Maybe you’ve wondered about going on a mission trip. Could I feel closer to God, more involved in God’s global work, if I traveled to another country to serve? I talked with Brian Mullins, who directs our mission trip department, about the experience. He’s participated in or led more than 30 trips, so I thought he’d probably have some wisdom for us. He did! Here’s part of our conversation.
What was your first mission trip?
My first trip was in 2012 to Guatemala. I went with my church, and it was just basically an invite to go to do some construction work. I’m a general contractor.
I’d never been to another country besides the U.S., never really even traveled outside the eastern shoreboard. So this was a big step for me.
Just getting there and seeing things that were being done, the ministry work on display, helping orphan kids, helping feed the hungry, and the many things we were doing—the Lord started to open up my eyes to see exactly what His plan was for my life.
[On] the second trip my focus was a little different. The first trip I went kinda just to do the work. The second trip I began to see how relationship-building was important, and connecting with the people we met before. We went two more times after that.
The Lord was really revealing to me why missions is important and why us going as a church [was important]—that we were able to go together, see together, and serve together.
Where are you going next?
My next trip is to Liberia in Africa. Super excited about that as well. We’re going with a church that has been one time already to see the ministry, start the bonding process, and see how they can best come alongside the [local] ministry and help.
Why do you lead mission trips?
For me, going is the opportunity to see how God is working, to see how we can join Him, be a part of what He is doing around the world.
Not just for me but for the people who go with me—they can have that same experience. God is doing a mighty work, so just come alongside and see what it is that He wants you to do to be part of that. That’s really why I do what I do now.
You arrive in a country you’ve never been to before. What’s first on your to-do list?
I watch and I listen. I watch what people are doing around me, what the ministry leaders are doing. I prepare my body and mind for what we’re going to be doing and going through. You have to adjust and get used to it.
Foods and things like that—that’s always a big thing on people’s minds. What are we going to eat that’s strange? We put a lot of trust in our partners, so they’re not going to take us to a place that’ll make us sick. They know what we can handle.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made?
I think the biggest mistake we can make is when we go and we think it’s about us, it’s about what we want to do. The first trip I went on—I thought it was about me because I had the skills to do the building, and I just tuned everything else out and focused on the building. The mistake is not focusing on what God is really trying to show me.
What’s something you packed that you never used?
This is silly, but I used to pack a lot of shoes. Then I just wore the same pair of shoes day in and day out. So…overpacking.
Something you wished you’d packed?
[laughing] Maybe soy sauce? We eat a lot of rice.
Tell me about an experience that changed your life.
We were walking in the village one day, and I started hearing [someone] crying out. It was inside one of the huts. I went to one of our interpreters and asked, “What’s going on in there?” I remember her reply to me was, “She’s praying, and she’s asking God to supply her every need.”
It really hit me. Wow. You go to these places and you see that they have nothing, and that their everyday essentials are dependent on God, and that they know that. They just cry out. They turn to Him. And it really just made me think, “Do we do that here?” I mean, we get in a car, we start it up, it takes us where we want to go. This lady was in tears: “Lord, I don’t know how I’m going to feed my family, but we put our trust in you, knowing that you’re going to supply.”
We think we are doing so much good for them, but in reality God is allowing us to see how broken we are and how poor we are compared to how poor and broken they are.
[Another time,] we were going to feed at a dump site. We were providing food for families there, and we were running late. The reason we were running late is that we had to go back to get our lunch and sit down and eat. And I remember when we showed up at this dump, these families—poorly dressed if they had clothes at all—were sitting there in a line, hot, swatting flies and things.
But we showed up over an hour late to feed them because we had to feed ourselves. We had to make sure that we got our second meal of the day where it might be their only meal of the day, or week even. So I remember seeing that and just basically breaking me. We were putting our own needs first before seeing the needs of others. That was another game changer for me as far as what we do and how we do it.
What do you do to prepare your heart?
One of the main things we do is stay in prayer. We always stay in God’s word. We train the teams on the cultures so we’re not going into things not knowing, so we don’t do things that will offend, so we can be a better help to our missionary partners. Another thing I believe in and do is fasting. I want the lord to provide what He wants us to do.
So it’s not just a vacation where we get to go and do things. [We actually are] preparing our hearts for what God is going to tell us.
What do you do when you come back?
It’s always one of the best times. When we come back we get to share the stories of how God is working and what He’s doing. [We also] gather with the team after they get back and have a debrief session. You know, what has God shown each one of you and what are you doing about it? What’s your response to it? We do this the whole time we’re there as we study together and do devotions in the morning, and we talk about things that are happening during the day and debrief in the evening, we’re building up to what God may be showing each and every one of us as he breaks us down and then begins to build us back up again.
What do you like the most about first-time participants?
I just love seeing how God is working on them. They’re seeing things, they’re feeling, they’re smelling, touching things for the first time in different parts of the world, just seeing how God is working. God starts to break them down, from the strongest to the weakest.
We had a trip a little while back [with a guy who] was very strong in stature. He was part of a big organization, owned his own business, things like that. When God took him on this trip he began to see these kids running around being joyful and hearing about Jesus for the first time. He [presented] the Gospel. One kid came up to him and asked him, “How can I get to know this man named Jesus? How can I become a Christian, like what you’ve been talking about?”
Seeing him break down from that, seeing how God had allowed him to be a part of that—the last person I would have thought—that was it for me. Seeing people go the first time, coming back just full of energy and full of what God has showed them, running out and telling people this and that about their trip and how God is moving—it’s just so fulfilling.
What’s your advice for someone going on their first trip?
Hopefully you’re already prayed up and seeking the Lord, what he wants from you, and how you can be a part of the trip in a helpful way. Do some studying about the place where you’re going, read a little bit of the history. Hopefully you are part of a group that you can sit and study together with. And ask questions. If there’s something on your mind, ask questions.
Always be seeking. Wherever you are, whatever situation you may be in, God’s got it. Why does he have you in that position? Why does he have you there?