Preparing for a short-term mission trip doesn’t stop when your funds are raised and your flight is booked. Before jetting off on your short-term mission trip, it’s critical to have an understanding of the culture in which you will be living and serving. Having knowledge of your host country’s unique customs will engender the respect you need from locals to be successful in ministry. It also might save you from a cultural blunder or two!
To build a foundation of cultural competency, spend time answering the following diagnostic questions. You can download a printable version with space to record your findings here.
Questions to Help You Prepare for a Mission Trip
While culture is an abstract concept, it has concrete effects on everything from our clothing, how we spend a Friday night to the jokes we find funny. Before your mission trip, you can’t learn everything there is to know about your host culture, but you can build a foundation that will greatly increase your ability to participate in community life.
Some of these questions will be easier to answer than others. You can consult reliable websites or the long-term missionary serving in your host country. If possible, you can even connect with a person from your host country living in your area now.
Worldview can be affected by things like age, life experiences and beliefs, and, thus, is difficult to state generally (and accurately) for an entire culture. Answer the following questions keeping in mind that you are painting with broad brushstrokes. On your trip, you will be able to see how your experiences with real people in the culture support or refute these generalizations:
- Is my host culture honor/shame based, fear/power or guilt/innocence based?
- How do people in my host country view authority and age?
- What is my host culture’s view of timeliness?
- Is the society individualistic or collectivist in how they relate to others?
Before we even open our mouths, our clothing makes an important statement for us. On a mission trip, it’s important that this statement fits cultural standards before personal preferences for style or comfort. Before packing your suitcase, consider the following questions:
- What is the appropriate clothing for the climate of my host country?
- What is the typical dress of a person my age and gender in this culture?
- What is the culture’s standard for modesty in dress?
It might not be possible to be fluent in the local language before your mission trip, but you can learn basic phrases as a sign of respect and goodwill. Be sure to ask your host missionary what level of language learning is expected of you before your arrival and if there will be an opportunity to further your learning abroad. Here are some other questions to research on you own:
- What is the primary language spoken by the local population?
- Are many locals also fluent in other languages or dialects?
- How do I greet a peer? How do I greet an authority figure?
- How do I express gratitude in the local language?
Spiritual Life and Practice:
Knowing the spiritual context of your host country will help you as you develop meaningful friendships. Consider the following diagnostic questions as you pray about how the host culture’s current beliefs might be a bridge to making disciples of Christ:
- What is the primary religion of my host country?
- How does the average citizen practice his or her beliefs?
- What knowledge will the average citizen have about Jesus?
- How are evangelical Christians generally regarded in my host culture?
Birthday traditions, annual holidays and colorful cuisine are the little things that make a big difference in community life. Spend time researching these customs so you can confidently share in them on your mission trip:
- Will there be any culturally important holidays celebrated during my mission trip?
- What expectations are placed on giving and receiving gifts?
- What is typical cuisine? What dining etiquette should I be aware of?
Looking for even more mission trip resources? Click the links below to access our library of tips.
Mission Trip Resources:
- How to Write an Awesome Support Letter
- Seven Fundraising Tips for Your Short-Term Mission Trip
- Two Traits You Need on Short-Term Mission Trip
- Six Steps for Thriving After Your Short-Term Mission Trip