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Posts Tagged ‘short-term missions’

missionsMidterm sounds like I’m talking about a political election topic, doesn’t it!  Not true!

This last week at the Pepperdine Bible Lectures, Let’s Start Talking and Missions Resource Network announced a new initiative for carrying the message of Jesus to the world more effectively.  With this initiative, we believe we can help make better use of time, resources, and people when sending Americans overseas on the mission of God.

Let’s start with the most common current approach to new missions:  Most of our missionaries first participate in some kind of short-term mission. Many of these trips are either compassion missions—medical, disaster relief, construction, poverty-related, or children/orphans—or they are “survey” trips to better understand what needs to be done to prepare for a long-term mission.  A few short-term missions could be categorized as evangelistic, though all of them are intended to share the love of Jesus.

Usually young couples, some young single professionals, or an occasional family then makes the commitment to long-term missions.  By this, we usually mean a complete move to a foreign location for five years or more.  You sell your house and your car and move to a foreign place, spend probably two years learning the language and acclimating to the new culture, perhaps working with an established congregation or, if not, laying the groundwork for establishing a new congregation—mostly “house churches” today.  The sponsoring church is willing to invest a huge amount of money to move these new workers and spend two years preparing them because they expect to get at least  three more years—maybe longer—of excellent service from them.

So here are the unfortunate facts that drove LST and MRN to stop and think about an alternative strategy for churches to send Americans overseas on mission:

  • Most Americans stay on average just over 3 years on their mission site—regardless of what their commitment was.
  • In three years time with two spent primarily in preparation, it is very difficult to accomplish any of the initial long-term goals. Planting self-sustaining churches with national leaders which survive the departure of the American missionary in essentially one year is really a completely unrealistic goal.
  • The supporters and sending churches look at their investment in this failed effort and feel as if they have been burned, making them less interested in ever doing something similar again.

Instead of simply wringing our hands and bemoaning the current situation, MRN and LST sat down to pray and talk, asking God for wisdom to see a new path.  Why these two ministries?

Missions Resource Network was begun to help churches send missionaries and to help care for them better while on the field.  Because of that mandate, potential missionaries began coming to them for training which they then received from highly competent missions experts. In recent years, MRN has begun focusing also on training foreign churches to be sending churches and not just receiving churches.  Let’s Start Talking has always been focused on sending short-term workers (2-6 weeks) on evangelistic missions.  We also send a few interns each year on 6-12 month missions, usually following up an LST project.

So, after months of prayerful conversation and much collaboration between our two ministries, we would like to offer our churches and potential workers a new strategy– our Midterm Missions Initiative– that we believe will be better for the workers, better for the sending churches, better for the global church being served,  therefore better for the Kingdom!

Key components of this new initiative are

  • Planning to stay for 2-3 years. If this is how long people will stay, then let’s not pretend that they will stay longer; rather, let’s plan a work with goals that are reachable in this midterm timeframe.
  • Planning to avoid many of the upfront expenses of a long-term work, such as moving whole households, investing heavily in language study, start-up costs for new church plants (including buildings), etc.
  • Focused training for midterm work, not overtraining them for tasks they will not be there to do.
  • Working in English, taking advantage of the world-wide interest in English in both industrialized and developing countries allows workers to go where they are called and to begin working effectively the day after they arrive.
  • Through specific training in making disciples, they will be able to expand the vision and presence of the global church, working for multiplying growth, but not creating dependency on their presence.

