All spiritual travel is not equal. Mission trips are taken for the purpose of learning about and engaging with people around the world. Travelers can visit a school for underprivileged children in a slum and come away with a very different image than someone who lives for a short time with a local family from the same school, sharing their home and food, a little bit of language exchange and a lot of heart interchange. Both of these trips are drastically different from a meditative or prayer visit to a retreat center. Prayer walks in foreign lands offer yet a different perspective for the traveler.
Most short-term mission trips are designed as a chance for you to meet and befriend people from another culture. These trips generally have some sort of project or goal to accomplish. This is what you should examine to find out which trip is right for you. Some are service trips, like construction projects or working in medical clinics, designed to assist in relief or development works. Others are more evangelistic in nature, or are intended to enhance the spiritual life of an existing church, as in a worship conference. Prayer and meditation walks are designed simply to "encounter" the culture and people. Choose the trip that is right for you, in order to avoid the disappointment of unmet expectations.
Each trip will involve exploration. You will experience being in a new culture with new ways of doing things, new sights, sounds, food, etc. While a mission trip is much more than a vacation, you will be going to a place that is new and exciting - enjoy it! Differences between cultures reflect the tremendous diversity of God, and should be savored!
Most importantly, you will experience transformation as a result of a short-term mission trip. Though the degree may vary from person to person, you will return in some way different from when you left. As you begin to engage emotionally with what you see on the trip, you sense the compassion and sense of justice for the world that Jesus had. Events that before were simply stories on the nightly news become faces that you can see and hear and touch. The words of Jesus become more than words you skim over on a page; they take on the urgency and passion with which they were originally spoken, "Blessed are you who are poor..." (Luke 6:20-26). This is the ongoing transformation brought about by a mission trip not only in your life, but also among your family, friends, and sphere of influence.
Short-term mission trips aren't about saving the world in one week. They are about contributing to lasting changes - large and small - internally and for the global community of which we are a part. Ultimately they are a chance to join other cultures in glorifying our One God!
God's interest is in the whole earth, in all the nations! He is drawing together a multi-cultural community of worshippers (Psalm 67). In encountering the world that God created we begin to glimpse the vast diversity of the Kingdom of God and its Great King.
About the author: Marianne Smith has worked in the areas of education and cross-cultural indigenous leadership training with non-profit organizations for 22 years. Marianne has extensive experience in organizing, training for, and leading international aid, education, and awareness trips. She worked in Sri Lanka assisting in health care and children's aid programs and in the Philippines focusing on indigenous leadership training. With a Bachelor of Arts degree in Christian Education from High Point University in High Point, NC, her teaching experience has extended from early childhood education to adults. Currently she serves as Director of Public Relations for Hope Ventures International. Marianne and Steve, her husband of 29 years, have four adult children.
Republished with permission from: http://www.hopeventuresinternational.org