Saturday, July 30, 2011


This week, a friend of mine brought me a Pilsner glass from the HardRock Café in Gatlinburg, TN…because I collect them. I don’t know how, when or why I started the collection, but I love it! (I just hope that one day I have a great place to display it - currently they are in boxes in my basement). And I love that friends of mine know about it too, because they’ve helped me build a great collection. Here are the ones I have (I *’ed the ones that I’ve actually been to)…feel free to help me collect more!

*Atlantic City
*Las Vegas
*Los Angeles
*New York City
*San Antonio
*San Diego
*Washington D.C.

*Amsterdam, Netherlands
Barcelona, Spain
*Cairo, Egypt
*Cancun, Mexico
*Cologne, Germany
*Dublin, Ireland
*London, England
Madrid, Spain
Munich, Germany
Nassau, Bahamas
*Niagra Falls, Canada
*Ocho Rios, Jamaica
Ottawa, Canada
*Rome, Italy
*Paris, France
*Stockholm, Sweden
Sydney, Australia
Toronto, Canada

I was also outside the Moscow, Russia HardRock about a month before it opened…so I’m still bitter that I don’t have that glass.

The Ocho Rios, Jamaica location is just a souvenir shop, not an actual café. The time I was there, they were sold out of the glasses. Thankfully, my sister and bro-law were there a few years later and picked it up for me!

My wife and I took a taxi to the Cairo location – again, a shop, not a restaurant – oddly, it’s right across the street from the Sphinx! It was one of the scariest experiences of my life as we were unable to communicate with our driver. We also had a little boy in another vehicle point a gun at us. We are pretty sure it was fake…but not 100%!

As a matter of chat…

Do you have any collections? What is the most unique collection you’ve ever heard of?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Short-Term Missions: The Importance of Processing

It's really important to process your thoughts before, during, and after a short-term missions experience. I find that it's often in these thoughts that God teaches us.

To help with this, we gave each of our team-members a journal several months before the trip and challenged them to record some thoughts. Many of them have come back again and again to say "thanks" for encouraging them to do so.

I have several "lists" in my journal from the trip:


"Goals" - this was a list that was created long before the trip, but also had things added along the way. Having these in front of me helped to keep me focused as a team leader and even helped in making decisions about our time while we were there.

"Prayer lists" - in the months before the trip, I made several different lists of things to be praying for. One list focused on team members. One list focused on our planned schedule. One list focused on all the people we'd have the opportunity to interact with while on our trip. And one list focused on different emotions and feelings we'd experience - praying that God would help us in each of those circumstances.


"God-things" - this is several pages where I recorded events and conversations that were totally orchestrated by God. When I remember this trip, I want to see the fingerprints of God all over it.

Bible study reflections - these focused on answering questions based on the Bible studies we had asked each team member to do.

General journaling - these were tidbits of things I simply wanted to write about. I try to focus less on "what we did" and focus more on "what God is doing" and the feelings and emotions that I'm experiencing, as well as the stories I don't ever want to forget.


"So What?" - whenever I teach, I end with this question - challenging people to consider how they might apply what they have learned or experienced to their daily living. Each team member was encouraged to begin a list of "So what's" for the trip in three categories: 1. Immediately applicable; 2. Applicable in the next 1-6 months; 3. Applicable for the long-term.

"How was your trip?" - another portion of our debriefing focused a lot on this question - because this question gets asked about a million times within the first week of returning home. I challenged students, again, to make bullet points for answering this question in 3 ways: 1. 30 second answer; 2. 10-minute answer; 3. Long answer. Sharing about the trip and how God worked is vital. Every time you remember the details and re-live them, God has another opportunity to remind you of the lessons he wants you to learn. It is also important that the "senders" see how their investments have returned.

As a matter of chat...

Do you journal? Do you think there is value to recording your thoughts? Are there certain seasons where journaling is more important or relevant? How do you process situations? How do you bridge knowledge, learning or experiences to everyday life application?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Short-Term Missions: The Importance of Flexibility

A key to survival on a missions trip is flexibility. We were blessed to learn this lesson in several ways.

As we pulled out of the church parking lot to head to the airport, we realized that one of our vans had a flat tire. That's right, before we even began driving to the airport, we had a situation. Plans were adjusted from the first moments of our the very last moments of our trip. You see, when we arrived back in the U.S., our connecting flight to our final destination was cancelled. Of course, that didn't happen until after we had waited in the airport for several hours.

It's humorous now (I think), but both were great reminders...that God is in control of the schedule. Planning is important, but leaving room for God to move as He pleases is also important! Sometimes, He has surprises for us - He wants to move in ways we're not aware of.