Here is the path as we currently see it:

  • A global church requests help and is willing to invite a midterm missionary or couple.
  • Potential workers are identified or identify themselves and contact MRN or LST.
  • Workers make application and do some preliminary testing to determine readiness.
  • Workers then commit to an LST project, probably to the site where they will eventually be going. In conjunction with their project, they receive complete training in the LST approach.
  • After successfully completing their LST project, they are coached by MRN through specific tasks including finding a sponsoring church as well as preparing themselves to implement a disciple-making   This period may take 3-6 months.
  • When ready, they return to their mission site and begin working with the local church in two specific ways:
    1. First, they will follow up with people contacted through LST and will continue reading the Gospel story with them while helping them with their English.
    2. While doing this, they will begin looking among their Readers for those people who are seeking faith AND who are willing to share what they are finding with other people in their network. When they identify such a person, they approach them about beginning a Discovery Bible study—a very simple and intuitive approach to finding Jesus—in their home or at work.  One of the big differences is that it is not the American worker who leads this, but the person at the center of this network. He/She shares just as much as they have learned the week before from the American worker.  As they share with their friends, this first Person is also encouraged to look for seekers among them who will begin a new group in their home. That second person shares what they have learned from Person #1—and so it grows and multiplies.  As people become believers, then Christians, they are either integrated into the local congregation or they collect themselves into new churches.  Either way, the Lord has added to those who are being saved!  And when the American leaves in 2-3 years, the work has far outgrown him/her and is not dependent on their efforts to continue.

And our sending churches in the States will love this.  They will have shorter commitments with more reachable, tangible goals which can be achieved at much less expense. They can send their own members to do LST, thus helping their midterm worker. They will have the cooperation and partnership with MRN and with LST to walk beside them.  What is there not to like about this!!

And some of these midtermers will become long-termers—and  some lifers!  But the process of making these major decisions for both the workers and their sending churches will be much more tested and proven before those kinds of commitments to each other are made.  And that’s good too.

Let’s get started!  What global church wants to invite a midterm person or couple?  Who wants to go for 2-3 years?  The harvest is ripe!  Contact MRN or LST and we will be glad to help you get started.

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short term mission globeI moderated the four panels on short-term missions for the Global Missions Conference in October. This is a summary of the last three panels. The previous post summarizes the first panel. You can find it at the bottom of this post.  MW

 

Why and How Should Teens Do Short-Term Missions (Buster Clemens, Youth minister at Highland Church of Christ, Memphis, TN, and George Welty, Youth minister at White Station Church of Christ, Memphis, TN.)

The two panel members in this second session had not heard the great debate of the first session. These two ministers had at least forty years of youth ministry between them; in other words, they weren’t fresh-out-of-college youth ministers. These two guys have between them literally hundreds of kids in their programs. These guys both do at least one youth mission trip each year personally, and they help organize others for their students.

How do they feel about short-term missions?

Buster just told his story, how he was a young man with a quite predictable, successful future, then he participated in a short-term mission and it changed his life. He left the safe lane and became a youth minister, so he could help young people find what he found. One of the main ways he does this is to make sure they all have short-term mission experiences–like he did!

These guys had not read those academic studies that said short-term missions have no impact on those who participate. They have years of experience and lives of hundreds of their young people who contradict the conclusions of those studies.

They did acknowledge, however, that without proper planning and preparation, that a lot can go wrong. There is, however, no need for every church to re-invent the wheel. Many resources exist to help you evaluate your church’s teen mission program. (MW: Start with “Standards of Excellence for Short-Term Missions”   www.soe.org ).

 

Short-term Missions Opportunities in Hard Places. (Craig Altrock, LST; Tom Langley, World English Institute; Benny Baker, Mision Para Cristo)

This third panel began by confessing confusion over the topic that I had given them. What is a “hard” place? Were we talking about unreceptive places, about inaccessible places, or perhaps unsafe places. As they talked about unreceptive and inaccessible places, their message seemed clear: sometimes short-term missions are the only productive way to work in these places. I can tell you that LST was created for the unreceptive people of Germany and Western Europe, and over three decades later, what created opportunities in Germany has created the same kinds of opportunities all over the world. World English Institute is also penetrating places previously considered inaccessible.

What really captured the conversation in this session was the question of those places in the world that might be considered unsafe! Benny Baker has worked in Nicaragua for many years, and one of his main strategies has been to bring short-term teams in–lots of them–and to send them all over the country, including some places where they went with armed guards.

