The secret of a successful mission trip is good preparation. Here are insider tips on prayer preparation for a mission trip. Whether you are planning a youth mission trip, a medical mission trip, a disaster recovery mission trip or a foreign mission trip, prayer preparation is the secret to success.
I used this plan for prayer preparation before an Israel mission trip. I emailed this list of guidelines to each mission group member a month prior to the trip so they could actively get ready to serve and pray on the mission trip.
On your mission trip you will need the strength that comes from knowing that someone is praying for you before and during your trip. Ask God to bring to your mind two people whom you can ask to pray for your safety, health, effectiveness in mission and spiritual growth during the trip. Having prayer partners is essential because while you’re on the trip, you may not have time to pray when things begin happening very quickly.
Share special requests.
Share with your prayer partners details of the trip and any special requests you have. These might include personal concerns about your health, learning new tasks or that God will take care of your family and business back home while you’re gone.
For instance, before I went to Honduras I asked my prayer partners to pray about my personal goal to be comfortable praying out loud in Spanish with someone I met. I’m a bit rusty on my high school Spanish and was self conscious that I wouldn’t say the right things when praying. My usual conversations in Spanish relied heavily on hand motions and pantomime for the words I didn’t know. Unfortunately, you can’t use hand motions when someone’s eyes are closed in prayer! My prayer partners prayed specifically for this, and in Honduras I was brave enough to say a short prayer with a young woman I met who was helping us with Bible school.
Ask for prayer before the trip as you prepare.
Even before your trip begins, things will come up in your work, life, health or family that might possibly cause you to not make the trip.
Two weeks before our Israel trip I suddenly developed severe vertigo that didn’t go away. I was in and out of doctor’s office at least 5 times and even required an emergency room visit. Needless to say I called on my prayer partners – and also on the other praying friends. I needed prayer for the physical strength to get ready for the trip, guidance on seeking the right treatments and discernment as to whether I’d be able to make the trip at all.
Ask for prayer about the unexpected.
Unexpected things will happen during the trip. You will definitely be tired. You will probably get lost trying to find new places. Your luggage may be delayed or lost. It’s a good idea to make your main prayer request to your prayer partners that God will grant you resiliency, an ability to handle glitches and changes of plans gracefully and to not lose sight of your goal of sharing God’s love with others.
On a recent Romanian mission trip our luggage didn’t arrive for two days. Unfortunately our luggage contained all of our craft supplies and Bible school materials. We had to make an emergency run out to a local store for makeshift supplies for hastily planned crafts – and we also purchased a change of clothes for ourselves at the same time.
2. Read your favorite Gospel
Since mission trips involve going to a new location, begin by reading one of the Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke or John – and meditate on how Jesus and the disciples moved from town to town teaching people, meeting their needs and spreading God’s love. The Gospel of Mark is a good reading choice because there is much emphasis on travel and action.
When we go on a mission trip of any kind, we are not only following the example of how Jesus travelled to serve, but we are also acting as an ambassador of Christ as it says in the Bible verse, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:20 NIV.) As you prepare for your trip, ask God to enable you be a good representative of Christ’s love to those you meet on your mission trip.
3. Practice responding to the inner nudges of the Holy Spirit to pray for others.
Because mission work revolves around relationships with people who are strangers and perhaps very different than we are, an important part of our mission trip preparation is to practice silently praying for people we meet. In the weeks before your trip, begin listening for small nudges from the Holy Spirit to silently pray for strangers and people you meet in your normal daily routine. Also be alert to nudges to pray for issues and community needs that you see. Once you are on your trip, this helps create an awareness that everyone you meet might be a divine appointment, whether they are a cab drive, a waitress in a restaurant, a local leader or even another member of your mission group.
4. Do at least one silent prayer walk in your local community
Silent prayer walking is an incredibly effective way to pray for the area where you are serving on a mission trip while immersing yourself in the local culture and life. Prayer walking is simply walking while praying about some of the things God lays on your heart and mind that He would like to see happen in the area. Before your trip, try doing a silent prayer walk in a public place such as a shopping center or a city street.
When we went on our Israel trip we did a prayer drive along the northern borders of Israel, praying for peace and protection. We also did a silent group prayer walk through the poor residential areas of Nazareth and around the walls of Jerusalem.
