Finding The Sweet Spot

"How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger who brings good news, the good news of peace and salvation, the news that the God of Israel reigns." Isaiah 52:7
"And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, 'How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!" Romans 10:15

Editors' Note: Our summer missions teams to Japan and Ireland have returned home safely from exciting and fruitful ministries abroad. Do you know what goes into the planning for these short term ministries? If you are a participant, or the parent of one of the team members, you have some idea about reservations, packing, costs, passports and PRAYER for all schedules to be developed and carried out wisely. Have you ever thought what the host missionaries go through in preparing a meaningful cross-cultural ministry outreach? The following article by Janine Alvarado, one of our missionaries to Japan, is eye-opening. This comes from her website, (Mission Japan...until they've all heard...)

I'd like to write about what goes into planning a missions trip from the field side.

Planning for this trip started about 8 months or so ago when we began talking through initial ideas of what a team could do when they were coming. Over the last several years, I’ve read lots of articles and heard from many sides of the “is it worth it?” debate on short term missions teams. On one side, you have those who contend it’s an awful lot of money for something that can often turn into a “work vacay” for teens and doesn’t yield much fruit and takes the missionaries away from their ministry focus. On the other side, you have those who say that it can really impact the lives of the teens (typically) and can be empowering and useful for local church and, if done right, can produce some long term fruit.

Let’s just say that I’ve been on missions trips that have fallen on both sides of the argument. I’ve been on ones that, due to the lack of maturity of the team members, failed rather immensely, and ones where we did work that really could have been done by locals, thus robbing them of the opportunity to take ownership of their ministry. But I’ve also been on trips that have been incredibly impactful in my life and that have sparked that fire in me that has brought me to where I am today.

Back to the brainstorming session. For our part, we wanted to look at some basic questions: what needs were there? What could and couldn’t be done by local people and why? What were the long-range goals of the events? How could we show a wide spectrum of mission life? In what ways could we work together or provide training for local believers?

This being our first team that we have worked with from start to finish, it was a bit of a trial run for us. We tried to use what we’ve learned to make this the most fruitful trip– and in a place like where we are– you don’t always see the fruit now. So that’s something that has to be taken into account.

Next basic questions are usually budget related. How much is a good airfare? How much for lodging, food, transportation? That’s usually a pretty tricky question. Hint: I’ve learned now to ask how many people are breakfast people before the trip begins.

I vaguely remember a few Skype calls with Ryan and Chellie and Edilaine (one of the main people I was working with on our side to coordinate the VBS) discussing the VBS and times and how much to prepare and tips.

Fast forward a few months. When we visited the States in the Spring we met up with the team to talk culture and taboos and what Japan is like. We gave some testimonies and otherwise just tried to mentally prepare the team.

After we returned from the States, then we began to actually really prepare for the team. Meetings with Edilaine to figure out what we needed to do to coordinate a VBS. How can we do registration? When do we need to get fliers printed? What needs to be on them? Who will translate it for us? How will we handle kids that are already part of the program? Do we charge a fee (in light of the Japanese culture, everyone we talked to said "yes, do it!")? What rooms do we reserve for this? How do we accomplish our long term goals from our side? What about translators?

You know, those kinda things.

We figured out how we would get them back from the airport and came up with multiple plans depending on when they would actually leave. Then...what in the world will we feed them? How am I going to fit all that in my refrigerator??? What places should we take them to on their day off? Are there any service projects that need to be done and who will be responsible for those?

Draft a schedule and send to the team leader. Receive feedback. Add more details as we talk to more and more contacts to coordinate various events. Rinse and repeat.

Also, a significant part of their trip was about prayer walking. We weren’t sure how many of the team had experience in this. In prayer times with other teams, we’ve found that they didn’t really know what to pray for. So, we put together a prayer booklet with a ton of information from different sources and themes, prayer points and verses for each day to reach our end goal: making this the most strategic prayer walking possible and setting them up for success. Since one of us had to be cooking during prayer time, Vicente made maps so that the teams could split up and we could cover more ground.

Finally, last minute details. OH...yeah. Japanese don’t do please find a way to cover them up. Absolutely no new shoes for this trip (according to one report I heard, someone said that we walked 9 miles one day).

And then, we held our breath and prayed that all the prep work we did would pay off.

And I think it did. We saw a lot of impact on kids’ lives, we had great outreach done in the right way (using the team as the draw and forwarding the connection to local believers), some claimed the prayer walks as a highlight of their trip, and we attempted to expose them to as much as we could fit in of Japanese life, experiences, food and fun.

Were there things we could have done better? Absolutely. Were there changes of plans? You better believe it.

I think it was a well-chosen team. We've received lots of compliments about them from the Japanese.

Afterward, Vicente and I collapsed for a day. It was a wonderful experience– a whole lotta work. But one that we feel can be a good starting place for the future.

So, it may look like just a brief two-week trip and project for the team and for us.  But the truth is that so much work went into it on both sides.  And because of the impact missions trips have had on my life, I want to help perpetuate that for others and make it the most fruitful ministry possible for the country we serve.