Our American obsession with safety (see the whole Ebola-in-America drama going on right now!) was referenced more than once. Benny argued strongly and well that safety is a solvable problem with good information. He argued that most churches, schools, and volunteers make their decisions about whether it is safe to go to Mexico or Africa or anywhere based on what they see in television.

Benny offered three good sources of information that are available to anyone wondering if it is safe to send their teens or their members–or to go themselves–to a particular spot. The first is just common sense, but the other two need to be out there where you can get to them too:

  • Pick up the phone and call the local missionary or your most trusted person at the site you are considering.
  • Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) – a U.S. State Department sponsored source of daily information on a global scale.   http://www.osac.gov
  • Fang Protective Services –dedicated to enhancing the safety and security of faith-based humanitarian and medical mission teams as they care for the most vulnerable members of humanity. http://www.fangprotectiveservices.org

 

Session Four: New Opportunities For Adults in Short-Term Missions (Leslee Altrock, LST; Chris Altrock, Senior Minister at Highland Church of Christ, Memphis)

If you thought that short-term missions were only for teens or college students, then these two panel members were prepared to change your thinking. Leslee described the great shift that Let’s Start Talking has experienced in the last few years. Once almost exclusively a college student/ summer short-term mission ministry, now LST finds itself recruiting, equipping, and sending twice as many adult church members as college students. Retired, almost retired, long retired, families on vacation, homeschoolers, teachers off in the summer–the demographic is huge of those church members who have always wanted to do mission work, but they didn’t have a vehicle. Now there are many opportunities.

Chris mentioned many of the activities of their church members that perhaps earlier wouldn’t even have been called a short-term mission. He emphasized how important these were to the local church’s outreach, both at home and abroad.

My Concluding Remarks:

  • Short-term missions are not going away any time soon–nor should we want them to.
  • There is no excuse for doing a poor short-term mission project. There are enough resources to guide you and enough people who do them right. Use them. Join them.
  • There is a short-term mission experience that every Christian can do! And they will be better for it. And the Kingdom of God will be advanced because they did it.

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short term mission globeEvery three years, missions leaders among Churches of Christ stage an event called the Global Missions Conference. In size and scope it is a poor cousin to the International Conference On Missions hosted annually by the Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ. The smaller scale, in my opinion, is more because of greater resistance to central organizations rather than a lesser commitment to missions in Churches of Christ. A comparison of missions history between the two fellowships, however, would be a great dissertation topic for someone.

The Global Missions Conference was held October 16-18 at the Goodman Oaks Church of Christ in Southhaven, Mississippi, a suburb of Memphis, Tennessee. I have not heard an official number of attendees yet, but I would guess it might be near 1000, although I suspect that many local people did not register.

I had the privilege of organizing the Short-Term Missions track for this conference, which consisted of four separate one-hour classes conducted over two days. My concept was to develop a practical topic for each session, then invite highly experienced workers in those areas to form a panel to discuss each particular topic, first among themselves and then with those who were present.

I was quite pleased with the classes, which were all well attended, so I thought I would summarize the content and share it with you as well.

Session One: The Changing Look of Short-Term Mission (Panel Members: Ken Graves–Harding University Director of Global Outreach, Dr. Bob Carpenter–Oklahoma Christian University Professor of Missions, Dr. Gary Green–Abilene Christian University Director of World Wide Witness, and Ben Langford–Oklahoma Christian University Director of Center for Global Missions.)

Without exception, all of the panel members agreed that the emphasis in short-term missions had shifted in the last two decades from evangelism to humanitarian aid/social justice. Some of them saw this shift more as cultural, while others understood it to be a theological shift. The cultural proponents held that the post-modern shift to tolerance as the highest virtue creates an environment where people are no longer willing to “judge” other people’s views, much less feel the need to “correct” them.

Those who argued for a theological shift were divided–which made for a great panel discussion. One argued that students no longer believe in Hell or Judgment Day, so there is no motivation for evangelism. (As moderator, I kept my opinions to myself and just facilitated, but this is my blog, so I’m going to insert myself here to say that I see both the cultural and theological arguments as virtually the same–and in my experience, the portrayal of the current generation of college students especially is absolutely true–sadly!)

