Dear Volunteer Teams,
We are anxiously awaiting your arrival this spring and summer and maybe even fall. It is so great to see friends (and make new ones) from America. You are such a big part of what we do. We love that you want to be a part of the work that God is doing in our cities and with the people we have grown to love.
There are some things that you could do, or not do in some cases, that would make your time spent with us even more incredible. Please let me share with you a list of some things that might be helpful to keep in mind.
- Pray. Pray like lives depend on it…because they just might. Prayer is the most important thing you can possibly do in any situation. We so often say, “Well, all we can do is pray,” as if it is the last resort. If you have not bathed each other, the missionaries, and the people you are going to in prayer weeks and maybe even months beforehand individually and as a group, then just don’t even bother getting on the plane or in the van.
- Get to know the people, city, and culture you are going to serve. It doesn’t matter if you are going to the next city over or the next continent. Do some research so you can better understand where and to whom you are going.
- Try your best to learn a little of the language if you are going to a country that doesn’t speak English. It doesn’t have to be a lot, although being able to have good conversations with people doesn’t hurt. There is something about you trying to speak their language that will open people up most of the time.
- Get to know the missionaries if you don’t already, and even if you know them talk to them. Regularly. Let them get to know you, your strengths and weaknesses.
- Ask the missionaries what the needs are and then determine the skills sets of the team and how those skills can be utilized to meet the needs. Communicate this to the missionary so they can best use your team. See #4.
- If the missionaries have children, play with them. We know our kids are getting a life that we never thought possible. They will know the world in a much different way than we do. I love that. But we also know they miss out on some things. So you hanging out with them is one of the most loving things you can do for them and their parents.
- When you are hanging out with the missionary kids, please don’t refer to America as “home”. It is not. There home is where their parents and siblings are and that is not America. They have little to no concept of American culture, so please don’t embarrass them when they don’t know what something is or if they don’t know the English word for something. Their first language might not be English.
- Be Flexible. I’ve never served on a volunteer team or worked with one where every thing went as planned. Plans will change. You can bet on it. One difference between good and bad teams is good teams have good attitudes with changes come versus bad teams complaining and grumbling when changes come. My favorite team to serve with went to Cuba. When I tell you plans changed, I don’t just mean daily…it was hourly. And yet, not one word of complaint from anybody. Just how can we make this work with what we have.
- If you are using a translator, don’t look at the translator when you are actually having a conversation with someone else. This is a small, practical thing, I know, but it is hard to do. Forget the translator is there and just talk to the other person. Translators are used to it. They are meant to be heard…not seen, so to speak. On the flip side, be nice to the translators. They may or may not be believers. Spend time getting to know them. Let them know how much you appreciate them giving their time to help you. They might just be able to teach you a few words or phrases along the way as well if you ask real nice. See #3.
- Do not go with your own agenda or thinking you know it all. Some of the worst teams I’ve worked with have had their own agenda and/or thought they knew how to better minister to the people I lived with everyday though they had never, ever not for a minute lived with them. These teams did not care one iota what the needs were and how they could help meet those needs. You’ll have a miserable time and you might not get invited back.
- Go ready to serve and learn. If walls need painting, paint them. If the missionary needs help deep cleaning the house, start scrubbing. If English lessons need to be taught, start planning a lesson. If leaders in a church need training, be well-prepared. Not s0-great teams do the opposite of this. See #10.
- You are not on vacation. The missionary is not a tour guide or concierge. Seeing the sites should be a bonus, not the focus of the trip. Just think of this clip from Star Wars: Episode IV if you ever feel like you are losing focus of why you are there, check this out.
- Don’t measure results by what you can see and/or touch. We often get sucked into the belief that if we can not count or visibly see results from a trip then it has been a failure. But some of the most important things cannot be seen or measured. One of these things, that often times gets overlooked, is pouring into the missionaries. Sending a team with the sole purpose of doing this, just loving and serving them, has results that last long after you leave. It keeps them going, refueling them to do the work they are there to do. I’ve lasted a whole year from just two teams last spring who while serving Nuova Vita Church in countless ways, also served and loved us very well. To know that people care enough about your overall well being that they are willing to spend their time and money to teach you, love you, serve you, take care of you, and get to know your people and home…ooohhh, this means so very much and does much for the psyche.
- Don’t eat the American food at the missionaries’ house. Oh mercy. I don’t care if they tell you to make yourself at home and help yourself, DON’T. If you can find it on a grocery store shelf in your hometown, don’t touch it. Again, you might not get invited back next year.
- Remember it is not about you. See #2, 6, 8, 9, 10 and 12
This is not an exhaustive list, but it is a few things to take into consideration. Again, the church in America is a vital part of what we do and we want to share it with you. So please come. Help. Serve. Let us introduce you to the city we call home and the people we love. Just don’t eat our peanut butter.