Friday, August 31, 2012

How To Solve Mission Trip Dilemmas

I remember my first mission trip, November 1998, like it was yesterday. We spent five days in Ensenada, Mexico working with a church in Colonia 89. It was not just my first mission trip but my first time out of the country. While I watched the news and new the world was bigger than my country, I had never come face to face with a world that was not my own.

I can remember sitting by myself on a rock on the second to last day of the trip with a slew of questions floating in my mind. One series of questions went like this: “Is this pastor sincere? Authentic? He seems full of faith but he is so poor, how can that be? Doesn’t God bless the righteous? Is he really not that righteous? Or do I have something wrong?” This began a time in my life when I, as I call it, had my personal theology turned upside down.

Somehow I don’t think I am alone in this experience. Your dilemma might not have been the exact same issue, but I bet you have struggled with difficult questions at some point. I even have friends who have walked away from God after a short-term mission trip because the questions are so difficult. Why is that? Why such deep despair?

These dilemmas creep up when our experiences don’t match our beliefs. In my case, growing up in America, I had the belief that faithfulness leads to material blessings. This, of course, is not always true but it is not hard to understand how I came up with this belief. The tricky thing, though, is that I didn’t even know I held this belief until I faced an experience that defied it! When our experiences don’t match our beliefs, we can go into a funk. A common dilemma is how can a world created and governed by a good, loving, and all-powerful God be so…for lack of a better word…wrong. What is your dilemma?

When our experiences and beliefs conflict, we often feel the need to choose one as true and the other as false. What does this look like? Choosing our experience to be ultimate truth usually results in us walking away from God. Choosing our belief to be true (especially when it is not) usually leads to us dismissing our experience and never changing for the positive. I don’t know about you, but neither of those seem like good options, but what should we do?

I tell people all the time, this is an opportunity for integration. Don’t throw out your experience for there is truth in it. Don’t throw out your core belief in God for it is true. Instead integrate your experience with the Bible and come out with a new belief that is true! Here’s a simple (but not easy) four step process:

  1. Identify what is troubling you and why. That is to say, identify the specific belief that is in conflict with your experience.
  2. Share your struggle with an expert. Don’t struggle alone—you need someone around you. But, you wouldn’t go to a doctor for advice on how to fix your car or to a mechanic for medical advice. Don’t talk to just anybody, talk with someone you respect. Someone with knowledge of the Bible, understands the world, and is spiritually mature.
  3. Read God’s Word! Go right to the source. Learn all you can from Jesus’ life and teachings. See what God has to say about the world and His values. Ask God for answers.
  4. Redefine your belief. Don’t pick the experience or belief as ultimately true. Work out a new belief that is biblical and true.

In my case, I didn’t just accept the experience or the belief. I went back to the Scriptures and considered how God views money, who was wealthy in the Bible, who wasn’t, and so on. I sought counsel from people who were wiser than me. Eventually I recognized my belief was flawed and needed to be redefined. I didn’t reject God or my experience, instead I used the situation as a catalyst to understand God better and bring me closer to Him.

So, how about it? Are you struggling with any mission trip dilemmas? Have you in the past? Did you find reconciliation? Or maybe you are ignoring your experience and pretending like it never happened. No matter what the situation, share it here. Post a comment on your dilemma and how you resolved it (if it has been resolved). Allow all of us to benefit from your journey!

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

Friday, August 24, 2012

5 Ways To Be A Mentor

Hopefully you now have a mentor and you are ready for the journey to begin. The only problem is, you don’t know what you and your mentor are supposed to do? Or maybe you came across this article because you are a mentor and you don’t know what to do. I have good news—it isn’t that hard! Treat this as an open letter to all mentors. Feel free to pass it on to your mentor or to others who are mentors.

As mentors, you have five basic jobs:
  1. Pray
  2. Encourage
  3. Prepare
  4. Listen
  5. Report
Pray with your friend. If they haven’t gone on the trip yet, make regular appointments to get together and include prayer. Continue to do this even after your trip. You should share prayer requests and pray about decisions together.

Encourage your friend. Here’s a cool way to encourage your short-term missionary. Write several letters and collect several encouraging letters from others and secretly give them to the team leader with instructions to give them to your missionary throughout the trip. Another way to encourage before the trip is to help with raising funds. Help with fundraisers or even be an advocate in asking for donations. After the trip, you can encourage your friend by listening to their stories and pointing out positive change that’s happened already.

Prepare with your friend. There are a lot of last minute errands to run when packing. Help your friend by running errands or even by helping him pack. Don’t forget about the spiritual preparations also. Do something to stimulate spiritual growth in each of you before and even after your trip. This could be studying the Bible together, serving together, or even just getting together and praying together.

Listen to all your friend’s stories. I mentioned this earlier. Your friend will come home bubbling with excitement, stories, and enthusiasm but most people won’t take the time to listen. Show your love by investing your time to attentively listen. While you are listening, look for how God might be guiding and changing your friend. Sometimes an outside perspective is what returning short-term missionaries need. Be on the lookout for the STM blues. Some people become discouraged by the “real world” when they come home. (Check back in the next couple of weeks for an article on the STM blues)

Report your findings. After you have listened and observed your friend following their short-term mission experience, evaluate what you have seen and heard. Encourage your friend by sharing the change you have seen—or confront them about the lack of follow through on change they desire. This will help you be a catalyst in their life. You can’t make decisions for them and you can’t make them change, but you can make their change more powerful!

