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Why Serve with a Missionary Organization?

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by Heather Reynolds Heather is a member of EM's full-time U.S. staff. Over the years, she has planned and led both short and longer-term group mission trips in communities across the U.S. and around the world.

Mission trips can be an amazing and transformational experience for volunteer groups and the communities where they serve. However, they must be planned carefully and intentionally to avoid some common pitfalls:

— Too often, volunteers arrive with the best of intentions but can easily overwhelm local staff, resources, and programs with a to-do list, demands, and high expectations.

— If we’re not careful, it can easily become more about us and what we want to do than honoring the people and the place where we are serving.

— Projects and ministry opportunities can end up feeling trivial to both the local community and the volunteers if they aren’t selected carefully.

— Sometimes the not-so-glamorous work that needs to get done continues to be pushed to the bottom of the list in exchange for a project that brings more instant-gratification to volunteers.

— If ministry trips aren’t carefully constructed, local hosts may end the week feeling exhausted or unappreciated instead of re-energized and supported.

Selecting the right partner missionary organization can be a great first step in making sure you serve in a way that brings life to all involved, while also removing the burden of arranging all the details by yourself.

Here are a few things to consider:

Missionary Organizations

1. Most short-term missionary organizations identify partner ministries and work projects for you.

This means more time to invest in your team members and local relationships. For example, on Experience Mission trips, team members are encouraged to s-l-o-w down and really get to know local people. If your team is assigned the task of painting a local woman's house (let’s call her Mary) then we encourage you to start the project by sitting down with her in her living room. Don’t just start painting! Learn about how long she’s lived in the neighborhood. What shade of blue was she envisioning for her house? How many children did she raise here? Look at pictures of her grandchildren. Tell her something about yourself, too.

Too often, it’s easy for volunteers to get swept up in the details of a project that they forget to really connect with the person at the center of it. By allowing an organization to identify meaningful service opportunities for you, you’ll spend less time worrying about the day-to-day schedule or what’s for dinner and more time forming meaningful connections with people like Mary.

Missionary Organizations


2. Most short-term missionary organizations take care of the major logistics.

This includes meals, housing, transportation, and changes in schedule. When you’re in a new city or new country, you’ll especially appreciate this level of support. Experience Mission’s local staff and ministry partners understand the local context and limitations, so they’ll be able to help you or your team navigate any unexpected issues as well as normal obstacles while you serve together.

Our local staff knows things like: how to help you avoid rush hour traffic in Atlanta, the best spot for a campfire on a mountainside in Appalachia, how to barter at the market in Jamaica, how to navigate the subway in New York City, or the best place for homemade Navajo tacos. By allowing us to be your local guides, you’ll not only have a smooth trip logistically but also be able to get a real taste of what it’s like to be part of the community.

Missionary Organizations

3. Most short-term missionary organizations are committed to long-term partnerships.

Be a part of something lasting and meaningful. At Experience Mission, we’re committed to communities and local partner organizations long-term and we want to see partnerships deepen and thrive. We invite volunteers who come back again and again to also invest in places long-term and see the progression in communities as you build relationships maintained year-to-year. When you do this, you become a small part of the story that God is telling in that community.

Often, when volunteers go on a mission trip, they want to see the immediate impact and change.

It’s gratifying to take a before-and-after photo of a freshly painted house or a new roof and show what we’ve accomplished. Or have a record-breaking tally of meal bags we passed out at the food pantry. Or to be the ones to help someone find Jesus for the first time. But often, big, meaningful, and lasting change doesn’t happen in a week. It doesn’t even happen throughout the course of one summer. Change takes time.

And the best kind of change is mutual, where everyone involved walks away better because of the relationship. By connecting to an established missionary organization and committing to a community or partnership long-term, you’ll get to see the highs and lows of life and ministry in that place and be a part of making a real difference. We feel confident you’ll begin to grow because of the experience, too.

When you’re ready, we’d love to help you find a meaningful way to serve! Explore EM’s short-term mission trips for groups or 1-9 month IMMERSION mission trips for young adults.


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