Mission Trip Preparation
Short-term mission trips can be a very effective way for churches and individuals to join in missions work around the world. The work of planning, administrating, and leading those trips, however, can be equally difficult and overwhelming. In order to assist leaders in the planning process, we’ve compiled a list of helpful tools and information for planning and leading short-term trips. Check out the links below for assistance as you begin to plan an upcoming trip.
BASIC TRIP PREPARATION
IMB policy requires all volunteers involved in an IMB project to purchase insurance for their protection. Gallagher Charitable International Insurance (formerly Adams & Associates) has been used by most IMB volunteer teams and provides medical, accidental death, medical evacuation, disability, and many other benefits. The volunteer or sponsor is responsible for the cost of this coverage.
Volunteers are responsible for their own travel arrangements. You can use any travel agency you find helpful. For a list of travel agents experienced in working with IMB volunteers, call 804-353-0151 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s often helpful to check with more than one agent to compare prices and services. Make sure to inquire about visa requirements for entry into your country of service. Some countries require visas while others only require a valid passport. For passport, visa, and other travel information, visit the US Department of State.
Please check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for immunizations recommended for your country of service.
You also can contact your local health department for more information on inoculations. Remember to always consult with your personal physician before you take any inoculation.
Process for Short-term Mission Trip Participants
Children are a precious resource entrusted to us, and their care and protection are top priorities. In a world where sexual and physical abuse of children is a sad reality, IMB and the churches and other ministries that we partner with must take steps to ensure that children are safe and secure from sexual and physical abuse. Because almost everyone serving on the mission field has the potential to interact with children, IMB requires all short-term mission trip participants to receive child protection training and go through a background screening process.
Child protection training materials that cover IMB policies and procedures are available from IMB and can be accessed through the links below. Alternatively, many churches have training in place for those who work with children and youth designed to prevent child abuse. Each person participating in mission trip must undergo child protection training, either by utilizing the materials provided by IMB or by participating in their church’s training.
The IMB training materials and video include:
- The problem of child sexual abuse
- Critical components to reduce the risk of child abuse
- Signs of sexual abuse
- How to respond to reports of child sexual abuse
- Ways to protect workers from false allegations
Training Video and Guides:
- Training Video (English, Spanish, Korean, Deaf)
- Leader’s Guide
- Learner’s Guide
- Answers to Learner’s Guide Questions
- Discussion Guide
- Suggested Responses Guide
Reference and Personal Interview Forms:
- Reference Form (PDF, Word)
- Personal Interview Questions (PDF, Word)
- Protect My Ministry’s Ministry Mobilizer site
If you have trouble viewing or downloading any of these files, please call us toll-free (800) 999-3113, option 3.
IMB requires that everyone participating in a mission trip undergo a three part background screening process that includes a criminal background check, an interview, and confidential references. (Note: because criminal background checks are not available for those under 18 years of age, this component of the background screening is not required for those under 18). The sending church (or other sending organization) should interview each potential team member, gather and evaluate personal references, and secure a company to conduct a criminal background check for each team member. The check should include a county, state, and national record check.
Many churches already have engaged a company to conduct criminal background checks. For churches or partner groups that don’t have a process in place, IMB has established a relationship with Protect My Ministry to facilitate the criminal background check process.
Protect My Ministry provides discounted rates and a streamlined online process for conducting the checks, reviewing the results, and safeguarding the data. Churches can establish an account with Protect My Ministry.
IMB offers sample interview questions and a sample confidential reference form that can be used to complete the interview and confidential references. If a church uses Protect My Ministry, the interview is built into the background check process and doesn’t need to be repeated separately.
An individual shall not be allowed to serve as a short-term mission trip participant engaged in work in collaboration with IMB if the background screening or any other information reveals any information demonstrating that the individual engaged in (1) any prior behavior constituting sexual abuse of a child, (2) any crime of a sexual nature, or (3) any other behavior that reasonably indicates that this individual would pose a risk of sexually abusing a child. An individual shall not be allowed to serve on a short-term mission trip that is in collaboration with IMB if that individual has engaged in any behavior that reasonably indicates that this individual would pose a risk of physically abusing a child.
See the materials below for more detailed, step-by-step procedures to complete the training and background screening components of the child protection process.
The mission trip Team Leader must certify in writing that every short-term mission trip participant has completed the child protection process (both background screening and training). The Team Leaders must send (e.g., by email) this written certification to his or her IMB host contact on the field. This written certification should list each member of the team and state that each one has completed the child protection process. The training and background screening must be completed at least once every four years.