As a matter of chat...

Is there room for God to move in your life? Do you have margin? Are you looking for where/how God is leading you on a regular basis, or are you to "busy"?

Short-Term Missions: The Importance of Teachability

I talk about this all the time…Leaders are learners! I think the greatest leaders are people who are constantly looking for ways to grow and improve. They find something to learn in any situation and are continuously stretching. PROACTIVE TEACHABILITY!

Teachability is especially important when going to do ministry in a foreign context. Those who are not planning to learn, grow or change can do a lot of damage. Things that are "normal" in your world may be offensive in another context. Assuming that everything about your worldview is "right" is a roadblock to effective ministry.

Cultural training, humility and acceptance of differences, and an open, teachable spirit are essentials to a great short-term missions trip. Paul talks about being "all things to all people". He seemed to know what he was talking about.

Practically speaking, we include plenty of time for "orientation" with our missionaries when we go on trips to make sure we are adapting to the new culture as best as possible.

As a matter of chat...

Are you teachable? Do you look for ways to learn and grow when you are in different cultures and surroundings? How might some of your "cultural norms" be offensive to others?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Short-Term Missions: The Importance of Spiritual Preparations

Do you think it’s crazy to make a list of every single outfit you plan to wear on a trip? My students seemed to think I was nuts, but it ensured that I had the exact number of outfits necessary. No more. No less. (It also prevented me from having any “repeats” in photos of the trip...because trust me, people notice)!

Preparations for traveling internationally are significant. Fund-raising, sending thank-you notes, getting a passport, planning, packing, purchasing needed supplies, figuring out what electrical fixtures you need and how you’re going to spend money…it’s a lot of details. But if you’re not careful, these preparations can quickly distract you from spiritual preparations.

The enemy would love you to have a great tour of a new place, discovering great new shops and souvenirs, but never doing a thing to benefit the Gospel! Spiritual preparations help you to create focus before you go, and to maintain your focus while you are there.

As I mentioned previously, we required the team members to go through a series of devotionals before, during and after the trip. These devotionals focused on the cost of ministry, cultural lessons from Scripture, and a range of other relevant topics. We also had a daily prayer focus that linked the Bible study with our trip.

Making the “spiritual journey” a priority allows hearts and minds to be open for what God wants to do in and through us. That’s one of the greatest adventures of a trip like this – you do a lot of planning and preparing, but ultimately, you have no idea what God is going to do!

As a matter of chat…

Have you ever been in a situation so “new” that you were forced to be more open to God’s leading? How did it feel? What did you learn? Do you typically get distracted by life’s planning and preparations? How much of a priority is the spiritual journey in your life?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Short-Term Missions: The Importance of the team (the “sent”)

In my last post I talked about the larger “TEAM” (including the senders, the sent, and the receivers). I wanted to zoom in for a second on the “sent” – those who actually GO on the short-term missions trip. If you don’t get this part right, you can have a disaster on your hands. In fact, I can tell you after 9 or 10 short-term ministry experiences that team unity is one of the most difficult things to maintain.

Stress, fear, nerves, jet-lag, adrenaline, fatigue…all these things make humans think, say and do crazy things!

Selecting or creating a team, once again, comes down to the purpose of the trip. The team members must “fit” the purpose of the trip. (For example, I’m not the kind of guy who is going to get invited on a trip to fix cars or lay brick for a new building). In our case, the trip was only open to a small group of students who had been involved in a year-long leadership development program. The other aspect that is incredibly important in the entire process is prayer. God should make it clear to each team member and to the leader whether or not he/she is called to be a part of the trip.

There are some tools/activities we do to keep the team functioning well. One of those things is a team covenant (sample below). Every student and adult (including the leader) was required to sign this from the very start of the process. We reviewed it on several occasions and encouraged everyone to take it very seriously. It’s a good “foundational” piece for when conflicts arise – it gives you something to go back to.

We also met as a team several times before the trip to plan, explain expectations, and simply pray together and ask God to mold us together as a team.

Another significant team-builder is Bible studies. For a week before the trip until a few days after the trip (and during the entire trip) we required all team members to work through Bible studies that focused on issues related to cross-cultural ministry. The purpose of this was to align our thinking and to ask God to work in us through His Word and our interaction with Him. Each Bible study also gave us a daily prayer focus so that we were praying in similar ways.

