Educational travel and global mission programs have long been a standard at Christian schools. The values of travel are well documented and far-reaching. These programs can focus on deepening historic knowledge, immersing ourselves in various cultures, expanding our worldview, impacting the lives of others and creating memories that will last a lifetime. Research from the Student Youth and Travel Association states:
According to the SYTA Student Travel Digest, 74% of schoolteachers surveyed believe travel has a very positive impact on a student’s personal development and 56% of teachers believe travel has a very positive impact on a student’s education and career. The digest also shows that 74% of teachers believe travel positively impacts students’ performance at school.
If done correctly, these experiences have the potential to significantly influence the lives of your students. Below we will answer two difficult questions that can help form your decision-making process as you develop and grow your school’s travel program.
Question 1: How do we avoid “toxic charity” during missions while continuing to fulfill the Great Commission?
Toxic charity happens when a group of mission-minded people place themselves in an environment with good intentions but poor execution, or with a lack of insight into their missions outreach. They serve a community in a capacity that feels “helpful” to the team but, due to its lack of sustainability, is ultimately counterproductive to the people they are trying to help. Many times, missional outreach in the United States and abroad is guilty of this type of well-meaning ministry with negative impact. We can be reminded of Paul’s exhortation in Philippians 2:3-4, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
Thankfully, a new iteration of missions outreach has evolved that is empowering, creative, and ultimately builds locally self-sustaining programs. This philosophy of outreach empowers local pastors and communities rather than solely depending upon outsiders to provide the resources they need. Many mission groups now act as a temporary bridge or stepping-stone to building self-sustaining local evangelism and ministry.
At Joshua Expeditions this is what we strive to do. Our programs are designed to partner short-term mission groups with long-term mission programs. These programs employ local leaders to facilitate and contribute so that when a team completes the goals of their trip, the needs of the community and people continue to be met. Hence, Joshua Expedition short-term teams become part of a long-term strategy of building bridges, offering support, and empowering local outreach in local communities. We look for areas where there are issues such as lack of food, minimal education, insufficient shelter, or poor biblical training so that we can provide, equip, and watch the Lord grow the seeds planted through local believers. In this model, the ministry of the short-term group, which includes sharing the message of God’s saving grace through the work of Jesus Christ, is more readily received. Compassion from short-term teams, partnered with an ongoing local ministry, creates an open door for the love of Christ to flourish.
Question 2: How do we provide valuable travel experiences that expand our students’ biblical worldview?
From the start, one has to understand that a worldview is the set of beliefs and values that determine how one perceives and interacts with the world around them. To have a biblical worldview, then, is to see the world through the lens of God’s Word. Part of that view is the fact that God is the Creator of all things. As a result, all of creation points back to its Creator.
Therein lies one of the distinctions of Joshua Expeditions. We strive to provide travel experiences that give opportunities for travelers to see evidence of their Creator through His creation. This includes, but is not limited to, mission trips where travelers intentionally serve others, educational trips where students learn about God’s role in the direction and leading of peoples and nations, or high school trips where students are challenged through various team-building activities and discussions to grow in their relationship with God and others. It is through these experiences we intersect between the truth of God’s Word and the evidence of his handiwork. When this happens, travelers end up shifting their focus from a self-serving vacation to an expanded view of who God is and His desire for them to know Him.
Without this biblical worldview aspect, educational travel becomes centered solely on the experience, enjoyment, and pleasure of the traveler. In such cases, school trips become a travel group of Christians that seek travel experiences, rather than a Christian organization that points travelers to their Creator in order to know Him in a more personal way. As Matthew 28:18-19 states, “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…’” Choosing travel that is intentional about incorporating a biblical worldview to the students’ experiences will help them grow in their understanding of who God is and will help schools fulfill their mission of educating students for eternity.
Making a Difference for Students
With these two questions answered, we can share five key components of an educational trip and global mission program that make a difference in the lives of students:
- Global missions and outreach are a mandate for believers. Make sure that these initiatives are focused on intentional impact rather than convenient action.
- Preparation is key to impact. Cover these experiences with prayer, wisdom, and a strategic itinerary. It is essential to prepare your students for the experience that awaits, both spiritually and academically. Be intentional in how the experience coincides with your curriculum and school culture.
- Throughout creation, we see evidence of our Creator. Choose tour leaders that will point out the evidence in creation rather than ones who are lost without a map. Who you travel with matters.
- Make sure that every traveler is challenged to find at least one moment where they reflect on the Lord’s calling on their life during the trip. Discomfort challenges growth and travel remove us from our comfort zone! There are unique moments that will only happen when you’re outside of your comfort zone. Don’t be in such a rush to experience the “tour,” that you miss these moments.
- Don’t let it fade… the key to life change is the follow-up.
When taken together, these approaches ensure that instead of a single trip, educational travel and global missions are part of a larger emphasis in your school on living a life devoted to Christ.
About the Author:
Michael Mauk is the Director of Sales at Joshua Expeditions (JE), a non-profit educational travel and global missions ministry. He has worked in the Christian School world for 15 years and currently serves on the Board of Directors at Hebron Christian Academy in Georgia. He has developed and directed dozens of mission trip experiences throughout his time at JE. He and his team work with Christian Schools, Churches and travel groups to create life-changing travel experiences that Inspire Purpose, Develop Leaders and Share Christ. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.