Much of this information is taken from The Next Mile Mentor Guide. You can download the Mentor Guide as a free PDF. In it you will find helpful ideas, timelines for planning, questions to ask after the trip, an evaluation form, and much more. I know it will be a useful tool as you mentor your short-term missionary.

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

Thursday, August 16, 2012

You can’t argue it…You need a mentor!

You’ve come home from your trip, posted your pictures on Facebook, sent an email out to all your supporters, and probably blogged a couple of times about your experience. That seems like a funny line to write — back in my day we came home, printed pictures, wrote an update letter that went out in the mail, and perhaps journaled about our experience. Now, I’m not really that old, but I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to point out the change.

The point is, you’ve come home, and you’re probably ready to tackle life. If you’re a student, you’ll probably be going back to school in a couple weeks. And nobody needs to tell you what kind of challenges you will face. If you’re an adult, you’re probably already back to work, and facing the challenges that will keep you from acting on everything God taught you on your trip.

What are you supposed to do? How are you supposed to change when everything about life here seems to be against you? You know you need to slow down, be less materialistic, be more generous, care about other people more, but everything about your life makes this change impossible. Or maybe you’re not even sure what you are supposed to do now in light of your recent trip. This can be one of the loneliest but most important moments in your life. How do you grab hold of God, your life, and become a new person?

Well, you can’t go it alone. You need a mentor. Someone who will help you determine God’s direction for your life, and then help you stay on it. You need someone who loves you enough that they aren’t afraid to hurt your feelings when you are going the wrong direction.

Hopefully you’re thinking, “That sounds great! That’s exactly what I need. I need someone who will be there for me no matter what.” But maybe you’re wondering who would be your mentor? So how do you choose a mentor? Let me break the mold on what is a mentor. A mentor is not necessarily an older person with all the answers. A mentor is simply a fellow follower of Jesus who loves you. But there are some qualities to look for such as:
  1.  A person of prayer 
  2.  A person of integrity
  3. A committed servant of the church
  4. Someone who will commit to you for a least six months
I recommend getting a mentor when you sign up for your mission trip. But, it’s never too late to get one. If you don’t already have a mentor, find one. And if you’re not sure what to do with your mentor, check back next week for an article on that subject.

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

Friday, August 10, 2012

3 Myths About Inspiring Your Church to Action

Statistics say millions are going on short-term mission (STM) trips, and I believe it.  And this time of year many are returning from a trip they went on through their home church. 

But, if you went through an organization, and you were the only person from your church, you’re probably feeling pretty excited about getting your church involved.  Maybe leadership is even looking for you to start something. If they aren’t, when they see your passion and excitement, they will be.

Let me give you a warning: you are up against a difficult task. It’s not impossible, and nothing to shy away from, but you need to prepare yourself.

Hopefully this article will help prepare you to fight the three myths that may creep into your life.

Myth #1 – If I can just get them to go, they will be changed just like me

That might happen, but it might not. There is more to the process than just going. But don’t be surprised if simply sending teams doesn’t create the change for which you are hoping. There are people in every church who will go on a STM trip simply because they are adventurous, and your stories were mysterious and exciting. They will come back excited like you, but just as the seed that is sown on the rock grows quickly and then withers, they will also be without root and fade quickly. STM trips result in life-long change when participants go for the right reasons, have good training, and have proper follow-through. But don’t be surprised if simply sending teams doesn’t create the change for which you are hoping.

Myth #2 – Sending STM teams means we are a mission-minded Church

You probably have met, or even went on your trip with people from really impressive churches. They send out teams every year and seem to have an awesome program. In fact, you may even be kind of jealous. You want your church to be like that. The problem is, you don’t see the whole picture and so you think that sending teams makes a church missions-minded. Bad things happen when our goal becomes simply to send STM teams. These teams, in a sense, become our idol. There is so much more to being involved in missions besides sending people. Life change is represented by more than just people being willing to go on a trip again next year. Read this earlier post, or this one, or this one for information about how to get a complete mission program started. The posts aren’t long and will really help you.

Myth #3 – I can inspire my church to action by myself

I hate to break it to you, but you are just one person. It doesn’t mean God can’t use “just one person,” but I can tell you from personal experience that you will need a team of people to help you. Otherwise, you will get tired, busy, and overwhelmed. So, who should be in this group? There are four basic layers. First, get the average attendee involved. The only qualification should be a willingness to serve. Second, get ministry leaders on board. You will find people like Bible study leaders, Sunday school teachers, and home group leaders have a special platform to reach people that you do not. Third, get your pastors (especially the senior pastor) on board. Your pastor can give you unique support by promoting things from the pulpit. If your pastor is passionate, it is likely that others will follow his lead. Finally, but most importantly, make sure God is involved. Do this by basing everything in prayer. Pray about every decision and endeavor you take on. Ask God about His desire and direction for your church instead of just copying what other churches are doing.  
Making other people change is hard—down right impossible—just ask any pastor. But God does ask us to invite people into change. Your desire to inspire your church to action is a good one. Go at it with everything you have, but do it the right way.

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