One of the panel members, however, argued that the shift from evangelism to social justice activities was nothing to worry about, that, in fact, when we teach a poor farmer how to irrigate that we are participating in God’s plan to save the whole Creation. You’ll recognize this argument perhaps as one that younger preachers typically have juxtaposed against a type of evangelism that was only interested in the soul of a person and not the whole person. I’ve thought a lot about these comments since the conference and will share some of those thoughts with you soon–but they need to ripen a little.

Being academicians, the panel members quoted some disconcerting research that made the following claims:

  • short-term missions do not make a significant difference in the lives of participants
  • short-term missions do not produce long-term workers
  • short-term missions are not cost-effective ways of doing missions.

As I listened to them quote these results as facts, I could no longer keep quiet because not only did these results go against my whole lifetime of experience, but also against some other very good research with which I was familiar, but which was a little older than what they were quoting.

For instance, the research among young people in Churches of Christ that Dr. Carley Dodd and others published in 1995 as The Gospel According to Generation X: The Culture of Adolescent Belief found a significant correlation between a summer mission experience and the retention of faith after leaving high school. Another good example of contradictory statistics is the research published by Dr. Craig Altrock as the result of his dissertation work at Harding School of Theology as The Shaping of God’s People: One Story of How God is Shaping the North American Church Through Short-Term Missions (2007). His study of Let’s Start Talking workers , not only recent but many from years past, confirmed what we in this ministry all know anecdotally, that those who had good short-term experiences were changed significantly, both in their spiritual formation and in their spiritual activity (if one cares to create false dichotomies!)

I think I can offer a possible explanation for why current research may suggest different results from slightly older studies. First, as the whole panel has confirmed, when we examine short-term missions as a category now, we are only looking at service-oriented experiences. For a whole generation of our fellowship, the word missions refers only to caring for physical or social needs of peoples, not seeking and saving the lost.

Painting houses and digging wells, even healing the sick and loving on orphans, while most certainly the purest of Christian ministry, but if absent of the Word, could all be done by good Muslims or good Agnostics. These kinds of activities in and of themselves do not complete the Great Commission. And, if this is true, then why should we expect short-term mission activities that focus on these services to produce the same kinds of impact and results that short-term missions focused on telling the Story of Jesus have had?

And that was just the first panel! I’ll finish the report on the other three panels in the next post.

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American Georgetown University men's basketball team and China's Bayi men's basketball team fight during a friendly game at Beijing Olympic Basketball ArenaA friend of ours just returned from a short-term mission trip  where she worked under very primitive conditions. All I am going to mention is there were rats as big as cats—that says it all, doesn’t it!

They had a good trip, they accomplished all they went to do, but in reporting privately to her family about the trip, she said, “They prepared us well, trained us well in every area—except for getting along with each other!”

Several years ago, we had three women from the same congregation who had been friends for decades go on an LST project to a Baltic country.  These three women, all mature Christians, shared their faith daily with former Communists, but by the time they returned home, they weren’t talking to each other anymore.

 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).

Whether you are going for one week or one month or one year, every short-term mission group– young or old, large or small (number of workers, not size!), experienced or inexperienced—needs preparation and equipping for loving one another under what often can be very challenging circumstances.

Why do short-term missions sometimes bring out the worst in us?

  • People who have figured out how to navigate successfully their normal circumstances are suddenly confronted with unfamiliar, foreign situations that challenge their competence.  This makes good people tense!
  • People who are used to being in control are not in control. This makes them critical of those in control, who aren’t doing things properly!
  • We are not usually forced to be around others 24/7 to whom we are not married. (And some married people are not used to being with each other 24/7). In such circumstances, no warts or quirks or distinctive differences can be hidden, so a much higher level of tolerance toward otherness is required.
  • Jetlag, long hours, little exercise, “bad” food, lousy beds, no hot water—the first four days it’s just camping out!  The longer the mission trip goes, the crankier these external irritants can make us.
  • A short-term mission is a high-stakes mission!  The higher the stakes, the less tolerance there is for error! Or perceived error!

