Ever Consider a Volunteer Work Trip?
Lifting Others Up by Lending a Hand
A popular trend today is to go on a volunteer work trip. Within church circles, we call them short term mission trips. Whether it’s religious based or simply humanitarian in nature, the experience of helping others in need by volunteering one’s time, talent, and treasure is certainly a laudable aspiration.
Often, volunteer work trips are organized in the wake of a natural disaster – an earthquake, tornado, hurricane, flooding. Groups will assist communities in crisis by distributing water, food, blankets or clothing; or they’ll help with the clean-up in the aftermath of the disaster.
|Helping put on a new roof in PR after Hurricane Maria.|
Disaster relief trips like these could be local, in neighboring states or countries, even overseas. Usually, volunteer groups will coordinate with local churches or a team sponsored by the Red Cross or Salvation Army. For people to get involved, all it takes is a willingness to help and a flexible schedule because one never knows when a crisis might hit.
The mission trips I’m familiar with are usually planned months in advance and involve going to a poorer community—whether here in the US or abroad—to provide support to the local church’s already existing ministry program.
A variety of work trips to choose from…
Examples include hosting a Vacation Bible School for the children; medical, dental, or other healthcare services; theological or discipleship training; technological support; or assisting in the building or remodeling of housing, offices, and such. The sky’s the limit, actually.
|Building a new home with Amore in Mexico in 2010.|
If you don’t come from a religious background, it’s easy to translate these kinds of work trips into humanitarian relief and assistance efforts. Teaching English to adults or children; hosting children’s activities like story hour or daycare; cutting hair or providing manicures and pedicures; providing job skill training or upgrading computers; or again, assist in building or the remodeling of damaged buildings.
Get a group of friends and family members together and determine what type of work experience everyone has, and then build your volunteer work trip around those skills and interests. For ideas, contact a church or organization in an area that needs help.
What a volunteer work trip is not…
Something to keep in mind while planning a work trip is to remind ourselves that this is not a vacation. You likely won’t be staying in any Four Star Hotel. It’s also not a gawking trip. That is, the purpose of volunteering is not to shake our heads at the poor ‘third world’ conditions we encounter. Nor is this a time for virtue signaling. In other words, we should not let the trip be an excuse to show others how good a person we are by bragging, “Hello everyone, we’re volunteering!”
|Helping out in Haiti at a sister church in 1999.|
Bottom line, these trips are not about us. Instead, we should remind ourselves that we are assisting, not taking over. Usually there is a plan in place already; the host group probably knows best what needs to be done and they just need a bit of help. We’re coming alongside, not leading, per se. Again, we want to work with others and serve not ‘do it all’ for them.
Some expectations while volunteering…
Since our goal is to assist others, we should adjust our expectations while on a volunteer work trip. First of all, don’t expect it to be like home or like a vacation. The sleeping and bathroom arrangements will probably not be as comfortable as you’re used to. You’ll probably want to bring your own toiletries as one goal is to not use a lot of local resources on yourself.
Also, don’t expect to communicate in English if you plan to go to another country. Yes, English is, by and large, a universal language, but typically not in poorer communities outside the US. If you go to Mexico or Central America, practice your Spanish! People appreciate it when we try to communicate in their own language.
What you can expect is a lot of hard work. In fact, you’ll probably be exhausted by the end of the trip. This is especially true if you go to a warmer climate as our bodies are not used to the heat. You can also expect to be frustrated at the progress and process of the activity you’re engaging in. The lack of resources or miscommunication or varying expectations can all contribute to a bit of disappointment.
|Lyndon and fellow swimmers helping out in Lawndale, 1984ish.|
Some lasting benefits of volunteering…
Nevertheless, the overall experience will likely be worth it. The bonding, the new friendships, the ‘divine appointments’ and serendipitous experiences, the satisfaction of helping others and a job well done, the realization of how well we have it in the US and the resulting gratitude all factor in to create a wonderful set of memories.
Plus, you’ll have opportunities to be generous and practice giving. Consider bringing extra materials (work gloves, tools, etc.) that can be left behind and used by those who need them. You’ll also have the opportunity to receive generosity. Whenever Julie and I have gone on work trips, we are amazed at the hospitality of our hosts. They give out of what little they have.
Now, a work trip doesn’t have to be all work and no play. Sure, it’s not a vacation but do take advantage of exploring the local markets and cultural centers. Buying locally made craft items to support the area economy is a good thing…even if you don’t need another small knickknack!
Finally, these work trips are an opportunity to share love…God’s love, love for one another, love for our fellow brothers and sisters who are pretty much just like us except they might have a need that we can meet. And guess what? We likely have a need that they can meet…if we’re open to receiving it. Being open to opportunities to serve and receive a blessing in return. That’s capturing the spirit of a volunteer work trip, I think.