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Short term mission toolkit: Learn

Learning ahead of time about context, culture, history, current events and the ways of life of the people you are visiting can help prepare mission trip participants for experiences that transform those who are going and those who are hosting.

What do Presbyterians believe?

Presbyterians Do Mission in Partnership (English)
The practice of partnership guides our whole connectional church. It guides us individually as members, officers and pastors. It guides us collectively as congregations, presbyteries, synods, General Assembly ministries and related institutions. This document paraphrases a policy statement adopted by the 215th General Assembly (2003) regarding mission in partnership.

Los presbiterianos hacemos misión en hermanamiento
La práctica del hermanamiento guía a toda nuestra iglesia conexional. Nos guía individualmente como miembros, líderes y pastores. Nos guía colectivamente en nuestras congregaciones, presbiterios, sínodos, ministerios de la Asamblea General, e instituciones vinculadas. Este documento parafrasea una declaración de política adoptada por la 215a Asamblea General (2003) sobre la misión en hermanamiento.

Basic Information:

  • How do we choose our destination?
    Deciding on your mission trip destination is a discernment process that can engage your congregation’s or presbytery’s mission committee and other groups. The questions in this document will help your group in the discernment process of selecting a destination.
  • Sample Mission Trip Schedule
    Use this mission trip schedule template to ensure that your trip offers a good balance between activity and relationship-building; action and reflection; giving and receiving.
  • Leader forms are available on the Go page.

Stories from Around the World

  • “Come and See.” A letter from Mark Adams and Miriam Maldonado Escobar, serving at the Mexican Border.“In a fear-filled world, crossing geographic, cultural, social, economic and religious borders in the spirit of faith, hope and love to share meals, worship, laugh, cry, and serve with people on the other side is a radical act of discipleship.”
  • What Can Be Accomplished with Short-Term Mission Teams. A Letter from Rusty Edmondson and Sara Armstrong, former mission co-workers who served in Peru.“One of the big challenges for our work in Peru over the years has been helping Peruvians understand what can be accomplished with short-term teams in a week. Most U.S. teams arrive in Peru on a Friday night and return home the following weekend. There are a few, but very important, guidelines that direct our work and highlight the possible achievements.”
  • “Listen, and You Will Receive So Much in Return.” A letter from Cindy Corell, serving in Haiti.“That’s what Haiti does, you know. She embraces you. Out of nowhere, when you are least expecting it, this small impoverished country shares with you her painful yet beautiful history, her scarred but beautiful landscape, her struggling yet beautiful people.”
  • “Connectional Mission Reaps Benefits All Around the Table.” A letter from Jo Ella Holman, regional liaison for the Caribbean Region, serving in the Dominican Republic.“One of the marks of Presbyterianism is that we are a ‘connectional’ church — that is, our congregations are connected through presbyteries that are connected to synods and to our General Assembly. In some profound ways, our ‘being connectional’ is a way of practicing ‘being church’ — sharing our gifts, talents and resources as well as our sorrows and pain.”
  • What We Bring with Us.A letter from Doug Orbaker, former mission co-worker in Nicaragua. 
    “Mission is the life we bring with us when we go to another place to serve, and it is the even richer life that we take back with us when we return.”
  • The importance of having travel medical insurance when traveling internationally.A reflection from Al and Ellen Smith, mission co-workers based in Germany, serving also in Russia and Belarus.
    “Accidents can happen anywhere, and so can illness. Your hosts will do their very best to take care of you, but medical care in many foreign places is not always up to the standards we are accustomed to in the U.S.”


  • Mission work isn’t just a Cinderella story” A Presbyterians Today article on crossing cultures and serving in a spirit of partnership, written by Ellen Sherby, coordinator for Equipping for Mission Involvement.
  • Mission and Anti-Racism.”
    Laura Cheifetz, Assistant Dean of Admissions, Vocation, and Stewardship at Vanderbilt Divinity School, explains how looking at mission through a lens of anti-racism can help reshape our understanding of mission and how we engage in it.


  • When God’s People Travel Together
    A free, downloadable three-volume set, including a leader’s manual, a resource to help leaders and participants reflect on their experiences, and Bible studies on partnership.
  • Doing Good…Says Who? Stories from Volunteers, Nonprofits, Donors, and Those They Want to Help, by Connie Newton and Fran Early, goes deep into best practices for mission, featuring five stories that explore key principles centered on mutual respect and trust. The book includes a discussion guide. 
  • Helping Without Hurting in Short-Term Mission: Leader’s Guide, by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, 2014, Moody Publishers. This book goes deep into understanding poverty and culture and suggests a shift in the way short-term mission is planned and carried out. It’s a must-read for short-term mission leaders. A free, online video series accompanies the book. 

Further Study

  • Faith in Action, by Stephen Knisely and Gabrielle Beasley
    A free, downloadable two-volume set for learning and reflection on sustainable mission involvement. Interactive sessions by Gabrielle Beasley offers practical lessons and worksheets for mission education.


  • Helping Without Hurting, six-part video series, a tv production in partnership with The Chalmers Center.
    This documentary-style series of videos guides you through principles outlined in the book When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself, by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, 2014, Moody Publishers.
  • A Cautionary Tale, video created by The Chalmers Center.
    In this four-minute video, Vikings enter a North American suburb to engage in short-term mission. This is a great teaching tool, helping us think about the “why” of short-term mission and the cultural baggage and assumptions we often bring with us.
  • The Danger of a Single Story, a TED Talk by Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie.
    “Our lives, our cultures, are composed of many overlapping stories. Novelist Chimamanda Adichie tells the story of how she found her authentic cultural voice — and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding.”