April 22, 2019

11 Questions to Ask Before You Take a Mission Trip

11 Questions to Ask Before You Take a Mission TripShort-term mission trips have gotten a bad rap recently. And, honestly, we don’t have to look too far to see why.

Examples of harm done by short-term teams abound. I’ve read stories of churches in South America being painted 20 times in a five-year span because it was a good way to occupy the visiting Americans.

A long-term ministry in Russia was kicked out of a school they had worked long and hard to develop a relationship with when a short-termer took a photo without permission.

I’ve also heard a number of accounts of fake orphanages being set up in Africa when foreigners come. Children from the village gather and stare up at the eyes of their visitors, and somebody pockets donations—lots of them.

Worse, children can actually be taken from their families to create a similar scenario.

But don’t rule out the opportunity to serve overseas too quickly! God still uses short-term mission teams.

With healthy policies in place, short-term teams can be a tremendous benefit to long-term ministries. They can offer a fresh boost of energy, complete a much-needed project, or become prayer warriors with a passion and commitment they never would have had without visiting the field.

So how do you know if a team you’re considering joining is a good one? Will you make an impact or a mess?

To ensure you’re making the best choice possible, ask the following questions before joining a short-term team.DSC03170-001

1)     What is the long-term plan to support those we’ll serve during this short-term ministry experience?

The big picture is important.

God does not call us to vacation abroad. (Now, a vacation is not a bad thing, and when given the opportunity, I’d take it. But getting in a plane doesn’t mean I’m fulfilling a command from Scripture.)

God does call us to “Go, make disciples of all the nations” (Matt. 28:19).

So let me be frank. Disciples are not made in a six-day span.

To think that I could revolutionize the world by taking a short-term trip would be pretty prideful. But I could be used to support an organization that’s in it for the long haul, doing the work day in and day out.

For example, one guy picks out a village from a map of Zimbabwe, shows up, and drops off hundreds of pairs of shoes.

Is it nice? Well, as long as the primary employer in that village isn’t a shoe company, yes. But does it make disciples? Probably not.

But in another example, a guy asks a ministry he respects what he could do that would be helpful. They request shoes for a village in Zimbabwe so that children will be permitted to attend school. So he takes hundreds of pairs of shoes, and they hold an event for the community in their new church. The hospitality the community experiences makes them feel so welcome, they begin coming weekly.

Is it nice? Yes.  Does it make disciples? Quite possibly!

Without this long-term vision, many short-term efforts are little different than humanitarian efforts by secular organizations.  

Before you select your short-term ministry experience, be certain it is part of a long-term strategy to make disciples.

2)     What training will I receive before, during and after traveling with you?

Many well-intentioned folks jump on a plane with plans to change the world. But if they haven’t taken the time to learn about the culture they’re entering, there’s a huge risk that they’ll do more damage than good.

An organization with solid experience in a foreign field will be able to prepare you to be ambassadors for Christ in a new setting.

They’ll also alert you to any immunizations you should have prior to travel, help you with fundraising and applying for a visa, if one is needed.

What’s more, they’ll walk you through the experience by continuing the training while you’re immersed in the culture and help you process everything for the most long-term benefits after you return home.

3)     Does the mission we’ll carry out fill a need expressed by those we hope to serve?

Imagine you’re at home one day, getting dinner on the table. The doorbell rings and when you open your front door, there stands a group of 14 in matching t-shirts. They announce, “We’re here to paint your garage!”

Unless you’ve asked for help with painting your garage…or at least acknowledged that your garage needs a fresh coat of paint, life just got really awkward. You’d probably wonder, “Why have they come to my house? Has the neighborhood complained that my garage is in bad repair? Do they think I can’t paint?”

In most cases, an international team would have at least sent an email before showing up at the door. But the result is pretty much the same. Gracious hosts around the world allow Americans to have their way, but in the meantime, they can feel stripped of their dignity.

Look for an organization that is sensitive to the felt needs of the people they hope to serve. Otherwise, you risk communicating that those you visit have a way of life that isn’t acceptable.  That’s probably not the best way to establish the kind of relationship that invites meaningful discipleship.

4)     How much of the trip’s cost is tax-deductible?

If the purpose and activities for your mission trip are in keeping with the sending organization’s tax-exempt purpose, then the entire cost of the trip should be! Of course, you may take in some culture by visiting a landmark or two along the way, but the bulk of your time should be spent serving the tax-exempt purpose to be tax-deductible.

This means friends and family can send their donations toward your trip’s expenses to the tax-exempt organization and receive a receipt proving the money was given as a tax-deductible donation.

Be aware: If the organization does not collect the funds and people contribute toward your trip by giving money directly to you, you are responsible to claim those funds and pay taxes on them. 

5)     What is included in the trip fee? What additional expenses will I incur?

In order to compare trips’ fees, it is imperative to know what’s included in the published trip cost. If two are close to the same price, but one includes airfare and the other doesn’t, the actual costs vary drastically!

So be mindful of all the costs and compare those.

