Finding the Sweet Spot

I usually have a number of topics floating around my head and then when I sit down to actually write a post, my mind goes blank.

At any rate, if you’ve been wondering why we’ve been MIA, we’ve been preparing for and hosting a team from our home church.  You can read more about their journey here.

I guess since I’m on the subject, I’ll write about what goes into planning a missions trip from field side.

Planning for this trip started about 8 months or so ago when we began talking through initial ideas of what a team could do when they were coming.  Over the last several years, I’ve read lots of articles and heard from many sides of the “is it worth it?” debate on short term missions teams.  On one side, you have those that contend that it’s an awful lot of money for something that can often turn into a “work vacay” for teens and doesn’t yield much fruit and takes the missionaries away from their ministry focus.  On the other side, you have those who say that it can really impact the lives of the teens (typically) and can be empowering and useful for local church and, if done right, can produce some long term fruit.

Let’s just say that I’ve been on missions trips that have fallen on both sides of the argument. I’ve been on ones that, due to the lack of maturity of the team members, failed rather immensely, and ones where we did work that really could have been done by locals, thus robbing them of the opportunity to take ownership of their ministry. But I’ve also been on trips that have been incredibly impactful in my life and that have sparked that fire in me that has brought me to where I am today.

Back to the brainstorming session.  For our part, we wanted to look at some basic questions: what needs were there?  What could and couldn’t be done by local people and why? What were the long-range goals of the events?  How could we show a wide spectrum of mission life? In what ways could we work together or provide training for local believers?

This being our first team that we have worked with from start to finish, it was a bit of a trial run for us.  We tried to use what we’ve learned to make this the most fruitful trip– and in a place like where we are– you don’t always see the fruit now.  So that’s something that has to be taken into account.

Next basic questions are usually budget related.  How much is a good airfare? How much for lodging, food, transportation?  That’s usually a pretty tricky question.  Hint: I’ve learned now to ask how many people are breakfast people before the trip begins.

I vaguely remember a few Skype calls with Ryan and Chellie and Edilaine (one of the main people I was working with on our side to coordinate the VBS) discussing the VBS and times and how much to prepare and tips.

Fast forward a few months.  We met up with the team to talk culture and taboos and what Japan’s like when we visited the states.  We gave some testimonies and otherwise just tried to mentally prepare the team.

After we returned from the States, then we began to actually really prepare for the team. Meetings with Edilaine to figure out what we needed to do to coordinate a VBS. How can we do registration? When do we need to get fliers printed?  What needs to be on them? Who will translate it for us?  How will we handle kids that are already part of the program? Do we charge a fee (in light of the Japanese culture, everyone we talked to said yes, do it!)? What rooms do we reserve for this? How do we accomplish our long term goals from our side? What about translators?

You know, those kinda things.

We figured out how we would get them back from the airport and came up with multiple plans depending on when they would actually leave. Then- what in the world will we feed them?  How am I going to fit all that in my refrigerator??? What places should we take them to on their day off? Are there any service projects that need to be done and who will be responsible for those?

Draft a schedule and send to team leader.  Receive feedback.  Add more details as we talk to more and more contacts to coordinate various events. Rinse and repeat.

Also, a significant part of their trip was about prayer walking.  We weren’t sure how many of the team had experience in this.  In prayer times with other teams, we’ve found that they didn’t really know what to pray for.  So, we put together a prayer booklet with a ton of info from different sources and themes, prayer points and verses for each day to reach our end goal: making this the most strategic prayer walking possible and setting them up for success. Since one of us had to be cooking during prayer time, Vicente made maps so that the teams could split up and we could cover more ground.

Finally, last minute details.  OH.  Yeah, Japanese don’t do tattoos– so please find a way to cover them up.  Absolutely no new shoes for this trip (according to one report I heard, someone said that we walked 9 miles one day).

And then, we held our breath and prayed that all the prep work we did would pay off.

And I think it did.  We saw a lot of impact on kids’ lives, we had great outreach done in the right way (using the team as the draw and forwarding the connection to local believers), some claimed the prayer walks as a highlight of their trip, and we attempted to expose them to as much as we could fit in of Japanese life, experiences, food and fun.

Were there things we could have done better?  Absolutely.  Were there changes of plans?  You better believe it.

I think it was a well-chosen team, a team that was complimented a lot by the Japanese.

Afterward, V and I collapsed for a day. It was a wonderful experience– a whole lotta work.  But one that we feel can be a good starting place for the future.

So, it may look like just a brief two-week trip and project for us.  But the truth is that so much work went into it on both sides.  And because of the impact missions trips have had on my life, I want to help perpetuate that for others and make it the most fruitful possible for the country we serve.

For the future, we absolutely will be choosy on who we work with (and we like this team!) because of the time put into this and to avoid falling on the wrong side of the argument of SMT value. We look forward to the next opportunity to host a team, but for now, we’re going to take a breather and get back to normal work!


2 thoughts on “Finding the Sweet Spot

  1. Great insight and balance on a divisive topic! Thank you for this and the help it will be for those planning such trips in the future. Glad it went well!


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