When Thrivent member Joe Draxler goes on a service trip, it's to do much more than drill and repair wells with his team. "The water is our excuse to go," says Joe, a fourth-generation dairy farmer in Glenwood City, Wisconsin. "We are really there to show the simple concept from the Bible of sharing your blessings with one another."
In the past 10 years, Joe has participated in 22 mission trips through Living Water International, a faith-based nonprofit organization. About half his trips have been to Haiti, and the rest throughout Central America. Joe's wife, Charl, and the couple's children and grandchildren have also been on trips. They have learned that proper preparation, both spiritual and practical, helps them make the most of their experience. Here are a few things to keep in mind for your next service trip.
Before you go
Learn as much as you can about your trip and the community you'll be visiting. Ask your team leader what type of housing conditions and work environments to expect, says Lee Jerstad, a volunteer engagement specialist for Habitat for Humanity.
"Be ready to work hard – and to be changed by the people you meet," Lee says.
Team members who go on trips with Thrivent Builds Worldwide, a program that is part of the partnership between Thrivent and Habitat, receive a guidebook that provides information about the country they will be visiting. But it's also a good idea to do some extra research: Read books, watch videos about the destination and talk to others who have been there.
On the trip
You may be offered unfamiliar foods, people may work in ways that are different from what you're used to or the weather may not cooperate. Keeping an open mind will help you cope with unexpected challenges.
It's not uncommon to feel strong emotions when you see people dealing with hardship. Many teams hold daily devotionals or reflection time to talk about their experiences. Joe's daughter, Thrivent Financial Representative Cathy Jenson of Elk Mound, Wisconsin, has traveled to Nicaragua and El Salvador with her father. They begin each day with devotions. "We talk about the highs and lows, questions or situations that come up," she says.
"You come home and have different priorities. You find yourself not focusing very much on yourself." – Joe Draxler
Teams often want to capture their trip through photos and videos. You should always ask permission before you take pictures of people or locales and before posting photos on social media. Some people might consider photos intrusive, and certain places may be considered sacred.
When you return from your trip, you may have a new appreciation for your home and the comforts in your life. You also may feel impatient when people seem to take their blessings for granted. Some participants describe a reverse culture shock as they see their familiar surroundings in a new light. "You come home and have different priorities," Joe says. "You find yourself not focusing very much on yourself."
Invite team members and their families to get together for dinner. It can be helpful to meet with your team to process these responses.
Spread the word about your experiences. Share your photos and offer to speak at your church. Consider how you can be a better neighbor at home – and perhaps start planning your next trip. "Capitalize on that changed feeling you have," Lee says. Taking action in your community will help keep the spirit of your trip alive.
Enrich your experience
Before you head out on your trip, check out these resources:
Help build communities around the world
Visit Thrivent Builds Worldwide to learn more about how Thrivent members can participate in service trips and find available trip destinations.
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