5. Pray about at least one news story about a complex issue
Before your mission trip, practice praying for ongoing social issues by praying about at least one news story that involves a large, complex problem. All mission trips open our eyes to local, national or global issues that need prayer. On your trip you may be seeing the results of generations of poverty, lack of education, repression, discrimination, social problems, armed conflicts, exploitation of the environment or corrupt government. Most mission team members are idealists who find forces that crush and limit the human spirit very disturbing. View your stirred feelings as a call to pray.
Prayer is also vital because, realistically, the short time that we personally spend on a one or two week mission trip is not long enough to affect the kind of change necessary to significantly improve most ongoing local conditions. As you practice praying about an issue at home that touches your heart, join your heart with God’s in prayer. God’s heart goes out to the oppressed just as ours does. Ask for wisdom about what to and how to pray. And use scriptures to claim God’s help and promises, such as this one from the Bible,
“May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the children of the needy, and crush the oppressor!” ( Psalm 72:4 )
When we went on our mission trip to Israel, we knew that we would find clashing cultures, religions and long-seated animosities. However the longer we stayed, listened and explored, the more aware we became of the incredible complexity of the issues. We felt we were finding layer upon layer of issues, like peeling an onion only to find more and more layers underneath. Our prayers changed quite a bit from the simplistic ones that we prayed from afar such as “We pray peace on Jerusalem.” Instead we found ourselves pleading for the overarching redemption of Christ’s sacrificial blood upon all of the ethnic discord and centuries of violence.
6. Say a short prayer of blessing out loud with someone
Prayers of blessing are one of the most powerful forms of imparting God’s love upon others you are serving on a mission trip and they are doubly powerful when they are said out loud with the person for whom you are praying. Before your trip, set a goal to say a spontaneous and natural prayer of blessing out loud for at least one person you know. Examples of those with whom you might pray a short prayer of blessing include for a child or grandchild, for a neighbor, a co-worker or for someone at your church or on your mission team.
Nearly everyone you meet on a mission trip could use a personal prayer of blessing, including those whom you are serving, the local missionaries and relief workers who are working with them, people who assist you in your travels and your fellow team members. Perhaps the person for whom you will be called to pray has never heard their name said out loud in prayer to God. Perhaps they even feel unworthy to voice their own requests to God. Praying a prayer of blessing with them is an amazing affirmation that God cares for them, and that you care.
Saying prayers of blessing out loud for others is Biblical. In Old Testament times the father of the family blessed the children every Sabbath and also gave parting prayers of blessing at the time of their deaths. Jesus Himself took the time to bless children as it says, “Then he took the children in his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them.” (Mark 10:16 NLT) Notice the practice of placing hands on the person being blessed. I have found this to be very effective to hold a person’s hand or to lay my hand on their shoulder when I say a prayer of blessing for them.
On our Israel trip, we stayed at a small bed and breakfast inn run by a woman named Gila. During our stay we learned that we were among her last guests as she had made the decision to close the B&B in order to serve full time as a missionary in Africa. After she told us about her ministry, we gathered around Gila and said a prayer of blessing on her ministry.
Another idea that I used in Honduras to say natural prayers of blessing over children involved using a face painting crayon we were using to “decorate” the children at a community festival. As I drew a flower on a child’s arm, I said a short prayer of blessing out loud I had memorized in Spanish that went something like this, “May God bless you with all good things today and always.” This time of blessing children turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip for me.
On another occasion when I went as a chaperone on a youth mission trip to Savannah, one of the worship services at the end of the week was a foot washing time where the chaperones from our church took turns washing the feet of each youth from our church. After washing their feet, the chaperone who had washed the feet of the youth said a special prayer of blessing out loud over the youth. Since we had been together all week, I was able to thank God for the good qualities I had seen in them and also say a prayer of blessing for the kind of future God might be envisioning for them. It was a very powerful service.
7. Brush up on spiritual warfare
Before you mission trip, practice praying against evil and oppression by praying about something close to home that hits your personal “injustice button.” Examples of these sorts of things might people who are tormented by cruel actions of others, addictions, broken relationships, moral breakdowns, injustice etc.