1. What are the facts about child sexual abuse?
There is an epidemic of child abuse. Statistics are staggering: one out of five girls is sexually abused before turning twelve, one of four before eighteen. One out of eight boys is sexually abused before turning twelve, one of six before eighteen. Even worse, reports indicate that because sexual predators target trusting environments where children are present, the incidence of abuse is often higher in the Christian community. Indeed, 90 percent of registered sex offenders claim to be “religious” or “very religious.” The mission field is not immune to this epidemic. One survey of 600 missionary kids from several agencies revealed that 7 percent said they had been sexually abused. Sources: National Center on Child Abuse; Missionary Kid Consultation and Research Team/Committee on Research and Endowment
Statistics do not begin to describe the devastating consequences of child abuse. Victims struggle with the emotional and spiritual impact for the rest of their lives. Abuse victims are at a higher risk of inflicting abuse on other children. Allegations of abuse also can tarnish, sometimes irreparably, a church’s ministry. Instead of being able to discuss the gospel, leadership may have to explain to a skeptical media, jury or visitors why they didn’t prevent the abuse. Churches have faced verdicts of up to $100 million for child abuse committed on their watch. Any church that sends an individual to serve (even unpaid service) may be held responsible for that individual’s actions.
2. How can the members of my short-term mission team be screened and trained to help prevent the abuse of children?
Each team member must complete and pass the three elements of background screening—criminal background check, interview, and references—and complete training in how to prevent child abuse. (Because criminal background checks are not available for those under 18 years of age, this component of the background screening is not required for those under 18).
Completion of this process must be certified in writing (e.g., by email) by the mission trip team leader to the IMB host contact on the field prior to the short-term mission trip. This written certification should list each member of the team and state that each one has completed the child protection process.
3. Why is the child protection process being requested of all team members whether or not their primary assignment is specifically working with children?
It’s our experience that almost everyone serving on the mission field ends up with access to and interaction with children, no matter what their primary assignment entails.
4. How do I complete the background screening process for my team members?
The background screening has three parts:
- Independent Criminal Background Check — Each mission trip member (except those under age 18) must undergo a criminal background check. Many churches have a company they already use to conduct the criminal background checks. The check performed should include a data search from the national criminal and sexual predator databases and the individual’s county of current residence. If you don’t have an established relationship with a company to accomplish this screening, IMB has contracted with a company called Protect My Ministry to provide this service at discounted rates.
- Interview — Interviewing mission team members allows you to ask questions that help evaluate their character and behavior (past and current) and determine whether they could pose a danger of sexually or physically abusing children. If you use Protect My Ministry’s system, these interview questions are included as part of that process and no separate interview is needed. The team member’s answers will be included as part of the completed application form accessible from your Protect My Ministry account. You may supplement your personal interview with any questions you think appropriate and add online application questions to Protect My Ministry’s system. A sample interview form is available here.
- Confidential References — Each mission trip team member must provide the names and contact information of at least three (3) unrelated adults who have known them well for at least six months. We recommend that you gather information from three individuals. If you use Protect My Ministry’s system, names and contact information for references will be collected from your team members online. We suggest one reference be a pastor or leader in the individual’s present or former church. Arrange for each reference to complete a reference form. Ask the references to return the form to you in writing or meet with them individually by telephone/in person to record their responses in writing. Assure them that their responses will be treated confidentially. You may supplement questions asked on the sample reference form to obtain additional relevant information. Once you have all the information from the background check, interview, and references, evaluate the information for anything that would reasonably indicate the team member would pose a risk of sexually or physically abusing a child. If the answer is yes, the individual may not serve on any mission trip that is in collaboration with IMB. No individual who has engaged in sexual abuse of a child may serve on an IMB mission trip.
5. Can my church use a background check company other than Protect My Ministry?
Yes, there are other companies that provide a search of national databases and the county of current residence. You can compare the prices to the discounted rates negotiated with Protect My Ministry.
6. How can short-term mission trip participants get the child protection training that is requested?
Your church, association, or state convention may already have training materials available. The training should equip individuals with basic principles of sound child protection and procedures to prevent, recognize, and respond to abuse. If you need materials to develop your own training, these are available for free download from IMB:
Training Video and Guides:
- Training Video (English, Korean, Deaf)
- Leader’s Guide
- Learner’s Guide
- Answers to Learner’s Guide Questions
- Discussion Guide
- Suggested Responses Guide
MinistrySafe is another online training resource that is available for purchase directly from the company’s website. MinistrySafe is not affiliated with IMB. Group discounts may be available.