Another important piece is to have “team-times” built into the ministry time. If you go through an entire trip without stopping along the way to breathe and debrief as a team, you will miss out on a lot. We would spend these times in worship, in prayer – reflecting and thanking God for His provisions thus far, to assess what we are learning so far, to process observations, to begin thinking about applications to our lives, etc. We also tried to make these times memorable and enjoyable by having them in a nice park in the city, or in a cozy coffee shop. Some days it might be most beneficial to require this time to be individual time alone with God. This often gets overlooked when we are busy “doing ministry”, yet it is so important that each individual serving out of the overflow of God’s work in his/her own heart. Ideally, these times happen daily (even if they’re not as long each day), but I would say it’s important to have a “significant” team time at least every-other day or every third day depending on the length of the trip.

As a matter of chat…

Do you work or serve as part of a “team”? Are you functioning well as a team? Do you think any of these suggested concepts are applicable to every-day life teams? How important is “unity” in the Church to God? (Read I Corinthians if you’re not sure). How is your church, group or team building and protecting unity?

Sample Team Covenant:
As a member of "X" team, I commit:
- To maintain a servant attitude
- To be respectful
- To be a teachable
- To not complain
- To resolve all team conflicts according to biblical principles
- To avoid exclusivity in relationships
- To prioritize personal quiet times with God
- To give our best in every situation
- To encourage each other
- To follow our leaders and hosts
I desire to be part of a team of people characterized by Christ-like behavior, exhibited through unconditional love, unselfish service and unified teamwork.

Signed/Dated: ____________-

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Short-Term Missions: The Importance of the TEAM

Many people think of a “team” as those who are actually going on a trip. But the real “TEAM” includes so many others.

The Senders:

This may be the most overlooked part of the TEAM. I believe that having a large base of “senders” is critical to an effective ministry. These are the people who buy-in to the vision of the trip and offer financial and prayer support.

Some people have a hard time asking for money, but we need to remember that God has given some people a passion (and the ability) to give. I can’t speak for everyone, but investing financially in these types of experiences for others is an enormous blessing to the giver! I don’t want to rob anyone of that opportunity, so I’m not afraid to ask.

The enemy is on the attack when teams head to dark places for the purpose of furthering the Gospel. One way to prepare for battle is through a hefty covering of prayer. Again, there are people who prayer warriors – I want as many of those people in my corner as possible, so I garner their support in any way possible.

The Sent:

Selection of those who actually go on the trip is important. This ultimately revolves around the purposes of the trip. For example, work trips may require people with certain skill sets or evangelism trips may require certain language skills. No matter what, it is important that each individual feels called to participate. (I will elaborate more on this group in another post).

The Receivers:

It is rare that you would go on a trip without coordinating through a host missionary or “national” (someone who lives/works in the host country). It is important that you have a good relationship with them, that you have clear communication, and that you are clear on each other’s vision/purpose for the trip.

In our case, the receiving missionaries had ministry projects that they needed a team to help them pull off. Our goal was to engage our students in stretching ministry experiences in a different culture.

All of these people, together, make up the TEAM. Each has an important role to play for a trip to be successful.

As a matter of chat…

Have you ever been a sender? How did God bless you through being on the TEAM in that way? How can the “sent” effectively communicate and update the “senders” so that they are involved in the entire process?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Effective Cross-Cultural Experiences

I recently led a group of nine students and three other adults on a short-term missions trip. Over the next month or so I will be sharing several of the things that I believe are important to effective short-term cross-cultural experiences.

*Note: I will be intentionally vague about some of the details of the trip for privacy and protection purposes.

I believe that this particular trip was a very effective short-term, cross-cultural missions trip. Unfortunately, during my time in student ministry, I have heard of many trips that I would categorize as ineffective – or at least, not effective enough to be worth the tens of thousands of dollars it takes to pull it off.

The importance of VISION and PURPOSE

So what makes a trip effective? A clear vision and purpose! I believe you need to be able to clearly define a purpose (or multiple purposes) if a trip is going to be valuable. Often times we think of these purposes or goals being for the “receiving” side of the project OR for the “sent” side of the trip, but I believe the richest experiences have great benefit for both.

Here are a few examples of goals we had for this particular trip:

- To broaden our students’ Christian worldview (we want them to be “world Christians” not just “American Christians”).
- To push our students to consider the differences in service and leadership in cultures that are very different than theirs.
- To encourage missionaries who call our church “home”.
- To better connect our church with the missionaries they support.
- To encourage our students to consider whether God may be calling them into cross-cultural study, work or ministry in the future.

Different participants probably get more excited about different aspects of these goals. As the one responsible for the trip, I get jazzed about the big picture – that so much was accomplished in regards to the “senders”, the “sent”, and the “receivers”. I’m sure I’ll talk more about all of that in future posts!

As a matter of chat...

Have you ever taken a short-term missions trip? What was the purpose of the trip? Did it accomplish its purpose? How have you seen God change the lives of people who have gone on short-term