The Bible speaks in terms of a spiritual battle against the forces that oppose God kingdom. Praying against evil forces is called spiritual warfare and spiritual warfare is waged through prayer and the power God provides to resist and stand against evil and to carry on God’s work nevertheless. In reading one of the Gospels (as suggested earlier in this article) you will notice that Jesus and the disciples were constantly coming against sin, pride, oppression and evil strongholds over people’s lives. When the disciples were unable to help a boy who was possessed by evil, Jesus told them, He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.” (Mark 9:29 NIV)
Subtle forms of spiritual opposition.
Most of us going on mission trips are untrained people who generally don’t operate on the intense prayer level of those who have the specialized gifts of the Spirit such as the gifts of healing, deliverance and the working of miracles. However we will certainly encounter spiritual opposition that we can and should pray against.
The spiritual opposition may be overt, such as voodoo or occult practices. More typically, we will be up against more subtle but very real forms of evil that need to be curtailed and neutralized via prayer. The devil can just as easily oppress us with anger, quarrels among team members, fear, depression, a sense of being overwhelmed by the needs we see, discouragement, a sense that those we are serving aren’t appreciative of our sacrifices, etc. We also may be personally victimized by discrimination, persecution, rejection, crime, distrust and jealousy.
Binding and loosing.
Praying against evil often is thought of in terms of binding and losing, based on this verse from the Bible where Jesus tells us, “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 18:18 NIV) Christians often use this as a pattern of prayer. As an example we might pray, “Jesus, we pray that you will bind the power of fear over this community and we pray that you will loose your love and your faith in them.” Praying this prayer is in accordance with another Bible verse that says, “But perfect love drives out fear.” (I John 4:18 NIV) In praying against evil, we often use the pattern of naming the specific evil influence and asking God to replace it with the opposite attribute of God’s goodness.
As an example, one time on a mission trip a divisive personality conflict/power struggle arose between two leaders. After it was over I went into the restroom stall to silently pray that God would bind the spirit of stress and distress and the taking up of sides that this conflict had brought upon the group. Later the next day I bumped into one of the leaders involved who in my estimation had been sincerely trying to do the right thing but perhaps had gone about it in the wrong way. I asked the person to come with me around the side of a building for a brief moment of prayer. I then said a prayer thanking God for this person’s faith and their desire to do the right thing and asking God to protect them from any fallout from this conflict. In my prayer I was in effect “loosing” this person’s faith and binding their fear of further repercussions.
Your sensitivity to local evil influences.
Another spiritual warfare aspect we may experience on a mission trip is that we may become unexpectedly aware of the local forms of evil influences when visiting another culture. This happens because in our own home culture we are too familiar and comfortable with the various evil influences we live with daily and may be so used to them that we have ceased being disturbed by them and have ceased praying against them. For instance, in the U.S. evil influences in our culture that we have learned to minimize might include self reliance/pride, materialism/hedonism or moral laxity.
In a new and different culture, our spiritual antennae may be very high to unfamiliar spirits that are “foreign” to us such as ethnic or religious intolerance, oppressive regimes, sexual exploitation or unforgiving spirits/vengefulness affecting whole families and communities. On your trip, use this as a spiritual insight from God to inform your prayers as you bind and loose the evil forces you encounter.
Cultural comparisons that point out the evil influences of your own culture back home.
Also be aware that the Holy Spirit may want to re-open our own eyes to the forms of evil in our own culture by showing us the refreshing absence of them in the culture we are visiting. For instance, when visiting an area of poverty we might be extremely surprised to see how happy the residents are with much less material goods than we possess. The Holy Spirit may be taking the opportunity to show us how fully we have “bought into” consumerism and wasteful consumption back home. This too, is an invitation to pray against evil influences much closer to home and even in our own lives.
8. Practice putting on the armor of God
An extremely important prayer to use every day, especially on a mission trip is to prayerfully put on the figurative armor of God. This comes from Ephesians where it says:
“Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm, then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” (Ephesians 6:13-18 NIV)
Before your trip, experiment with using these verses to pray, asking God to equip you with all of these vital pieces of spiritual equipment.
I personally use this image as a prayer every morning while brushing my teeth. I don’t think about the spiritual equipment in the order mentioned in the verse, but rather work down from my head to my feet and then to my hands in this way: helmet of salvation, breastplate of righteousness, belt of truth, feet shod with good news, shield of faith, sword of spirit.