And you’ll want to give the implications some serious thought. If you’re a seasoned traveler, you may enjoy arranging your own flight, travelling solo and meeting your team in Katmandu. But if you haven’t left the country before, you may want to consider selecting a trip which allows you to meet up with your team on this side of the ocean so you can navigate the travel together.

6)     Who will be leading the team and what are his/her/their qualifications?

The best team leaders are those who’ve lived in the country you’ll visit. They typically have the deepest relationships, the best grasp of the language, and the most familiarity with the culture.

Of course, that’s not always possible. So the more time someonehas spent in a culture, the better.

Also, inquire if they have specialized training in leading short-term ministry teams, are on staff with the sending organization, and have experience leading teams to your destination.

7)     (If the ministry includes interaction with orphans) How do you promote attachment between orphans and their caregivers while bringing teams in and out of their lives?

One of the greatest challenges those who care for orphans face is forming a healthy attachment with them. Because most of the children enter their care after experiencing neglect, trauma, and abuse, it is quite difficult to build trust.

If the children see their livelihood is supported by the ever-rotating white faces at their door, they may not feel the security of knowing that their needs will be met consistently. They oftenfind it difficult to attach to their house parents, as they are constantly on the lookout for the next visitors to impress.

This toxic cycle undermines the efforts of those who work tirelessly, changing wet bed sheets, wiping noses, preparing meals, tutoring geography and sharing Bible stories.

Showing up for a few days and spoiling the cute kids with trinkets and day trips is fun. And it makes for great photos. But if it isn’t handled very carefully, in a manner that actually drives the children toward relationship with their caregivers, it is not in the best interest of the children.

Again, keep the big picture in mind and ask, “How can we help make these children disciples of Christ?” It’s going to be by supporting the caregivers who have a long-term impact in the children’s lives and meeting their needs.

SB 0438)     What third party verification do you have for how finances are handled within your organization?

The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (E.C.F.A.) is typically considered the gold standard here due to the rigorous examination they put member organizations through. So see if the organization you’re considering joining is a member.

But at the very least, be certain the organization is audited. SOMEBODY external, objective and qualified needs to be looking at the finances!

9)     Where will our team be staying?

There are several reasonable options for accommodations, most with both pro’s and con’s:

Some teams opt to stay with host families, often church members. This obviously offers the highest degree of cultural immersion, but can leave some team members feeling isolated. It also makes mid-trip training and debriefing difficult.

On the other extreme, some teams stay on site, in lodging on the mission organization’s property. This offers the least interaction with the culture, but is a real advantage for team building, training and debriefing.

Another option is a hostel or basic hotel. This choice provides an opportunity for team building, as well as a respite from culture stress. The delicate balance is finding something which is not extraordinarily out-of-reach for the average person in that community, yet safe for foreigners.

Lastly, some destinations have resorts or high-end hotels. Choosing this type of accommodation typically prevents cultural immersion and risks magnifying the common perception that Americans feel superior to others. To avoid a perception which is not compatible with the attitude of Christ (Phil, 2:5-8), choose an organization which avoids these accommodations, if possible.

10)  Do you have emergency political and medical evacuation plans?

The world we live in is treacherous. It would be wise to travel with a ministry that has a thorough contingency plan.

You may not need to know all the details, but please verify that a plan has been created and reviewed, taking measures to prevent risk.

11)  What will we be doing that the nationals can’t do for themselves?

Be sure the organization you select is not so bent on creating an experience for Americans that they take work—or dignity—from the community. Sadly, many well-meaning ministries have crippled the communities they hoped to serve by taking employment opportunities from them.

This situation not only feeds the cycle of poverty, but also creates a culture of dependency and feelings of ineptness.

Ideally, the ministry you join will work in partnership with leaders on the field (the host culture and/or long-term missionaries) to create a mutually beneficial interaction. The nationals will have opportunities to share with or educate the visiting team, and the team will have the opportunity to serve, as well.

DSC_0085 copy copy

With some thoughtful planning, a mission trip can be the most challenging, rewarding, heart-breaking or inspiring experience of a lifetime…often, all at once! Not only can you have a vital ministry to “the least of these,” but you can also encourage missionaries and their partners. You’ll likely learn a lot—from  words in a foreign language to a new level of dependence upon the Lord.

So don’t pass up the opportunity to obey God’s commands to visit orphans, to care for widows, to serve the poor. Just be sure the team you join is well-planned, and go confidently, ready to watch God at work!


  1. Tracy says:

    I would add #12. How would you respond to not being allowed to photograph your trip? No Facebook photos of your hike in the village. No Twitter selfies with orphans. No cute pics of blowing bubbles with the kids at the project. None. You may only share your experience with words. If you cringe at the “no photos” idea, you may need to do a heart check. It’s difficult now a days to leave “self” at home when we go on a mission trip. If we are truly going for the purpose of serving others and the Lord, we need to be mindful of how often we are promoting “our own work” on social media. Heres an even better question; “If no one ever could find out about your mission trip and your work there, would you still go?

    • April Jurgensen says:

      Excellent addition, Tracy! That’s a common issue, and it can definitely expose some motives for serving. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

    • Teresa Hall says:

      A picture paints a thousand words and that is what attracts others to look at the big picture.

