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Short-Term Missions in a Virtual World

February 7, 2022 jill Blog
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By Rhonda Dahlin

This season of COVID-19 travel restrictions can transform the way we view and participate in short-term missions. All too often, the way we view our mission experiences has been about “doing” trips. These trips (if they help to meet the needs of partners) are great!

But consider the value of “being” on mission trips. I’m talking about the way our worldview is expanded as we experience other cultures, form relationships with people there, and deepen relationships with our mission partner. Virtual short-term mission experiences will require that we shift from a “doing” to a “being” state of mind.

Mission Partners

Virtual short-term teams can be a chance to get to know a new mission partner. It can also enhance your deepest and longest church/missionary partnerships. Most importantly, dreaming and building a new thing together gives you the opportunity to create something that will serve the needs of the partner, the ministry on the field, and the members of your church. The relational starting point with your partner will determine a lot about how you proceed with the trip. However, partnership in planning will be key.

A Full Experience

Discipleship doesn’t only happen through events or church programs; it happens through our experiences and the mentoring that shapes us during the process. With that view of discipleship in mind, make the virtual short-term mission trip just that—an experience. It can be so much more than an open-ended invitation to watch a mission partner’s video. Church members can do that on their own. (If partner videos are not currently available and shown to your members, please consider adding this to your communication plan.)

Here are some elements to make a virtual short-term experience the best it can be:

* Speak with the mission partner to determine the best elements for a virtual experience. Begin with a conversation about the pros and cons in order to identify the best elements. Ask the partner how offering this virtual experience this might benefit the ministry.

* Create an opportunity for people to sign up to join the “team.” Making this a team experience will create maximum effectiveness.

* Hold a preparation meeting. In the same way that we train and prepare our team’s hearts before a short-term trip, so too we can prepare hearts and minds before our virtual experience. Don’t shortchange this step. It can be an important part of the discipleship journey.

* Have the “trip.” Decide if this will be a one-time gathering or a series of gatherings. Decide if the team will meet in person or through some sort of digital conferencing (i.e., Zoom). You may offer a hybrid of both. If it works for your team and you can abide by COVID recommendations, meeting in person can add a depth and beauty to the experience. Make each gathering for the experience fun as well as worshipful and prayer filled.

* Prioritize a debrief. Don’t just leave the experience without making plans to debrief or talk about next steps. Anticipate that God will work in each team member’s life.

* Celebrate with your church what happened during the virtual short-term experience. Share about the mission partner, what was learned, and how God worked through that time.

Expand the Invitation

This a great chance to engage those who might never step on a plane. Make sure the invitation is extended well beyond those you would normally invite. Think outside the box. Encourage small groups and Sunday school classes to join in on the experience. Make it multi-generational. Consider inviting those who don’t normally attend your church.

There are so many different options for what this experience could look like. The sky is the limit! Here are a few suggestions to get some ideas flowing:

Preparation

Use this prep time to not only learn about the culture and the missionary, but also to prepare hearts for what is to come. Use the “inductive method” to help with cultural learning and worldview. Pray together, learn about the country, have former team members tell about their experience. Talk about culture and how it affects different aspects of life, ministry, and outreach. Talk about the importance of missions and how it is a grand invitation from God that will further His kingdom work and grow us in ways we never considered.

Experience

* Using the “observe, interpret, and apply” method to culture learning as some of the following suggestions are taking place.

* Start with a “day in the life” video or a virtual tour video. This can provide such a great overview. Follow this with a live conversation with the mission partner.

* Coordinate a prayer walk for the mission partner. The hard work of missions is done through prayer. Supporting our partners in intentional prayer times can help in ways we never imagined.

* Around the world, the church has gone online. Join in on a worship service with the mission partner. This is often a highlight of traditional short-term mission trips.

* Have the mission partner talk about the culture where they are, aspects of the ministry, what they are most excited about, what they are most concerned about, and prayer concerns they may have.

* Have the mission partner invite someone from the ministry to talk about their life and faith. Allow time for questions.

* Allow for ministry support if appropriate. For instance, does your mission partner teach English? If so, could you partner one of your partner’s students with one of your church’s team members so that the student could practice conversational English? Provide proper training and prep for these kinds of activities.

* Have the mission partner take you “on a tour” of the market and then film a beloved dish as it is being prepared. Or view any other aspect of life that is different from our own. Encourage the team to become learners about the culture and the daily life of your partners.

* Have the mission partner teach your team how they share their faith in their cultural context.

* If you can gather in person, create an environment that helps to provide an experience. Cater in a meal that represents that country. Decorate the room where you will meet with that country’s flag, a map, currency or souvenirs brought back from previous trips. Distribute your partner’s prayer cards to every person on the team. Include worship and prayer.

* Consider sending some financial support to the mission partner. Since the virtual experience cost nothing except maybe the cost of meal, collect a team offering to bless the mission partner.

Follow Up

Use this post-trip time to help process and think about future steps in missions. This is a vital part of the discipleship journey, so don’t skip this step. God can move in people’s hearts in amazing ways.

Rhonda Dahlin serves as the regional director of church culture for TMS Global, which exists to mobilize and deploy the body of Christ globally to join Jesus in His mission, especially among the least-reached peoples, www.tms-global.org.

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