Today I leave for a 10 day trip to Uganda. When I tell people what I am doing most express a desire to go on a mission trip themselves.
But most never have.
In case this is you, I want to encourage you to do the same. Here are a few of the things I have learned from my trips and some ideas on how you can get started.
1. Know what you are good at.
The goal of the trip is to help someone else. A trip that allows you to use your gifts or skills for the good of others will be incredibly beneficial to you and the recipients. Keep this in mind when you begin searching.
I am a surgeon, so last March I went to Tenwek Hospital in Kenya. I was able to perform surgeries and help teach residents. It was an incredible experience.
2. Don’t worry about being good at something.
What if you can’t fix a broken leg? What if you can’t build anything? Go anyways. The organizations that set up thee types of trips can get valuable help out of you too. Don’t not go just because you don’t have something to offer. Just going, no matter how small, matters. Just showing up and and lending a hand can be helpful.
Most trips will have a specific goal in mind. Most organizations know how to use somebody that doesn’t come with a particular set of skills.
Another reason to go on a mission trip isn’t just for the recipients, but also for you to learn and to grow.
3. Find a good organization.
Perhaps one of the most important aspects of any trip is the organization that you end up going with. Spend some tim researching how big the group is and how experienced they are. It’s important to use a group that has been there and done that.
When I traveled to Kenya last year on the medical trip, the organization was World Medical Mission which is a part of Samaritan’s Purse. They were well organized and made sure the trip was as easy for me as possible. It made all the difference in the world.
My trip this week is with Restore International.
4. Make Your Travel Plans
How you make your travel plans will depend on you trip. Sometimes you will just show up to a work that is already started. Sometimes you will travel with a group. However your trip will be structured, most organizations have a travel agent or a trip organizer who helps you set up everything up. I typically recommend letting your agency make the arrangements.
For my trip this week I worked with a travel agent who also coordinated flight arrangements for others on the same trip. I was still able to use the airline I wanted, but he took care of the details. The organization itself made all of the arrangements for accommodations and ground transportation.
Be sure to have a valid passport and one that does not expire less than 6 months before your trip is complete. Also be sure to learn whether or not it is required that you obtain a visa and how to obtain it. In Uganda you purchase your visa at the airport after you arrive there. For places like China, you need to present your passport to the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C.
Consider obtaining travel insurance. I think medical coverage could be very important. On a trip with my family in Europe we ended up taking one of our sons to the hospital to get stitches. It does happen. From my perspective medical evacuation coverage is very important.
5. Stay Healthy
This could be the difference between an amazing experience and a complete disaster. Both you and your companions will enjoy it less if you get sick. There are a few important things to remember to try to keep an illness from making the trip harder.
Read the the CDC website which publishes a list of recommendations based on the country you are traveling to. This will help you know what types of illnesses are endemic to that country and how to prepare better.
Obtain the advice of a good travel clinic. They can give you more details plus they can help you obtain vaccinations if needed. Important vaccinations for a trip to Africa include Hepatitis B, Hepatitis A, Yellow fever, and Typhoid.
I personally used a group called Passport. They helped me with the proper immunizations and offered advice on safe travel in general. The CDC also publishes a list of travel clinics organized by state.
If you are traveling to a place with Malaria, it is generally recommended that you take anti-malarial medication on your trip. The two most commons medicines are Malarone and Doxycycline. I have taken Malarone multiple times and have not had any problems with it. This resource form the CDC can help you decide which medicine is best for you. I also recommend the use of mosquito nets and bug spray.
6. Be careful about what you eat.
I love eating food from different cultures, especially spicy food. It is important to be cautious, however, when in a third world country. I have seen multiple people suffer from Traveler’s diarrhea.
- Only drink water you know to be purified.
- Consider purchasing bottle water when the opportunity arises.
- Don’t brush your teeth with tap water.
- Only eat fruits and vegetables that you can peel, such as oranges or bananas.
- Bring anti-diarrheal medication or a prescription for Cipro.
7. Try to learn about the local culture.
Cultural differences sometimes make no sense. If you get the chance try to learn specific taboos of where you are headed. On my first trip to Africa I took a picture of the parliament building for the country. In many of these countries they consider it a threat to take a picture of important government buildings. Very soon a man with a machine gun was speaking to me. It was very unnerving.
These are a few of the things that came to my mind this week while preparing for my trip.
Have you ever been on a mission trip? What advice would you give people?
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