Let me illustrate with a personal story that makes me laugh—now!

Sherrylee and I had not been married but four months when we moved to Germany as members of a mission team. We were deeply in love (and still are!), but within 48 hours of arriving, we had this huge fight because we needed to catch a street car, and we didn’t know how to buy tickets.  She, being the totally confident one that thinks she can charm her way out of any awkward situation, wanted to just get on the street car and talk to somebody and figure it out on the .way.

I, on the other hand, who does not ever want to get in trouble and has to know ahead of time what the “rules” are, was not about to get on the streetcar before we had figured out what the ticketing procedures were.  Of course, that was extraordinarily difficult when we couldn’t read the signs and we couldn’t speak the language, and the tram conductors only stopped for a few seconds (or so it seemed). But Sherrylee would just have to wait until I figured it out.

Oh, no!  She started getting on the streetcar—as if she thought I would just defy everything in me and get on with her and trust her to make it all work!!  What was she thinking—but I couldn’t stop her, so I got on too—illegally! And I was just panicked. It was Adam and Eve all over again.  And I was furious about it.

In retrospect, it was such a little incident with no significance—and we are still married 43 years later, but it is just these kinds of small, insignificant tests of patience and tolerance that too often undo the much-less-committed-to-one-another relationships in short-term mission groups.

If you don’t prepare for conflict, then you are not a well-prepared mission group.

Watch for the next post on how to prepare for conflict on short-term missions.

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Dan BouchellePart 2 of a series of guest posts by Dr. Dan Bouchelle, President of Missions Resource Network

Here are a couple more suggestions for doing STM in ways that bless both those you go to serve and those you take on the trip. For earlier entries see my last two posts.

  1. Do what the locals cannot do themselves: It is tempting to take groups of Americans to developing countries to do hands on projects that make Americans feel useful in fighting practical problems. So, we take dozens of people thousands of miles and spend tens of thousands of dollars to do carpentry, plumbing, concrete work, painting, pass out fliers or hand out food and clothes. This is good and hard to criticize. It is doing good and not wrong per se. But often it makes no sense to the local people and can create resentment in places where people with the needed skills in the church or community badly need the work and can do a better job for a fraction of what Americans spend getting there. Not to mention, hiring local people helps the economy, fights poverty, and creates opportunities to form relationships that could lead to making disciples. If you are going to do a service project, bring something the locals cannot do or hire done with your help. If you are bringing a group of people with special skills, e.g., medical personnel, and the local church requests you come as part of their ministry strategy, that is a good use of your trip. Also, doing an English as second language ministry is a great way to help out. People in many parts of the world are desperate to learn or improve their English and will jump at a chance to talk with Americans even if that involve reading the Bible together. Let’s Start Talking does this extremely well and I highly recommend them to any church wanting to do short term missions. LST logo
  2. Do what you are asked to do: It is easy to forget our reason for going and decide we want to rid the world of ____________ and then try to find someone who will let us fulfill our dream in their location. For example, we all want to see people get clean drinking water, end sex-trafficking, reduce preventable diseases, etc. We see the news about huge problems around the world. We feel guilty about our blessings. We want to “make a difference.” So, we develop this dream to go and fix problems other places. But, when our goal becomes to satisfy our need to feel significant rather than help people who really want us there and can benefit from our presence, we can end up being a problem and spend lots of time and money on projects that come to nothing after we are gone. Most of the systemic problems we want to solve are too complicated to address meaningfully by a trip of a week or two. A short-term mission trip may not be the way to address the issues we want to fix and no one may be asking us to fix them anyway.
  3. I know of one ministry that recently spent tens of thousands of dollars drilling a water well in an African village so the people did not have to rely on contaminated river water over a two mile walk away. However, when they returned, they learned the women of the village walked past the new well as they continued to make the two mile hike to the river to get water. Turns out, this was the only time the women of the village were able to talk among themselves and get away from their husbands’ expectations. That meant more to them than clean, convenient water. Perhaps that well should have been drilled two miles away, or maybe the ministry should have listened more closely to what the people in this location believed they needed. There are broken water wells all over the developing world lying unused because no one was taught how to maintain them. But, the people who put them in have some cool pictures to show back home about how they made a difference. The stories like this are endless. The point is, we don’t always know what is needed and need to listen and think long term as we follow the lead of the people on the ground. This is not about us.

