Putting together this mission trip was a lot of work, but not nearly as much as it was putting together Venture Quest (our VBS type program) or summer camp. Actually the most frustrating thing was tracking down donations (we had some issues that were beyond our control). I would have anticipated that a 2008 trip to Mexico would have taken significantly less time because I had so much of the ground work done. So, if you’re thinking about doing a mission trip, feel free to borrow as much of this as you need to maximize your time!
I made sure I had my ducks in a row for this meeting. Although people would come to this meeting very curious and very excited, it is also the first opportunity they have to hear about you taking their child outside of the country. Attention to detail is important here. Below are the forms I had. In addition to these, I had all adults planning to go to Mexico fill out a standard volunteer application and background check.
- Facts and Information
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Adult Participant Application
- Child Participant Application
At this initial meeting I had the room set up with round tables where we served drinks and fresh chips and salsa from a local tex-mex resturant. I verbally shared my vision for what we were doing, my experience in attending and leading mission trip to various locations all over the world. I described what it would be like and what the kids were likely to get out of it. I reviewed all the printed information and then took questions. It took 45 minutes or so at the max. I stayed after for another 30 minutes or so to talk to parents individually. Everyone did sign in and left emails so that I could stay connected over the next several weeks.
I had this meeting on April 22. Everyone who planned on going needed to submit all their paperwork and the deposit by May 18th. I ended up contacting everyone earlier than this though to get a better estimate so I could go ahead and reserve travel (I’ll discuss this more below and tomorrow). We held 3 meetings over the next 8 weeks. The first one we did at the church one Sunday. It was highly relational as we got to know each other better. We spent the majority of the time introducing ourselves and playing some games that helped break the ice. We closed with a few details and a time of prayer. Our second meeting was in someone’s home for lunch and a pool party. Again we had plenty of time to have fun and get to know each other. We did come back together for the better part of an hour to talk about the trip and start preparing ourselves for what to expect and what we would be doing. Our last meeting was in a home again, but this time no swimming. We broke into assigned groups, got tent and van assignments and schedules of the trip. I let the groups spend more time together to start building unity. Afterwards we talked about what to pack, what to bring and other last details. Finally, we had our commissioning service two days before we left. I had one of the worship leaders, our campus pastor and our senior pastor come for this. All the participants came with their families and any significant people who helped support them. We had a short time of worship followed by our key leaders/pastors speaking to the group and praying over us. Before leaving, everyone got their Surge T-Shirts and the very last details.
I spent a lot of time figuring out what documents needed to take kids out of the country. At the time of this trip, it was not necessary to have a passport to cross the border, but this summer it should be. However, I required every child to have a passport, certified copy of a birth certificate and a notarized and singed permission slip. If you’re taking kids out of the country, you MUST have these three… I’ll explain why.
Passport- Well, you can’t come back home without it, so it’s a necessity. I required it because it is an official picture ID for a child. So, with a passport, you can verify the identity of a child.
Birth Certificate – You used to be able to cross the Mexican border with just a birth certificate. I required it in addition to the passport. Why, because the birth certificate officially links the child with his/her parents. This is very important when you look at my last required document.
Permission slip – The permission slip, which is notarized actually gave me authority to take the child across the border. So, essentially, it was this document that linked the passport and birth certificate all together. So, essentially the parents (proved to be parents of the child by the birth certificate) gave me permission to take their child (proved to be their child by the passport and the birth certificate) across the border.
So you see, it is essential to have all of these on every child.
What if a child has a parent attending as well? Good question. Actually, I don’t care if the child’s parent is attending. I don’t care if the child is my child and I’m attending. Why? What happens if there is an emergency and I have to get the kids out of the country immediately. What if the parent was injured or worse? I’m covering all the bases and prepared for the absolute worst case scenario, even though it’s unlikely anything will come to that.
Here’s an example of my permission slip.
Also, get more information on passport for kids here.
Oh, last but not least. I required every parent to sign a release… you know, the standard form for any activity. Here is the one I used.
Depending on where you are coming from, you may need transportation in and out of Mexico. We rented 15 passenger vans out of Los Angeles. Remember that you are going to need Mexican auto insurance (this is not covered under your insurance or the insurance that you can typically get with a rental). Obviously Mexico has auto theft issues, so you need the insurance. I think there is a rule… like if you are within 40 miles of the border, you might not need the Mexican insurance. So depending on where you go, you may be okay. Just do your homework. We paid about $15 a day per vehicle.
Now, for the big one. Airline tickets. This was the thing that concerned me the most. Typically the cheapest way to fly was through Southwest Airlines, but I was really uncertain on what to do. I figured that I’d be lucky to get tickets for $200. However, how do I book the tickets far enough in advance to get good prices yet late enough that I’ve gotten money from the participants to cover my expense. Well, I got lucky and I’m passing on this great nugget of information on to you. Go here! If you are taking more than 10 people, book through group travel. We used American Airlines. We were able to make reservations as far out as we needed and it only cost me $50 per person, and I didn’t have to submit any names. If I remember correctly, you are even allowed to drop 10% of your reservation when it comes time to buy the tickets. Thirty days before the trip is when you have to pay for all the tickets and give the names of those going on the trip. That gives all the participants enough time to raise the money they need. Two weeks after the trip, you’ll get refunded the deposit you paid to make the reservation. This method allows for you to book your tickets early and get a great price while managing cash flow as money slowly comes in. I think I also got a free ticket for taking more than 30 people. It’s a no-brainer!
Part of every mission trip is raising necessary funds to go. In all the mission trip I participated in, I had to raise almost all of my funds. For me, it was always a testimony of God’s faithfulness and provision. I firmly believe that when we invite people to support you in a mission trip, you are inviting them to invest in “kingdom” work. I’m never shy about asking people for money for missions because I do believe it is me giving them an “opportunity.”
So, I encouraged all of the kids to send out support letters. I knew that many of the kids came from families that either could or were planning on just writing a check. I certainly didn’t make an issue of it, but I still encouraged the kids to send letters to raise prayer support and awareness. It’s a great opportunity and others need to join in support.
Here is a sample support letter that kids could take and make their own.
As much as possible, we tried to get the word out about what we were doing. This is a huge win for the children’s ministry. It’s the kind of excitement that draws both the community into your church as well as volunteers into your ministry. We issues a press release which a local paper responded with interviews and an article in their paper.
Packing List – Here is what we asked everyone to bring. Technically, everyone is allowed to check 2 bags and take one carryon. Since it was a short trip (and a mission trip for goodness sake) I required everyone to only check one bag. That gave me one bag per person for supplies. I bought several of those heavy-duty totes from Wal-Mart. They’re the black ones, with grey lids that come off completely. The red handles lock the lid on. I like them because they’re really heavy duty. I can use zip ties to hold them together for the flight and I can actually put padlocks on them if I need to use one for medications or such. As it turns out, I only needed 5-6 totes for supplies and a few bags for tents.
*** Huge hint! Before leaving, go to home depot and buy a couple spools of neon flagging tape. It’s the stretch plastic ribbon that people usually tie around lumber that may be hanging out of the back of their truck so people see it. I gave every participant 2-4 each. They would tie them to the handles of their luggage. That way when we’re getting luggage at the airport, anyone on our team will recognize “our” bags. So I could send 10 people to retrieve the 60 or so bags instead of everyone having to be involved. Its just a trick that really works.
Schedule – Here is the schedule we followed while for our trip. I was very impressed as we actually followed it pretty closely. Usually mission trips are exercises in flexibility.
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