7. How do I use Protect My Ministry to conduct the criminal background checks?
- Go to Protect My Ministry and follow the instructions to establish a secure account. This link provides access to the special rates and process that Protect My Ministry created for IMB.
- After registering, you will receive an email with a login name and secure password to access your Protect My Ministry account. Your account includes a free package called Ministry Mobilizer Lite that enables you to easily track the status of mission team members in the background check process. Your church may use this account (including discounts) for any checks your church conducts, not just for those serving on IMB-related trips. You must, however, establish your account with Protect My Ministry in order to benefit from the special rates and process.
- After you establish an account, Protect My Ministry will email you a unique web address (or URL) for you to send your mission team members so they can provide the necessary data for and consent to the background check. The URL will look something like this: https://www.ministryopportunities.org/YOUR CHURCH NAME.
- Provide the URL to your mission team members and ask them to enter the necessary data. This includes their name, social security number, date of birth, current and prior addresses, and consent to conduct the check. Once a team member’s information is entered, Protect My Ministry emails you a notification that the data to run the background check is ready.
- Order the background check from your account. The ordering process is straightforward, but Protect My Ministry also provides instructions and a customer service department.
- Protect My Ministry will email you as soon as each background check is completed. An average check takes twenty-four hours but some may take three to four days. The data is processed and adjudicated by Protect My Ministry according to criteria provided by the IMB, and its returned to your account with one of three notations: “Pass,” “Alert-Fail,” or “Alert-Further Review.” “Pass” means no information showed up in the background check that would prevent the individual from serving. This will be the result in the majority of cases. “Alert-Fail” means information showed up in the background check that indicates this individual would pose a risk of sexually or physically abusing children. This individual may not serve on an IMB trip in any capacity. Disqualifying information would include any history of a sexual crime, especially against children. A crime of violence against another person within the past seven years would also disqualify them. “Alert-Further Review” means the background check showed that this individual committed some type of offense that might suggest a risk to children. In such cases, you and/or other leaders of your church should evaluate the nature of the offense, when it occurred, and other background information you received (e.g., references). Meet with the individual to discuss the offense and gather additional information. Your goal is to determine whether the individual engaged in behavior that reasonably indicates he/she would pose a risk of sexually or physically abusing a child. If the answer is “yes,” the individual may not serve on an IMB trip in any capacity.
- If the background check indicates an individual should not serve, you should give him/her an opportunity to review that information and, if he/she desires, dispute the record’s accuracy. If an individual does dispute the record, notify Protect My Ministry, and they will perform a free, detailed reinvestigation of the records.
8. Who reviews the background screening materials and makes the final determination if an individual is approved?
In most cases the local church that is sending the mission team members makes the decision. Given the variety of SBC churches, we don’t want to prescribe a particular process that should be followed; many churches already have a process in place. It may make sense for the mission team leader to be responsible for reviewing the screening materials, adding any needed follow-up questions, and determining whether any particular individual may go. Alternatively, a pastor or missions pastor of the church could perform that role. When the training and background screening is complete, written confirmation should be sent to the IMB host contact on the field.
9. What if an individual refuses to submit to a background check?
That individual will not be allowed to participate on a mission team that is working in collaboration with IMB.
10. What if an individual serves several times in a year on IMB mission trips? Does such an individual need to obtain a new background screening for every trip?
No. Whereas a church may decide to conduct screenings on its team members more frequently, IMB policy requires that an individual complete the screening process once every four years.
11. What if the mission team for a trip consists of individuals from more than one church?
There are at least two ways to address this. The team leader could arrange with someone at each church to conduct the background screening and provide the training materials for the team members at those particular churches. Alternately, the team leader’s church could do the screening and training for all team members.
12. Can I use the special rates and services IMB negotiated with Protect My Ministry for other ministries in my church or only for those serving on IMB trips?
You may use the rates and services negotiated with Protect My Ministry for any volunteer ministry in your church or to screen current or prospective staff.
13. Will all criminal convictions disqualify an individual from serving on a mission trip that is in collaboration with IMB?
No. Some types of convictions will automatically disqualify an individual from serving. Disqualifying information includes any history of a sexual crime. A crime of violence against another person within the past seven years is also disqualifying. If a background check performed by Protect My Ministry comes back as a “Fail,” then records showed such disqualifying information. However, other types of convictions must be reviewed on a case-by-case basis to determine if they are disqualifying. The key is to determine whether that past behavior, combined with other data available about the person, reasonably suggests that he/she could pose a danger of sexually or physically abusing children.