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Dan BouchelleDr. Dan Bouchelle is the President of Missions Resource Network, one of the most central missions organizations serving Churches of Christ in the world.  He is writing an important series on short-term missions that addresses the mixed feelings that many missionaries and congregations have about short-term missions, but he is also offering very positive and specific guidance, which I appreciate.  He has given me permission to share these writings with you.

Last week, I posted an introductory piece on the conundrum which is short term missions (STM). Few things can breathe life into a church and help believers rediscover their purpose quite like doing ministry in cross-cultural settings. On mission trips, life is so different that we can’t take anything for granted and serving others in the name of Jesus there changes us. Something about having our routines and expectations shaken by being in a place we don’t understand, and cannot manage well, opens up a path for God to grab ahold of us and us to grasp him back in fresh ways. Being useful to God among people who don’t look like they can do anything for us does much for us and we come away with the greater blessing. However, sometimes getting the benefits that come from going on mission becomes the goal instead of the serendipity and we become a burden on those who provide us access to other countries and settings.

So, how can we do STM in a way that provides a worthwhile blessing to those we serve without creating a problem? Here are the first two of several suggestions to come in subsequent posts.

  1. listenListen and submit to the leaders on the ground: Don’t go assuming you know what is needed, overly eager to make a difference in ways that make sense to you. You don’t live there. Even if you speak the language, you don’t understand much of what is being said and not said. You don’t know what is needed. You don’t understand the unintended consequences of your presence after you leave. Focus on building relationships with local leaders, especially national leaders, which are strong enough they can tell you what they need and then submit to their direction. This will take time and patience. Go as servants not saviors. Help them with their objectives in ways that fit their operations. Don’t compare them to churches in the US on some scale of “conservative” v. “liberal” because you don’t understand how the gospel speaks in their setting. Don’t carry your American culture or church culture with you. The way you dress, the way men and women interact, who prays and who doesn’t, the way you shake hands or look at people, all communicate things you don’t understand. Ask for guidance and submit to what you hear without judgment. Remember, this is not your country, culture, or community. You are there to help them, not to have an experience that fulfills you. Go without an agenda so you can serve a better one.
  2. Only go where you are invited: If you ask to bring a team of people to a missions location, especially one your church supports financially, you are likely to hear “yes” even if you are not needed and are not helpful. You will probably get a “yes” even if you are a burden. Why? Because Americans are green and most of the world is polite. Americans look like money and many church leaders around the world know that where Americans go, money often follows. Turning down an American team risks offending donors or potential donors and that is a frightening prospect to churches who are often in an unhealthy state of dependency on Americans anyway. On top of that, saying “no” requires a level of confrontation that is considered rude by a high percentage of the cultures in the majority world. Hospitality is a core value of many cultures and they just can’t refuse to take people in, even if they are a burden or problem. Believers around the world will host Americans and provide for them in ways they would never provide for themselves because that is part of their value system. They may not want you or need you, but if you tell them you want to come, they will probably smile and act like your presence there is a great honor and blessing when it may be an expensive distraction they cannot afford. But, they also may think they can’t afford to say “no.” American teams, whether a group of unskilled teenagers or a team of highly skilled medical professionals, can do a great deal of good and bless ministries around the world if properly utilized. But, American churches often don’t do enough cultivation on the front end and unknowingly do as much harm as good because they assumed too much. Not everyone needs us or wants us to come, especially when the value we bring is not a fit or a priority for the work.

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medical recordsAlthough anyone can get sick anywhere in the world—including at home, with a few precautions, you can minimize your chances either of getting sick or of irritating some pre-existing condition you might bring with you on your mission trip.

