us to do.
So, when you ask for permission, be sure to clarify your intent.
Pinpoint the Needs
A key factor in determining the focus of a care trip is to have an accurate picture of your partner’s needs. Determining needs requires a trusting, open, and honest relationship so they are comfortable sharing needs without fear or hesitation.
Be sensitive, and be an active listener for their ministry needs, personal and practical needs, financial needs, medical concerns, marriage issues, parenting problems, interpersonal conflict with their team or church congregation, need for resources such as Bibles or Bible studies, a desire for further training, or maybe they just need rest.
Accurately pinpointing needs is tremendously helpful in making a care trip effective. You won’t know everything, but you’ll know a lot. As our conversations with our partner progressed, their needs became more and more apparent. This allowed the care team to discuss what and who to bring in order to care for them in the best way.
“Accurately pinpointing needs is tremendously helpful in making a care trip effective.”
Assemble the Proper Team
Once the who, where, and when of a care trip are determined, assembling a proper team is key. Team dynamics and interpersonal relationships can make or break any trip. Pray for team members who are prayerful, spiritually mature, culturally sensitive, and flexible. Pray for people who are committed to the purpose of the trip and understand the identified needs of the partner. Other things to keep in mind are:
Smaller teams are generally better for a care trip involving one partner. Your host may be overwhelmed by a team that is too large. We were a team of six, which turned out to be ideal.
Multigenerational teams add energy and experience. Our team covered a four-decade age range, which served us well in filling in the gaps in culture, skill, and experience.
- Spiritual gifts
Based on what you know about your partner, what spiritual gifts will be most needed? Hospitality, administration, teaching, service, others? As we prepared, we identified needs for worship, teaching, prayer, hospitality, and encouragement, just to name a few. This enabled us to tailor our care team and our itinerary according to the needs of our partner.
- Skill set
Sometimes your partner can benefit from technical or professional skills. This may be related to finances, counseling, or medical advice. Try to align your team according to the skill sets you have identified. Our team included members with many years of professional business experience, ministry experience, and leadership skills. This proved to be invaluable as our partners wrestled with several issues related to spiritual formation and leadership transition within their local congregation.
Play Your Part
Who will lead the team? Every team needs someone to organize the trip, set a tone of encouragement and enthusiasm, and knows and understands the purpose of the trip.
Who will plan the travel, organize the itinerary, and manage the funding? How will you communicate with each other, especially if you are headed to a closed country or a sensitive region?
- Main Contact
Who will be the main contact person with your partner? We were fortunate to have members of our team who had an established relationship with our partner that spanned many years. They were the perfect people to be our main point of contact as we planned.
- Team Member
All team members need to be aware of their role in a care trip. Make sure they know they’ve been chosen for a reason and that God intends to use their spiritual gifts and skills.
The most important thing we learned from our first care trip was to be prepared but flexible. All may not be revealed about your missionary’s needs until you are on the ground with them in their own environment. That was the case with our team. Through prayer and the Spirit’s guidance, along with flexibility and a servant’s heart, we worked through everything together. As a result, we established lasting relationships in a far country that will continue to grow. Our trip was a sweet and special time, and for sure, we will return.