Monday, November 18, 2013

4 Lessons Learned From Natural Disasters

In light of Typhoon Haiyan passing through the Philippines, I want to share a few things I have learned from being involved with recovery efforts following natural disasters. Now, let me give a couple of disclaimers. First, I am not the authority but I have been involved in varying degrees of involvement following Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy and the earthquake in Haiti.  Second, not everything that is true following one disaster or in a particular country will always be true. Nevertheless, let me offer some thoughts.

  1. Spiritual leaders will carry a heavy burden. My experience in non-western cultures is that spiritual leaders such as pastors are depended on for much more than the spiritual. The demands on pastors and missionaries will only become greater following a disaster.

  1. Communities will take their cue from churches. When everything is destroyed, people wonder if they should rebuild or move somewhere else. Will my friends and family stay or will they go? When churches rebuild, communities stay.

  1. Give to small, directly connected organizations.  In the aftermath of a natural disaster, organizations like The Red Cross will raise millions of dollars more than what can actually be spent on the immediate needs following a disaster. Giving to a small, locally connected organization such as a missions organization with missionaries in the country will improve the chance of your dollars directly impacting the rebuilding of a home or life rather than fostering foreign dependency. Click here to give.

  1. It’s more important to do something later than now. The Philippines is getting lots of attention now but it will fade from the news. Plan to raise money or do something to help in 6 months when many people have stopped giving and helping.

I’m sure there is more that can be said, but I hope this will help you respond in prayer and generosity. Post comments on lessons learned or observations you have made!

Questions for the author? Need coaching or consulting? You can contact Tory at 520-404-0841 or

Thursday, January 31, 2013

How To Know If Your STM Trip Is Too Risky

Recently, a short-term mission team from New Zealand was in a car accident in Kenya and three team members died. It was nothing short of a tragedy. From an earthly perspective, I can’t imagine why people who sacrificed to serve God would die what seems a senseless death. While most trips go off without a hitch, tragedies can happen whether a team is in a safe place or a dangerous one. As leaders in short-term missions, what do we do with risk and danger?

This brings up an interesting dilemma. If God has called us to something, should the risk even matter? The argument can be made that the very fact that one would consider risk shows that he or she should not participate in a trip. However, we are also the overseers of precious lives that trust our leadership. We would not be good stewards of our team if we took them into risky situations unnecessarily. So how do we go about managing risk and taking care of our people? Here are some ideas to consider as you plan and even make policies.   

First, you have to decide as an organization or church how much risk you are willing to take on. At DELTA, we classify ministry locations into mild, medium, high, and critical. Some groups might find they don’t feel comfortable with anything more than a medium while others might be ok with a high or a critical field location. What is important is that you have considered this and made a decision on what is acceptable before you are faced with the specifics of a particular team.

Once you know your risk threshold, develop a system for gathering information. Consider a service like Frontier Medex that sends daily updates of current events so you are informed of new incidents. The US State Department as well as other international state departments can have some good information too. Make sure you also include local sources of information like local news outlets, missionary partners, or others who have first-hand knowledge.

Second, develop a way of quantifying the risk. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard objections to mission trips over safety, but the person can’t vocalize what makes the trip dangerous. The best way to handle generic objections is to have information. I use a Risk Assessment Tool that allows three people to name the 3 or 4 biggest dangers and evaluate both the likelihood it would happen and the severity of the impact if it happened. For example, getting kidnapped might be low on the likelihood but high on severity. Contracting an intestinal bug might be high on the likelihood but low on severity of impact. Once the risks are defined, you can make a plan to mitigate them.

Third, have a crisis and contingency plan. Don’t wait for something bad to happen to figure out how you would react. A good crisis and contingency plan includes an emergency response team. It should also spell out the duties of the emergency team members, procedures on notifying families, who will monitor the ongoing situation, who will be a “spokesperson,” how you will document your action steps, and so on. It should also include policies on who decides when evacuation is mandatory and who pays for mandatory and optional evacuation.

Fourth, be prepared. Make sure you purchase travel medical and evacuation insurance. It can cost, literally, less than a couple of dollars per day. Other ways to be prepared are to ask your host about what plans they have for emergencies, give your team leader an In Case of Emergency form that has emergency contact numbers for people in the host country and at home, include forms for logging injuries and collecting the information required by the insurance company. You may also want to have the name of a crisis consulting agency handy so you know who to call in an emergency.

Does this seem overwhelming? Start with the first step before worrying about the other 3 or contact DELTA Ministries to purchase their Crisis and Contingency Plan or to receive coaching on developing your own.