14. What if an individual committed a sexual crime many years ago but has become a Christian since and/or has a long history of not engaging in that behavior again? Shouldn’t we show grace to the person and let him/her participate on a mission trip?
We celebrate the spiritual transformation that has taken place in the life of someone who has previously committed sexual abuse against children, and we pray that he/she is indeed able to refrain from engaging in such behavior again. However we cannot endanger the children entrusted to our care by exposing them to those who have a known, dangerous history. No one with a history of committing sexual abuse may serve on a mission trip that is in collaboration with IMB.
15. What if some of my team members don’t have Internet access or are uncomfortable using the Internet. Is there an alternative way to process a background check?
Yes. Protect My Ministry provides a way to manually enter data needed for a background check. To do that, print the background check questions and background check consent form from your Protect My Ministry account. Provide those to your team member, and ask him/her to return them to you. Once he/she returns that data and signed consent form, manually enter the data into your Protect My Ministry account and order the background check. For further assistance, Protect My Ministry provides a guide and customer service representatives.
16. How much will the background check cost if I use Protect My Ministry?
In most cases, the cost will be either $7.50 or $15 per individual. The difference depends on your state and county’s reporting practices. Many states and counties don’t report all of their criminal records to national databases. In those states and counties, it’s necessary to run both a national search and a local county or state search to get accurate data. Based on the data’s reliability, Protect My Ministry and IMB have worked together to come up with a baseline standard depending on which state and county you and the prospective mission team member are located. For locations where the states do provide reliable data to the national database, the baseline standard is to run only a national search at a cost of $7.50. For other locations, the baseline standard is to run the national search and the local search at a cost of $15. In addition, a few states and counties charge additional fees to access their databases. More specific cost information will be available on the Protect My Ministry website.
17. How will the information obtained from the background screening be kept?
It will be up to your church to manage the data. We strongly recommend that the information received in the background screening be held in confidence by the sending church and not released to anyone other than those necessary to review the information, such as the missions team leader and sending church pastor.
18. Will individuals receive a copy of their completed background check?
This will be up to the local church that conducts the background check. If information shows up that would disqualify an individual, we strongly recommend that you share that information with the individual and offer an opportunity to contest its accuracy. Protect My Ministry will reinvestigate any contested records without charge.
19. Is this background check similar to those done for teachers and other caregivers?
Yes. In fact, all IMB staff and missionaries must pass an even more rigorous check.
20. What is the definition of physical abuse and sexual abuse?
Physical abuse of a child includes but is not limited to the following: any action that causes or threatens to cause a non-accidental physical injury to a child; placing a child in a situation where the child is likely to be injured; neglecting or refusing to provide adequate food, shelter, emotional nurturing, or healthcare to a child; failing to provide adequate supervision in relation to the child’s age or development level. Sexual abuse of a child includes, but is not limited to the following: committing, allowing to be committed, or threatening any sexual act upon a child, including, without limitation, fondling of breasts or genitalia in or outside of the clothing, masturbation, oral-genital contact, digital penetration, vaginal intercourse or anal intercourse; any action undertaken with the intent to arouse or satisfy the sexual desire of any individual; indecent exposure in the presence of a child; allowing a child to view sexually explicit or pornographic material; allowing a child to be used in creating any sexually explicit or pornographic material; or allowing a child to witness a sexual act.
21. Does the IMB derive any financial benefit from a church using Protect My Ministry?
No. IMB negotiated this arrangement with Protect My Ministry as a service to SBC churches and hopes this will be helpful to churches for non-IMB related needs as well.
Policies for Short-Term Mission Trip Participants
1. As a Christian missionary organization, IMB is committed to providing, as much as possible, a safe and secure environment for all children entrusted to its care. This includes protecting children from sexual predators and anyone else whose history or character suggest that they reasonably pose a risk to the health and well-being of children with whom they may come in contact in connection with their service to or with the Board.
2. Unfortunately, experience has shown that members of the body of Christ are not immune from temptations and personal struggles that involve taking inappropriate physical or sexual liberties with children. All of us share a responsibility to protect children from those for whom children are perceived as objects of sexual desire or fascination. It’s part of our overall responsibility as Christian stewards and witnesses.
3. The primary goal of this policy is to reduce the risk of harm to children. By implementing sound child protection procedures, it’s also the goal to reduce the risk of false accusations against short-term mission trip participants who work with, supervise, provide care to, or interact with children. Because all short-term mission trip participants have the potential to interact with children, whether in formal or informal settings, this policy applies to all participants who work with IMB personnel overseas.
