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Mission co-workers share post-pandemic travel tips

Pack your bags!

by Kathy Melvin | Presbyterians Today

Woman packing her suitcase and checking off packed items on her listWhen Expedia, an online travel site, released its 2022 travel trends report earlier this year, it discovered that not only was there a pent-up demand to pack one’s bags and take off on adventures unknown, but also the trips being planned were “GOATS” — “the greatest of all trips.”

Expedia polled 12,000 travelers across 12 countries and found that 41% of U.S. travelers are embracing the GOAT mindset by seeking out excitement and exhilaration and 40% are embracing the feeling that they have made the most out of their trip. The study also found that 40% of travelers are more willing than ever before to splurge on their future travels.

While excitement and exhilaration might be leading to fuller planes and longer check-in lines, the easing of travel restrictions have many churches excited as well, as congregations can start thinking about long- and short-term mission trips.

Recently, a group of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission leaders, Presbyterian Mission Agency World Mission staff and mission co-workers joined together on Zoom to talk about how to be thoughtful travelers when visiting global partners in the aftermath of the pandemic.

No. 1 — Do your homework before leaving

Christi Boyd, a mission co-worker living in the Democratic Republic of Congo, along with her spouse, Jeff, said it is important to approach visits with a “high level of intentionality by discerning the meaning, purpose and desired outcomes of our journey.”

“This process starts well ahead of making travel plans and evolves in consultation with our receiving counterparts. It also includes identifying any necessary preparatory work to be done to be mindful of our intentions. During the visit itself, we would, as thoughtful travelers, develop a greater awareness through our sensory perception of the context, our mental and spiritual reflection on the experience, and our prayerful and conscious effort to adequately respond to situations that can seduce us to unintended but still harmful acts,” she said.

No. 2 — Take all health precautions and medications

The Rev. Elmarie Parker, regional liaison for Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, encourages travelers to be vaccinated for the Covid virus as well as for other illnesses that are prevalent in areas of travel. Also, travelers should have all necessary medications with them.

“Our hospitals will make way for Westerners. This is one of the ways in which we are privileged in the world. And the challenge with that is that it means that local people who have no other options for medical care are pushed aside,” Parker said. “So, this is a way that we can be considerate, also, to simply not travel if there’s any risk that we may be taking medical care away from local people.”

No. 3 — Be mindful of others’ emotional well-being

“Peru has one of the highest Covid fatality rates in the world,” said the Rev. Jed Koball. He said the way to be a good traveler is to provide a space where people can share what’s on their heart because there’s a lot weighing on people’s hearts and minds right now.

“I think now more than ever we should be prepared to listen, because the emotional impact over the last couple of years has been severe. We’ve all gone through a trauma,” Koball said. “And while we’ve all gone through the same storm, we have not all been in the same boat.”

The Rev. Dori Hjalmarson, a mission co-worker in Honduras, agreed with Koball, stating that in her own country of service, those who visit mission workers should understand that “they have likely gone through a transformation, given the pandemic.”

She gave one example of a medical team that had been coming to Honduras before the pandemic but hasn’t been able to for the past three years. As a result, mission co-workers are rethinking their dependence on that group for their medical needs. Hjalmarson says some of these transformations were already occurring but were intensified by the pandemic.

“I think in the long run, that it’s a good thing to have a time to look back, reflect on what your relationship has been like and how the pandemic in the years of no contact has affected your ministry — what new needs there might be and what old needs may have fallen by the wayside,” she said.

No. 4 — Be thoughtful of what you call the trip

Hyeyoung Lee, a mission co-worker in South Korea, recommended to those embarking on a mission trip to think about how what you call the trip can have an impact on those participating. She said naming the journey something that implies learning can shape the mindset of the participants, helping them understand they are going to the country to learn from and hear from locals.

No. 5 — Nothing replaces the human touch

While there were discussions around in-person visits versus virtual visits, with Tracey King-Ortega, regional liaison for Central America, saying global partners have become better at navigating the virtual world, the consensus was that nothing replaces the benefit of being in person with others.

Randy Simpson, co-convener of the Cuba Partners Network, said that every fourth year the group meets in Cuba. Network members are always worried about putting stress on the limited resources of the partners, Simpson said. But universally they want Americans to come — as many as possible. “I think our experience is that they want that relationship, you know, yes, they have the relationship, they want that physical contact. And it means so much to them when we take the time to do that,” said Simpson.

The Rev. Leslie Vogel, regional liaison for Guatemala and Mexico, agreed with Simpson, saying it is increasingly unlikely that partners will be able to visit the U.S. because of immigration laws. “I was just in a conversation last week with a new partner for one of the entities here in Guatemala,” she said. “And the very friendly folks in the U.S. were so excited and said, ‘Hopefully with this partnership, we’ll not only go to see you, but you’ll come to see us.’ And you know, I kindly interpreted those words knowing that it’s probably not going to happen that Guatemalans will get a visa to go visit the United States.”

Kathy Melvin is director of mission communications for the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

Reasons to consider a post-pandemic mission trip

Seeing the image of God in all

Encountering people who dress, talk, act and think differently helps expand our understanding of how inclusive the love of God is and how we are all made in God’s image.

Growing in faith — together

Taking a mission trip together provides space to delve deeply into God’s word and to grapple, discuss and discern pressing issues, both abroad and locally.

Breaking out of our comfort zones

Peace in this world begins when we step beyond what is safe and comfortable for us and dare to experience the lives of others. Listening to the stories of trials, seeing the challenges and being inspired by the resiliency of those who have overcome hardships open both eyes and hearts.

— Donna Frischknecht Jackson

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