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7 Tips for Planning Missions to Jamaica

10 years ago, I signed up for my first mission trip.

I always had a heart for telling others about the God of love who reached out to me powerfully when I was just a little girl- before I had the "sense" to ever doubt him.

I also loved learning about new cultures. I LOVED Spanish and Latin-American culture in particular. I thought for a while that this meant I should go into full-time missions. After all, I was good at languages. Why else would God put these gifts inside me?

During that mission conference at church 10 years ago, we sang:

"Ask and I'll give the nations to you oh Lord that's the cry of my heart, distant shores and the islands will see your light as it rises on us."
[By the second stanza, I was sold] and I signed up for the trip to Tegucigalpa.

The trip wasn't anything like I expected. I was puzzled about whether there was any mission at all. I felt like I had no real purpose being there. No questions had been asked about what they really needed. And the people we stayed with had some very real needs. But needs that would have more been met by giving financial aid and not by a young person coming empty handed. I just signed up for a trip with two willing hands and expected the organisers to have everything else covered. It was a frustrating experience because of poor communication before the trip happened, and there were needs that I could have met, had I been prepared. The people we visited didn't even know we were young. I remember the look of disappointment on the Host's face when she picked us up from the airport. "¡Son tan jovenes!" I guess she was expecting a 40-year-old pastor to do some "ministry time." We didn't fit the bill.

Although I still saw God move powerfully on a number of occasions on that trip, I couldn't help but wonder if missions today had much to do with missions even 100 years ago. Do we spiritualize a love for travel, languages and cultures as a love for missions?

After that experience, I still had a heart for missions, but done differently. Since then, I've had the pleasure of working at Moorlands camp for the last 7 years as a host for many mission teams and in that time I've seen some awesome groups GET IT RIGHT!

Here are some steps when planning a trip to ensure it is not a lame vacation with zero entertainment.

1. Know the needs.

After establishing location, dates and costs - research the needs. Let the needs drive the process of defining the mission of your trip.
This may seem obvious to some, but many mission teams are so stretched from spending time promoting the trip, and planning projects that will make waves, that looking into the needs of the local community gets bumped down on the list. Make sure you ask the right questions and have good relationships with locals so that you can give help where it is most needed. After you've thoroughly researched the needs, see what skill set your team has. If skills outside of your team are required, don't be afraid to specifically approach people with the needed skills to be a part of your trip. Even if you have to help get them there, it will make the trip much more successful.
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of having a local connection or relationship, either directly or through an agency that you might work with. That provides at least two very important benefits. First, local folks know so much more than a visitor could ever know about the context. This can be a time saver and life saver! Second, your local partners can ensure that there is ongoing activity once the mission team is gone. Dropping in for one week out of every year, with nothing happening in between is not the most effective approach.

2. Hungry people can't hear you.

If you feed them, their ears will open to what you have to say. If you arrive at your destination empty handed, you'll feel as frustrated as I was in Honduras if you sit there without being equipped to address physical needs. Raise funds to fulfil projects. Some groups have available hands, but sometimes funds are needed even more.
Matthew 25:35-36
'For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

3. Empower people. Give them dignity.

People need more than just handouts; they need purpose and significance. When my 4-year-old daughter helps me bake a cake, it takes much longer, but it gives her a sense of dignity and accomplishment when she plays a part. Would it be easier for me to bake it myself and give her a slice? Yes. But while participating, she is learning, and one day she will be able to bake me a cake all by herself.
Outreach should be about helping people find a sustainable way to provide for themselves and their families. One group I know taught a young lady at our church how to sew. She sews bags and sells them. Another group built a chicken coop and provided feed and chicks for a lady to rear chickens, something she still does two years later to supplement the income she makes from housekeeping.
If you're an experienced teacher, set up workshops to train teachers. If God has blessed you with the gift of singing, dancing, or drawing, why not feed the little ones' creativity. If you're a doctor, set up a free clinic to check blood pressure and blood sugar. If you're a Dentist, give the gift of smiles.
Help teach someone how to read. Bring resource materials or share some good resources with them. Your old computers would be a God-send for most Jamaican schools. Many schools (especially in rural areas) don't have access to a computer.

4. Less is more.

Your time is limited. It's better to focus on a few projects and a few people in need so that there is time to connect on a more personal level rather than cramming so much into a week that the impact is lost. Better to change the lives of a few.

5. Minimize travel time.

Your time in Jamaica is limited, so don't waste it travelling by bus. Plan routes carefully and speak to locals about the quickest routes to take. Google Maps is a wonderful aid, but because of poor road conditions, the routes that look the shortest on the map, may not necessarily be the shortest.

6. Have fun.

People are drawn to you when you genuinely have fun! Don't be a sour Christian! You have limited time in Jamaica so don't be afraid to fully unplug from social media and be immersed and learn new things! When next will you have the chance?

7. What can you do to continue fulfilling the mission?

You lead busy lives and you can only stay in Jamaica for a week or so, but you can still impact the lives of those you meet all year long. You've seen the needs first hand, so what can you do to help? You can raise awareness. When your friends, family and co-workers ask for the lowdown on your mission trip, pull out those photos from your trip and let them know how they can make a difference:

• Set up a scholarship fund to help the child you met go to school all year long.
• Sponsor a school lunch programme. Around here, just US$5 can provide a week's worth of lunches for a school-aged child.
• Help local teachers, doctors, and directors of children's homes get access to the resources and materials they need to be successful.
• Put together back-to-school backpacks filled with notebooks, pencils, erasers, crayons and pens.

For further reading, check out When Helping Hurts and Helping without Hurting in Short-Term Missions, both by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert.