The idea that “anything helps” pervades our culture today, but on closer inspection, no matter the setting or situation, not just anything is helpful. This is especially true when exploring short-term volunteer opportunities. When someone decides to serve in another context, whether in a different country or someplace close to home, it is easy to launch into it with the best of intentions but still miss the mark.
As followers of Christ, we are driven by the commands of Jesus: go, share, teach, love, do. Even if this is where our intentions lie in planning a short-term ministry experience, there is still so much to be done in order to do it well. Paul puts it well in Colossians 3:23, when he says, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” We go and we serve to obey the Lord, but the “how” is just as important as the going itself.
So if you are preparing for a short-term ministry experience, what should you do?
It can be overwhelming and awkward to share about your personal faith journey. Take some time to reflect on how you have experienced salvation from Christ and the story you can share with people who have perhaps never heard the Gospel. “For short-term teams ministering to refugees in Europe, the ability to know how to interact and share their own story firsthand is incredibly valuable,” said our partner in Greece. Meditate on the ways in which God has spoken to you, think about your own testimony, and practice sharing your story of salvation with others.
Short-term volunteers should strive to make a lasting, positive impact on the communities they serve. One way to do that is to research and prepare – learn about the culture, customs, religious beliefs, and different ways of life you may encounter as you serve in a different context. Cross-cultural training is essential and mandatory in order to participate in a trip coordinated by Creating a Road Home. Before you go on a short-term ministry trip, we equip you with a grasp on what is culturally appropriate and respectful for the people group you will engage.
When serving short-term, it is important to love humbly and learn from those already on the ground. Take cues from their expertise. Imitate what they model. Ask questions, and listen, really listen to their answers. These partners can and will teach you what is culturally appropriate and respectful in their context. Some ministry activities do not cross cultural boundaries well, so it is vital to look to those who understand and move within the context in which you serve short-term.
One of the CARH ministry partners explained to us that short-term volunteers are most helpful when the team’s specific skill set falls in line with the work that long-term ministry personnel are already doing. “Some teams have felt a large VBS program for refugee children would be a blessing. Though activities like this may work in the United States, they are not effective in Greece because the material is not in the refugees’ heart language and the methodology in which it is presented is not culturally appropriate.”
One of the most important parts of preparing for a short-term volunteer trip is building a network of prayers – people who will intercede on your behalf for the events and daily interactions that will take place on the ground. Connect with people who are likeminded and want to be a part of the journey, even if they do not make the trip themselves. Share with them as much as is appropriate, given certain security guidelines set out by the on-the-ground ministry personnel. Send updates throughout the trip, especially as needs arise. Bring back stories and prayer needs from the field that you can share with those praying alongside you.
Preparation of your mind and spirit is crucial when taking part in a short-term volunteer trip. Be faithful in readying yourself as you prepare to go, and watch with eager anticipation as you see how the Lord uses your efforts for His glory.