Every year, students travel far and near to participate in youth mission trips with their local church or as a part of a missions organization. If you are a part of a church with a tradition of missions and specific relationships with pastors or missionaries at a specific location, there may already be an expectation that you will continue to go where you have always gone and continue to serve in the way your church and youth have served in the past. If you have never led your students on a cross-cultural outreach, there may be no expectation that you will ever do so. Or perhaps you have done something different every year regarding missions, changing up everything from distance to travel mode to location to number of students involved. Whether you are a complete missions rookie or a seasoned missionary veteran, I want to encourage you to dream big, step out of your comfort zone and pray about planning your own youth mission trip.
Before you spin a globe with your eyes closed and select the first country your finger stops on, think about missionaries you know or that your church supports that you might have or be able to develop relationships with. My home church sent out a family of 4 to be missionaries to Germany one year… a couple and their middle-school son and daughter. I had never considered Germany as a place I personally wanted to go or to do missions work, but as soon as these kids left our student ministry, I felt a responsibility to help and encourage them and the work their family would be doing in Germany. So, I prayed about it… then I talked to them about the work they would be doing and if they would be open to the idea of a student mission team coming to work with them for a week or two and when might be the best time for that. At this stage it is important not to promise anything, but to be clear you are praying about possible opportunities and begin discussing what that trip might look like a when would be the best time.
Conventional wisdom would suggest you start small, maybe with a local, inner-city mission in your city or state, and that might be a great way to get your feet wet with planning your own youth mission trip… But! Conventional wisdom does not trump taking a step of faith and dreaming big and doing what you believe God is leading you to do. That could be a local 2 day event or a 2 week trip to a remote village in Africa. As you start connecting with missionaries in far away places and considering what all the options are, pray, and share the options with your youth leaders, parents and students. Ask them to pray with you. The process may come down to what you collectively feel God is calling you to do as a group in the form of a vote or you may end up leading multiple trips. If you pray and seek wise and godly counsel, you will know when the time comes to decide.
Missions can be very expensive, so have a meeting with parents and students as early as possible once you have narrowed down where you will be going and what you will be doing. In the beginning, you ate providing as much detail as you can and soliciting youth and other leaders to commit to going on the trip. There may be project costs, travel and accommodation costs and food costs. You may also want to budget in a day or fun and recreation to break up a longer trip or to end it with a celebration. You don’t need all of the details, but it would be nice to have a range. Do a little homework and check flight costs for the time you are going or estimate gas prices if you are driving, and you can get a good idea of hotel costs and budget for food. A little research goes a long way.
Money has literally never been an issue for me or anyone that has gone with me on a missions trip. God provides. Talk to your church leaders about what they would be willing to commit to youth for a mission budget… If it is nothing or a lot, also ask if you can have a fund raiser to help offset costs. Two of the most effective for me were a Missions dinner hosted at the church where students cook, serve, entertain, and share what they will be doing and a support letter sent out by each participant to all of their friends and family explaining where you’ll be going and what you’ll be doing. With the dinner we have always charged a set fee and let those attending know we would be taking tips and donations… The better the food, service and entertain, the more generous people usually are. With the support letter we emphasize our need for prayer and ask for financial support in any amount letting them know how much we are trying to raise.
I have always had monthly meetings for those who will be going on the trip to share updates. Video chat with the missionary you’ll be working with or read their emails, share testimonies about what God is doing and leading students to do in preparation for the trip, work on skits or go over lessons that will be shared (if doing something like VBS), pray together and do team building exercises. Don’t forget to go over passport deadlines and don’t be afraid to delegate some research to students or student leaders… Things like hotels, local transportation (think about buses, trains, rental cars or cans), and entertainment ideas for that day of fun.
Invite students to share their ideas, their prayers, their talents at every step in the process. Communicate with parents about what has been decided and what is still in the works. Don’t wear out your missionary contact, but don’t be afraid to ask them for feedback and help. Just remember you are going to help and be a blessing and not to be a burden.
If you want to bounce some ideas off of someone who has been there and done that or if you have any questions, give me a holler (email@example.com). And whatever you do, please do not forget when it is all over to share pictures and stories and write letters to those who supported your team. Do a video, ask for 5-10 minutes to share with your congregation what happened, send thank you letters with details about the trip to those who do not attend your church but who prayed for and supported your trip.