4. The term “Child” in this policy shall refer to any individual under eighteen years of age.
5. The term “Physical Abuse” of a child in this policy includes but is not limited to the following: any action that causes or threatens to cause a non-accidental physical injury to a child; placing a child in a situation where the child is likely to be injured; neglecting or refusing to provide adequate food, shelter, emotional nurturing, or healthcare to a child; failing to provide adequate supervision in relation to the child’s age or development level.
6. The term “Sexual Abuse” of a child in this policy includes but is not limited to the following: committing, allowing to be committed, or threatening any sexual act upon a child, including, without limitation, fondling of breasts or genitalia in or outside of the clothing, masturbation, oral-genital contact, digital penetration, vaginal intercourse, or anal intercourse; any action undertaken with the intent to arouse or satisfy the sexual desire of any individual; indecent exposure in the presence of a child; allowing a child to view sexually explicit or pornographic material; allowing a child to be used in creating any sexually explicit or pornographic material; or allowing a child to witness a sexual act.
Requirements for Short-Term Mission Trip Participants
7. All short-term mission trip participants ages eighteen and older, will, prior to commencement of service in collaboration with IMB, voluntarily submit to background screening and will complete training in the prevention of child sexual and physical abuse. The background screening will include but not be limited to the following: (1) an independent background check that includes a nationwide review of criminal history information and sexual predator databases, (2) an interview, and (3) references. Each reference will be asked if they have concerns about that individual working with children and, if so, to specify the nature of their concerns.
Note: because criminal background checks are usually not available for those under 18 years of age, this element of the background screening is not required for those under 18. The other elements of the background screening (interview and references) and the training are still required.
8. An individual shall not be allowed to serve as a short-term mission trip participant engaged in work in collaboration with IMB if the background screening or any other information reveals any information demonstrating that the individual engaged in (1) any prior behavior constituting sexual abuse of a child, (2) any crime of a sexual nature, or (3) any other behavior that reasonably indicates that this individual would pose a risk of sexually abusing a child. An individual shall not be allowed to serve on a short-term mission trip that is in collaboration with IMB if that individual has engaged in any behavior that reasonably indicates that this individual would pose a risk of physically abusing a child.
9. The background screening is typically completed by the local church or organization to which the short-term mission trip participant belongs.
Supervision of Children and Training of IMB Personnel
10. The child protection procedures shall, at a minimum, include provisions designed to implement the following:
(1) In any situation in which the parents or guardian of a child entrust short-term mission trip participants with the care or supervision of that child, the general rule is that at least two adults trained in child protection procedures shall provide for the care and supervision of that child. For children under twelve, at least one of those two adult caregivers shall be a woman. Children are to be supervised at all times; it is never appropriate to leave children unattended. Only where written parental consent is obtained is private one-on-one contact between adults and children permitted. Where such permission is given, the meetings should occur in either a public place or in a room that provides a clear view by others.
(2) Short-term mission trip participants shall never administer discipline to children not their own through spanking or other forms of corporal punishment.
(3) Child protection training shall address and define age appropriate forms of proper and improper physical contact between children and their adult supervisors and how to detect and prevent child physical and sexual abuse.
11. All short-term mission trip participants ages eighteen and older shall receive appropriate child protection training and be aware of IMB policies and procedures relevant to child abuse before they participate in a short-term mission trip.
Certification of Screening and Training
12. Before a mission team leaves for the mission field, the church, ministry partner, and/or mission trip team leader will certify in writing (email is acceptable) that every member of the mission team has:
(1) completed and passed the three elements of the required background screening described in paragraph 7, and
(2) completed training in how to prevent child abuse. That written certification will go to IMB host contact on the field. Re-screening and retraining should be conducted at least once every four years.
Responding to Allegations or Incidents of Physical or Sexual Abuse of a Child
13. Any suspected incident of sexual or physical abuse of a child should be reported immediately. Appropriate means of reporting include the following: IMB leadership or IMB’s confidential hotline for reporting abuse toll-free (866) 211-4648 if in the United States, or (804) 749-3254 if outside the United States.
14. Sexual or physical abuse of a child by a short-term mission trip participant will not be tolerated. A single act of sexual abuse, regardless of when that act occurred, will result in appropriate legal/administrative action, including the permanent and immediate cessation of short-term mission trip participation with IMB. A single act of physical abuse by a short-term mission trip participant, regardless of when that act occurred, will result in appropriate legal/administrative action, including the permanent and immediate cessation of short-term mission trip participation with IMB.
Protect My Ministry’s Ministry Mobilizer site