During my short term mission “Camelot” years at Willow Creek during the early 90’s, I had the task of writing curriculum for the then 5-10 short term mission (STM) teams that Willow sent to Mexico. It was daunting as I couldn’t seem to find too much help in finding good material to prepare our teams. So like many, we wrote our own.
Yes, I had been on many trips myself and had just returned from Kenya with my family for a whole year of serving as short termers. During that year we hosted many short termers in our home and realized that some struggled to adapt and some did well. Most admitted that they felt unprepared for their experience.
For about 8 years my church team was preparing about 25 serving teams to serve each year. We used many versions of curriculum that we edited and reworked. In 1999 I decided to publish what I had worked on. Today that Bible study guidebook, Before You Pack Your Bag, Prepare Your Heart, published by STEM Press, has sold about 100,000 copies. It is still the biggest seller in mission history of a STM preparation guide.
I am so grateful that youth pastors and church missions programs don’t have to start from scratch as we did back then. But most of all I am grateful that teams are going out with a solid orientation and a challenge from God’s Word. They have begun their journey into mission work with preparation in areas that challenge them to realize that the “how” of doing their work is more important than the “what”; that we need to be Christians first, not Americans first as we approach serving in a new culture (or anywhere, for that matter). We need to understand that bringing our technology or our stuff is NOT the most important gift to bring to the people we serve. That to go with an attitude of openness and acceptance and learning about our new friends overseas will allow us to be the best servants in Jesus’ name.
Don’t forget to pray for all those going out this summer to serve. Their service does more than you might think. Most of us don’t realize that most often the hosting group so appreciates being validated and valued when Americans come to visit them, to serve their needs, and just love them. There is a mutual experience of both parties understanding they are a part of the body of Christ. Be sure you take time to ask anyone you know who has gone, what they have learned.