Questions for the author? Need coaching or consulting? You can contact Tory at 520-404-0841 or

Friday, November 2, 2012

4 Characteristics of Potential STM Leaders

Many churches are looking for new STM team leaders. It can be difficult to find the right person, yet the burnout on the experienced leaders is even harder. Or, maybe you have tried new leaders, but they never work out. Do you know the necessary characteristics of a STM team leader? Do you know what to look for in potential leaders? Let’s see what the Apostle Paul, a trainer of leaders, has to say.

Is a leader simply someone who is good at being in charge—who can be a good boss? No! Jesus himself said in Mark 10:45 that he didn’t come to be the boss but to be the best servant.

Should we look for the oldest person or the one with the most experience? No! Or the Apostle Paul would not have told Timothy not to let anyone look down on him because of his age but to set the example for them (1 Timothy 4:12).

Do we look for the person who is a “natural-born leader?” You know, the person with the charisma; the “it” factor. Again, no! In 1 Corinthians 2:1-4, Paul reminds the Corinthians that he came not with elegance of speech or fanciness but in humbleness relying on the message of Christ crucified and the Holy Spirit. Paul didn’t rely on persuading people through his own gifts but on letting his message and the Holy Spirit do the work.

Is being the best a requirement for being a leader? No! Again, Paul tells us that God chooses the foolish things of the world to shame the wise and the weak to shame the strong (1 Corinthians 1:27-29). The perfect person glorifies him or herself, but the chosen of God glorifies Him.

So what then is a leader? A leader is the one who sets the example to be followed. Paul tells the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 4:16-17 to imitate him and that he is sending Timothy as his example. Paul says Timothy will remind them of his way of life in Christ Jesus! What a statement!

What is the example that leaders should be setting? What are the character qualifications for being a leader? A leader should be a person of prayer, a person of the Word, a person of love, and a servant. When you are looking for potential leaders look for people who pray from the heart, pray in the face of trials, and who pray for others. Look for a person who knows and follows God’s Word. Look for a person who truly loves God and others, and someone who is a servant of others.

Don’t confuse the characteristics of a leader with the skills of a leader. We want to put character before skills when looking for potential team leaders. Once we have selected new leaders, then we can worry about training them.  

Don’t know how to train team leaders? Go to DELTA’s website to learn more about their Team Leader Training. You can also email me for some free resources on the qualifications and job description for a team leader, a team leader application, and team leader references.  

Questions for the author? Need coaching or consulting? You can contact Tory at 520-404-0841 or

Friday, September 21, 2012

What do YOU think makes a STM trip a good one?

Last week I wrote about how to evaluate your STM trip. I proposed we should determine success based on the process of our STM trip rather than the end product. I promised I would suggest what makes a good process this week, so here it is.

A STM trip done well exhibits seven main traits. Several years ago, mission leaders wiser than myself came up with the Standards of Excellence in Short-term Missions (SOE). How does your trip measure up with these standards? Don’t just go with your gut, find a way to evaluate it. The STM Trip Assessment Tool and Free Supplement is a good way to do that.

Here are some thoughts that I have had when it comes to changing the way I view a mission trip:

  1. How was the trip’s leadership? Did we have our own agenda? Did we truly partner with our hosts? Were we serving our needs, or express a desire to serve them. This is far different from evaluating the relevancy or the success of what we did. 
  2. How was the group? Were they properly trained and prepared, not just physically but spiritually, emotionally, and culturally? A sign of this would be how the group reacts to adversity. Was there complaining or adapting? If your group was looking for God at work instead of hung up on what was going wrong, you probably did a good job. 
  3.  Did you follow-through with your participants? Not everyone will become a missionary, but everyone can become more like Christ. It’s not your responsibility to make a person change, but it is your responsibility to invite them into change. If you’re not sure how to practically do that, check out The Next Mile curriculum for help with follow-through. Make sure you see the free e-zine and mentor guides. 
  4. Think percentages not numbers. This is how I determine a successful day and a successful trip: What percentage of the time was I faithfully following Jesus? This means I did what he wanted, the way he wanted me to, when he wanted me to. Did I make excuses to avoid doing what God asked me to so that I wouldn’t have to leave my comfort zone, or did I step out in fear and faith and follow Him?

I admit, this way of evaluating an STM trip is a bit subjective. So how do you know if you should send a team back? Here are some questions to guide you:

  1. What is your philosophy? For example, are you looking for a long-term partner or trying to visit all your supported missionaries? 
  2.  Were your hosts’ desires accomplished? If you were beneficial, then a door is open for you to return. If everything was accomplished, then there might not be a need to return. 
  3.  Were your godly desires fulfilled? If this just wasn’t a good match, then don’t force it. 
  4.  Is there room for growth? Can your role with the field grow over time? Can your partnership grow and become deeper?

 I hope these ideas help you determine whether or not your last trip, or even your current trip is a success.

What do you think? What would you add? Post your thoughts in the comments below.

Questions for the author? You can contact Tory at 520-404-0841 or