Turquoise peaks frosted with white foamed beneath me as the eight-seater plane sharply descended. A moment later, the wheels touched down on the airstrip and the pilot was slowing the plane in front of a crude cream building. I sent up another brief prayer to calm the butterflies in my stomach as I ducked out the door of the plane and around the wing. I glimpsed the family with whom I would stay for my month and a half time on the island and relief flooded my heart. A few minutes later, my belongings had been stowed in the back of the hunter green pickup and we were jolting along one of Carriacou's main roads.
Carriacou is a small jewel of an island, set in the paradise of the Caribbean, just north of Grenada. Its population of around six thousand is scattered over rugged hills and cactus-covered slopes. Only seven miles long and two and a half miles across at its broadest section, the island boasts of little in the way of advanced technology. Since cars are still not common, most islanders ride the "transport," (mini vans driven as taxis), or just hitch a ride with anyone who happens to be driving in the direction they intend to walk.
It was to this tiny island that I came for the first time two years ago. Short-term missions trips do not occur spontaneously; much prayer and time need to be invested before the final plans are made. Having been called to the mission field as a little girl, I knew that a summer missions trip would provide me practical training for the work God had for me. Whether you feel called to the mission field, or simply want to be of encouragement to some missionaries, a short-term trip will give you a new picture of missionary living and will help you to pray more effectively for missionaries everywhere.
The first question to be considered is, of course, where the Lord would have you go. When considering a short-term missions trip, consider what ministries the Lord has laid on your heart. Do not overlook the obvious ministries — those that you have been consistently praying for or those that the Lord has especially given you a burden for. If your prayers are already in the work, then your heart is already in the work!
I found out about the ministry on Carriacou through missionaries from the Harbour Light that visited my church. My family and I had been impressed with this Christ-centered, stable radio ministry that had been raised with prayer on Carriacou as a witness to the surrounding islands. To begin with, I communicated via email with the manager of the radio station and asked if they could use my help for part of the summer. If the missionaries do not know you, endeavor to give them some sort of character sketch including age, church affiliation and abilities that might be of use in some particular area (such as construction, teaching, or office work). If you have any musical talents, come prepared to use those talents in the local church.
If you do not already know, find out what language is generally spoken by the people. Logically, your time will be easier if there are no language barriers to overcome. I chose to go to an island whose people speak the same language as I do ... sort of. I knew I was in for some difficulties when it was finally my turn to drag my limp, sticky self through the humidity up to the Grenada customs desk behind which waited a uniformed national man. After I had handed him the necessary information, he gave a quick request in — was that really English? Flustered, I asked him to repeat himself, but to no avail! Eventually, I was able to break the code enough to be able to at least pass the desk. He must have had fun that evening telling his friends about the little girl in the gingham dress that had such a hard time understanding good English!
As soon as you know the country to which you will be traveling, check into the immunizations and special shots that may be needed for travel to that country. Immediately begin to set up appointments as some of these shots must be given in installments. Also ask about shots that may not be required, but are recommended for general travel. Although no specific shots were required for Carriacou, I did have the Hepatitis A shot, a shot recommended for travel anywhere in the world.
Set up a general time period with the missionaries for your stay. Stay flexible, as this will allow for less expensive airfare. Call several airlines and travel agents to obtain the lowest airfare. This past year, the price of my ticket could have been as high as $400.00 above what I actually ended up paying. Of course, the most effective way to see the cost of airfare plummet is to pray. This past summer, I knew that my return to Carriacou was not possible with the airfare being quoted. I set a specific amount and prayed that the Lord would let the price of the ticket (not necessarily with the added tax) be under that amount. Even with tax, the ticket was less than the $700.00 I had asked the Lord for. Truly the Lord does things "above all that we ask or think."
When preparing for the trip, ask the missionaries for a list of those "unobtainable" items that you would be able to bring for them. It is amazing how much of a blessing you will be simply by providing yourself as a courier for the packages from home and hard-to-obtain necessities! Make sure that you pack as light as possible to allow for more room for things for the missionaries and for items that you would like to purchase and bring back as mementos. Sometimes the most precious memories will be brought back by the least expensive items. One of my favorite tokens of Carriacou is the conch shell; both of mine came from the beach and cost me nothing.
As you prepare and as you go, pray that the Lord will bind your heart to the hearts of the people with whom and to whom you will be laboring. Ask the Lord to give you the same burden for the work that brought the missionaries from their homes. Ask the Lord to help you to have a servant's heart so that no task will be seen as menial when it is done for the Lord. Do not expect to be given glamorous tasks. Missionaries have to cook, eat and wash dishes just like the rest of us!!
Although group missions trips are more commonly considered, I would recommend planning an individual trip. Having experienced both types of trips, I know that it was much easier for me to be a tourist, rather than a missionary, when I was in a group. When you travel to a mission field by yourself, go through Customs by yourself, and stay by yourself in a missionary's home, you know that it is just you and the Lord! You know that you have to work through your own struggles with only the Lord's help and you find that His help is sufficient.
Upon my return I found I had a clearer view of missionary life and a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. I would encourage each of you to be open to the Lord's leading and let Him do in your life above all that you could ask or think through a short-term missions trip.