Wouldn’t it be nice if every missionary, before departing for the field, had an Acts 16:6–10 experience? Paul thought he was going to Asia, but the Holy Spirit had another idea (v. 7). Maybe Bithynia, he thought—well no, not there either (v. 7). Finally, while in Troas clarity came through a miraculous vision: Macedonia it is (v. 8–9)! And so Paul went off to “preach the gospel” (v. 10).
An Acts 16:9 experience would be incredible. But God doesn’t promise a dream to answer all our questions. Where should I go? When should I go? Who should I go with? What should I do when I get there? These are good and important questions, and one practical way to answer them is through a vision trip.
Vision trips aren’t just any short-term trip. They’re intentional visits to a potential ministry context to gain clarity on that place’s needs, opportunities, and challenges. This kind of clarity will help you better discern if you could serve long-term in that specific context.
Here’s a basic structure for a vision trip.
Before the Trip: Prepare for Vision
1. Set goals.
A vision trip works best when you set specific goals to learn what you can’t learn unless you’re physically there. Here are a few examples of wise vision trip goals:
- Learn what local non-Christians think of Christians.
- Learn what challenges (from family, government, etc.) someone would face in becoming a Christian.
- Learn how potential teammates interact with one another.
- Learn how you might begin the local language.
2. Think through deal-breakers.
Examples of deal-breakers could be: access to necessary medical services, schooling options for kids, and the existence or lack thereof of a church or team to join. Whatever the potential deal-breakers, write them down and aim for clarity on how to address them while on your trip.
3. Set a schedule.
After you buy tickets, pull out your favorite calendar and start filling in a schedule. What church will you visit? What meals can you set in advance? How much time will it take to travel from one place to the next? Don’t fill every waking moment; after all, jet lag won’t even allow you to do that. But vision trips are most strategic when you intentionally think through how you will spend your time.
4. Bring a buddy.
Overseas travel is exciting. The sights, smells, and sounds of a new place offer a genuinely fun experience. While a vision trip can (and should) be fun, that isn’t your goal. So ask a pastor or mature older friend from church to travel with you. It’s great way to fight the temptation to look at everything through rose-colored glasses. Pick someone who knows you well but isn’t necessarily enamored with this new culture. That will give you a more informed and objective view of ministry in this context and your fitness for it.
On the Trip: Gain Vision
1. Meet real people.
Your vision trip should result in an increased burden for the people, not just the place. And the best way to cultivate a burden for people is to get to know them!
You should aim to meet at least three kinds of people:
- Non-Christians: It’s nice to come home and say, “I have a burden for Japanese people.” But it’s far better to say, “I am burdened for my friends Kenzo and Riku that I met and got to share the gospel with.”
- Local Christians: What is it like to be a Christian in this country? What is their church like? What are the challenges of pastoring in this context? These questions can only be answered by meeting real people, and those people will go a long way in cultivating a realistic vision for ministry.
- Local Missionaries: It’s likely you won’t be the first missionary to land in this particular context. So make sure to meet with and learn from missionaries who have gone before. It’s both wise and humble to do so. Side note: The fastest way to an experienced missionary’s heart is through your luggage space. So reach out before your trip and see what you can bring to serve and bless folks on the ground. Then pack those bags with everything from chocolate chips to commentaries.
2. Live “normal” life.
Try as best you can to make your vision trip reflect real life. Structure your schedule around your desired context. Attend a local church that you might join. If you’re going to do campus ministry, then spend time on a university campus, eat in the cafeteria, and play a pick-up game of whatever people play there. Be on the lookout for the ordinary, not the extraordinary.
3. Learn some language.
So much of your first few years will be spent learning the local language. Why not get a glimpse into what that process feels like? See if you can sit in on language classes, or even meet with a tutor a couple of times. You aren’t going to achieve fluency, but even a little bit of language learning will give you a better picture of the challenges and joys of missionary life.
After the Trip: Cast Vision
1. Reflect and process.
You don’t want to be like a man who goes on a vision trip, returns home, and at once forgets what he learned. So review the trip. Think through the various meetings you had, the people you met, and the places you went. Did your deal-breakers get addressed? Were your goals met? What outstanding questions do you still have? It’s probably best to let a few days pass. Let your emotions come back to earth and the jet lag subside. Then meet up with a pastor or older friend to help you process.
2. Cast vision.
Come up with a one-sentence answer to the question, “How was your trip?” People at church, your family, and your friends are all going to ask. You don’t want to respond with, “It was good.” I hope it was “good,” but there’s no vision in that answer, nor does it reflect what God taught you on the trip. Think about how encouraged your friend would be if you answered by saying, “It was really hard to see how many challenges Christians face there, but also God encouraged me as I met a few faithful believers who are actively sharing the gospel in their villages and want to see a church planted.”
It might not be as exciting as Acts 16:9. But if done with intentionality, vision trips go a long way in providing clarity for how you might go to a particular context and “preach the gospel.”
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