9. Make a personal prayer plan to use during your trip
A mission trip often means communal living and jam packed schedules. Often you won’t have the opportunity to do your personal quiet time prayer and meditations like you do at home. Before your trip pray that God will help you find a good place and time for personal prayer and reflection.
In Honduras we stay in dorm rooms with 8 other women. Needless to say a lot of talking and laughing goes on. It’s fun never to run out of someone to talk to, but it’s not conducive to prayer, because with that many people, someone somewhere is always holding a conversation.
Given these drawbacks, people devised various strategies for quiet time. I noticed some of the women journaling with the aid of a flashlight after we turned off the overhead lights to sleep. That way they had a chance to reflect on and pray about the day.
I’m used to a morning prayer routine, so I set out to created a personal prayer time between breakfast and group meeting time. It meant eating breakfast quickly in order to squeeze in a few minutes of free time. I then walked a dirt driveway in front of the dorm, stopping to stand under a huge tropical tree with orchids growing in the branches. I found that during the walk and the time standing alone under the tree I was able to have a short personal prayer time of praise and meditation to keep me grounded in God for the day.
10. Pray for someone who needs encouragement or direction.
Mission trips often involve long rides in planes, trains, automobiles, vans, jeeps or buses. During this time team members often get to know each other on a deeper level, telling each other their life stories, challenges and latest undertakings. Because mission trips give busy people a break from the normal distractions of their lives, while away they are better able to gain perspective on the direction their relationships, careers, lives and spiritual growth are going. Therefore, it’s possible that during your trip God may want to use you to help someone make a positive step forward.
Before your mission trip, practice praying for God’s life-directing help for others. Choose someone you know who is in need of encouragement or direction. Then get together with them and at the end of your time together say a short prayer out loud for them about their current life situations by including some of the specifics they have told you during the course of the conversation.
Prior to your departure date, pray that on the mission trip God will help you be a good listener when someone needs it. Just as importantly, pray that God will keep you from trying to “fix” those He sends your way. Also pray that you will resist the temptation to advise them what to do. Instead ask for the grace to simply listen, love and then offer a prayer with them that God will guide and help them with whatever their life concern might be. Prayer is the gift you can give them that will both empower and comfort them.
On one mission trip the night before our return flight home I was randomly assigned to stay for one night in an airport hotel room with a woman who had seemed to confidently enjoy the mission trip we were just completing. However as she knelt on the hotel room floor trying to rearrange the contents of her suitcase, she suddenly began to share with me her feelings of inadequacy about her job and her child rearing abilities. I was quite surprised and sat down on the floor with her, listening and nodding. When she had finished telling me her concerns, I asked her if she would mind if I said a short prayer with her. She said yes, and I prayed with her about the specific issues that she had raised as she talked.
11. Pray about ways to encourage prayer and teach about prayer with those you serve.
If part of your mission project includes leading Bible school or teaching children or adults, pray about including a short lesson about prayer or teaching a short prayer. You will obviously need to make advance plans or preparations if this is an activity that you feel God is leading you to do on the mission trip.
A good prayer to use or teach is the Lord’s Prayer because you can usually find a translation of it in every language. Before our trip to Honduras I used a magic marker to write a few words of the Lord’s prayer in Spanish onto pieces of construction paper. I then had children stand in front of the class holding the words in order and had us all repeat the prayer. Many of the children already knew the prayer, however others didn’t. We then proceeded to have each child turn over their paper to the blank side one at a time as we repeated the prayer until the whole class was saying the prayer from memory.
12. Feel the prayer power
A mission trip is an extremely important undertaking that you don’t want to embark upon without prayerful preparation. You aren’t simply praying to prevent things from going wrong. Rather you pray to ensure that everything will go divinely right in ways that we cannot make them go right without God’s power. We are praying for heavenly breakthroughs, for healed relationships, hope in dark places, the defeat of evil and for God’s reconciling love that covers a multitude of sins, disappointments and sorrows. You are praying for exponential spiritual growth in your own life and in the lives of the individuals you meet, and in whole churches and cities and states and countries.
It is my observation that more things of real spiritual substance can take place within a short week on a mission trip than take place in a month of Sundays back home. Taking the time before your mission trip to pray one small pray about each opportunity discussed in this article can change everything. May your prayers begin and may they produce God’s abundant harvest.
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Copyright Karen Barber 2013. All rights reserved.