  2. Sarah Shake says:

    Well put, April. This is a great guide for looking at mission opportunities that are available. Thank you for making travel with the Boaz Project easy, and beneficial to the families you serve.

  3. Sarah Coin says:

    Well said, April! I’ve heard many of the criticisms of mission trips over the years, much of which was justified, but thank you for explaining how a well-planned short term trip can support the long term work being done.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Read more from our blog.

Because God knew that abandoned children would need help to survive, He tells us to actively meet the needs of orphans in James 1:27.

If you also feel the weight of this responsibility and the desire to make a real difference, consider partnering with us. Through our innovative in-home care model, specialized caregiver training, and humanitarian aid, you’ll help children not just survive—but truly thrive.

When you choose to partner with The Boaz Project, you'll restore hope, ensure a brighter future through education, and share the love of Jesus with children who desperately need it.

Just imagine the impact you can have—from saving a child from the horrors of the streets to helping them become community leaders, educators, and nurturers of the next generation.

Join the James 1:27 Circle Membership


Get Prayer Updates & News

What does an orphan mission trip include?

  • Hotel accommodations
  • In-country transportation
  • Application support and fees for your Visa
  • In-country language assistance
  • All meals in-country
  • Ministry curriculum and supplies
  • Cross-cultural training and preparation
  • Trip insurance
  • International medical insurance
  • Fundraising assistance

Apply for a mission trip.

Orphan Advocate Training Certification Levels

Level 1

Learn about the mission and vision of The Boaz Project through activities such as watching an Encounter webinar, exploring our website, and following us on social media. You will also have the opportunity to meet and interact with your Orphan Advocate Training Coach, who will help you as you go through the levels.

Level 2

Gain more insight into the realities of the orphan crisis through reading "The Orphan’s Abba" and visiting The Boaz Project YouTube page. You will also meet The Boaz Project staff.

Level 3

Grow in your understanding of the orphan crisis, meet some houseparents by reading their stories, and create your own "Pick 2" with options like watching a movie and completing a creative project utilizing your unique skill set.

Level 4

Enhance your knowledge of healthy attachments for orphans, watch a webinar about Eastern Europe’s institutional orphanage system, and visit the Boaz office virtually or in person.

Level 5

Utilize all of the knowledge you have gained throughout training to develop methods based on your personal experience to share the mission and vision of The Boaz Project with others. Read a portion of our first level Houseparent Trauma Training and use your unique skills to impact orphans with a special project. Completing Level 5 gives you the option to apply to become an OAT Coach and/or a Regional Coordinator for The Boaz Project.


Do I have to live near Greenwood, Indiana to complete the training?

No! This certification is intentionally created to allow opportunities for anyone in any location to fully participate.

How much of a time commitment is it?

This is completely up to you. The entire process is self-directed. There are no deadlines, and you may take as much or as little time as you need to complete each course.

Can I do this training with my spouse? Or a friend?

Yes! Going through the training with a spouse or friend can provide accountability and motivation. As you progress, you may be able to accomplish more together!

How much will it cost?

All Orphan Advocate Training courses are free to join! While you may choose to spend money while completing some projects, there are only minimal costs involved (such as a book or a few supplies) depending on which course you choose to do.

Is there an age requirement to become a Certified Orphan Advocate Trainee?

This would be answered on a case-by-case basis. This would also be open to middle schoolers or high schoolers looking to complete volunteer hours (i.e. National Honor Society) or build college applications. We always encourage young people to be involved if they feel led by God to do so!

What if I don’t have any social media accounts?

We will adjust your requirements to accommodate you and provide different opportunities to engage.

If I complete the five-level Orphan Advocate Training Certification, can I put it on my resume or LinkedIn profile?

Yes! When you complete each level, you will receive a certification that you can use to enhance your professional profile and to show involvement in community service.

Will I be able to get a signed letter to verify my volunteer hours?

We are sorry that we cannot verify volunteer hours that are done outside of the office or an event due to the fact that these hours are not supervised. However, we can write about the quality of work that was done, your commitment level, and the training courses achieved. We can also say that your self-reported, unsupervised hours fit into the typical number of hours that are usual for that course.

How do I get started?

If you think you would like to begin Orphan Advocate Training, please complete the form below, and you’ll be assigned an OAT Coach. Once your coach reviews your information, he/she will send you an email with your next steps!

Who do I contact if I have any other questions?

Please complete the form below or contact OAT@boazproject.org with any questions.

Corporate Sponsorship Levels

Company logo in all event programs
Company thanked by name at start of each event
Shared table provided for your promotional items at events  
Company name and logo displayed on the office sponsorship wall  
Published interview article in The Boaz Project newsletter  
Social media (Instagram/Facebook) promotions during the year  
Event day materials read "The Boaz Project's (event name) sponsored by (your company name)" for one year  
Private table provided for your promotional items at events with table tents  
Exclusive company mentions in promotional event emails  

Urgent Needs & Announcements

This is the heading.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

This is the heading.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Join our Prayer Team