Here are some things that Sherrylee and I have learned to do—and we have rarely been sick in all of our travels to all parts of the world. I’m not a medical doctor, so the information I’m giving to you is totally based on experience. If your doctor tells you something different, then he is right!!

  1. If you deal with chronic health issues, choose your destination more carefully If you have severe asthma, you might want to go to a place that does not have severe air pollution. If you have knee issues, you might not want to go to a church that meets on the fourth floor with no elevator.  If you have immunity issues, you might want to go to a more hygienic country.  You do have choices! God’s people all over the world need help, not just in the countries that would most endanger your health.
  2. Go with people who understand your health needs. This is usually a spouse or near relative, but if you are not going with someone that close to you, then go with a good friend to whom you can fully disclose your health situation. If you are not willing to tell someone the full story, then you probably should not go.
  3. Get all of the appropriate vaccinations and shots before you go. The CDC is an excellent source of information about health and foreign travel. You may have a travel clinic in your city, and they too will provide good information and the medications that you need.
  4. Take all the medications/equipment needed with you for any chronic condition that you have, including prophylactics to prevent the onset or to control an unexpected attack or event.   You cannot count on getting medicines you might need, nor seeing a doctor for a local prescription, so get enough for your whole trip–and a little longer–to take with you.  Be sure and put your important medicines—whatever you can’t do without–in your carry-on, just in case your checked luggage does not make it to you! I always include my extra contact lenses and/or an emergency pair of glasses. And if you are prone to bronchial distress or events related to diabetes or hyper allergic to . . . anything that could become life threatening, just be sure you take with you whatever you would keep handy at home.
  5. Don’t go if you are already sick! This seems so logical, but after you have bought expensive tickets and made very important plans, it is hard not to get on the plane.  It might be easier to make the right decision if you have Travel Interruption/Cancellation insurance that covers illness. It is also possible to change most tickets for a fee—which is worth it to you, to your fellow passengers, and to the hosting people you might be infecting if you go.
  6. Try to adjust to local time zones as quickly as possible so that you stay rested. Starting your trip more rested and sleeping on the international flight go a long way towards helping you feel good when you arrive and adjusting more quickly. Short-term missions do not lend themselves to lots of rest, so if your health requires more rest, you may have to sneak away for a nap every now and then.
  7. Be aware of everything that goes in your mouth! We all wish we had iron stomachs that could eat anything anywhere, but most of us don’t. On a short-term trip, you really don’t have enough time to adjust to local bacteria like a long-term worker can, so you just have to be careful.  Water is a big culprit. Safest is not to drink anything that is not bottled—with the lid commercially closed. Safest is to use the same bottled water to brush your teeth. Foods that have a high water content can be bad also, so avoid lettuce, soups, ice cubes, and jello that are made with unknown water.  Honestly, this is very hard to practice 100% consistently, so take the approach of just minimizing your exposure to bad water as much as you can.
  8. Wash your hands a lot—with soap. While I’m generally opposed to overuse of anti-bacterial hand products, I use them regularly when traveling overseas for added protection.
  9. Follow the suggestions of the local hosts. If they say use a mosquito net, then do so. If they say don’t eat from street vendors, then don’t. If they say, take malaria meds, then do it.  The only thing you have to be careful about here is when you are with locals who have not traveled out of their country and do not understand what your special needs might be.
  10. Know the difference in yourself between minor sickness and major sickness. Almost everyone who travels internationally has experienced some degree of upset stomach and/or Montezuma’s revenge. Most people don’t die even from food poisoning that can occur no matter how careful you are. One can become dehydrated though, so treat your symptoms and monitor your condition even with minor things so that they don’t become major. In almost all countries, you can trust local doctors for treatment of minor sickness, so don’t be afraid to ask for help if a minor illness seems to last too long or you begin feeling even worse.

Again, let me say that if you are in pretty good health, then you can participate in most short-term mission programs. But even the healthiest of us will be more effective on our mission trip if we stay healthy!  We don’t have complete control over that, but these few tips will certainly help you.

Now, Go . . . into all the world!

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