Mission Trip Curriculum For Any Destination
If you have ever volunteered with your friends or youth group outside the walls of your church, you know that what you plan to do, and what you actually do, are two totally different things.
What if there was a way to plan for the best, and the worst, possible scenario when on a missions trip? There is – it’s a list of three things to keep in mind when planning your mission trip curriculum. No matter what curriculum you use (the below examples are from the Elevate Children’s Curriculum), you can use this checklist so that your only concern is ‘how do we boil water for brushing our teeth?’, and not ‘what are we going to do with the kids’?
Three ways to adapt for 1) Culture, 2) Logistics, and 3) Volunteers:
1.What do I need to adapt for the culture?
Family Structure – Do the kids have parents or not? For an orphanage in Haiti the application when talking about authority figures needs to change from ‘parents’, to ‘teachers’ or ‘adults in the house’.
Possessions – Do the kids have access to toys, games, or electronics? In Uganda, where the children have no access to video games, we took out the application of “your little brother spilled orange juice on your video game, what should you do?” Also, sharing may take on a whole new meaning depending on what they actually have to share.
Acceptable Practices – Talk to your point person on location before you plan the lessons and their application. Ask what the main cultural difference is between kids there and kids where you are from. There are some things kids in a first-world, western culture are ‘allowed’ to do that around the world is unacceptable, usually related to authority and the other gender.
Games – Many games we think of as universal (tag, red light/green light, etc) may not be universal after all. When preparing your games and activities, think of the simplest way to play the game that still gets the point across. Also, plan on taking a longer time to explain the game if it’s being translated. On a trip to take Elevate to Malawi, it helped to sit down with the translator at dinner before the lesson the next day, and talk through how to play the game.
2.What do I need to adapt for logistics?
Electricity/No Electricity – Plan for no electricity at all and be creative when it comes to sound effects or capturing the children’s imagination. For a video based curriculum like Elevate, that may mean printing still shots of the animation as posters and using the “Perform It Live” version of the Bible Lesson or recruiting the children to act out the Bible Lesson. If you are only using the music, plan on bringing a portable CD player and lots of extra batteries.
Printing – Paper activities are great…if you have a printer that isn’t 45 minutes away. Figure out your ‘must print’ list and print it ahead of time if it’s possible to take it with you. Or plan activities with no print outs. For Elevate, this means going through all the activities and adapting the drawing activities (maybe you can draw in the dirt or with chalk on the sidewalk) and for the activities with picture printables, print the pictures big enough to use with the whole group and laminate them.
Supplies – First pick all the activities that don’t require supplies – these are the best activities to use. Then, find the activities that require easily portable supplies – it’s amazing how many games you can play with an inflatable soccer ball, hand pump (hand pump needles must be on your check-in luggage, not carry on!), bean bags, bandannas, or rope. For a list of Elevate activities by series that are the most adaptable for a mission trip, go here.
Video/Sound – Would a portable DVD player or laptop with speakers be helpful? Elevate is a video-based curriculum, and yet, if there is not enough space, we want to adapt either the group or the schedule so everyone can watch. This may mean a rotating schedule of small groups inside, or bringing big enough speakers and an outside projector for a large group setting.
Weather – You may be at a place with electricity but the power may go out. Or you may be outside and it rains. Always plan what to do when you have inclement weather.
3.What do I need to adapt for volunteers?
Preparation Time – Cut down on preparation time. Volunteers may only have a couple of days to review the activity and may need to be ready to go the moment their feet hit the ground. Get all your prep work done ahead of time or pick activities that can happen in the spur of the moment.
Training and Flexibility – Have at least an hour or two training time to teach the volunteers how to adapt the specific activities they are given and/or give them a ‘go to’ list of activities you can do without supplies or planning best slimming aids. Have fun, and even play the games to teach them! Train everyone, so that in case you get sick or have to change locations, they can still run the entire curriculum.
Hopefully this checklist will help as you plan your curriculum, whether this is your first time on a mission trip, or you go every year. And know, this is just a checklist to do before the trip, things will happen on your mission trip that you have no control over and that you couldn’t expect. Remember to find your peace in God. Even if you lose everything you brought on the trip, a high five and a smile teaches the lesson of God’s love in any language.
How have you adapted curriculum for your mission trip? We’d love to hear your stories and ideas in the comments below.