Many people in the United States recognize just how fortunate they are. In other parts of the world, people may struggle to find clean water or have trouble feeding their families. That’s one reason why many people choose to travel abroad and volunteer – to engage in either missionary work or secular relief efforts to help other people.
If that idea appeals to you, you’ll need to ask yourself a few questions before making the leap to volunteer work. Here are some of the most important questions to answer:
Am I really ready for missionary work? Missionary work may sound appealing, but the reality is that it’s going to be incredibly hard work. Between living in a new environment, being surrounded by people with significant needs and the drain on your emotional resources, you need to be in a good state of mind before volunteering overseas. Think about whether you are mentally prepared for such an experience.
Am I in good shape? Especially if you aren’t used to walking everywhere, you may be surprised to discover just how much you’ll be on your feet doing missionary work. At the very least, you’ll be walking to and from public transit stops, or in more rural areas, walking everywhere. Also, depending on the type of mission work you’re signed up for, you may find yourself doing some serious physical labor. Start getting in shape now because the work can be exhausting. And make sure you take the right footwear for the environment you’ll be in.
Are my finances in order? You’ll need to raise funds for the travel to and from your destination. In addition, you will probably be expected to cover your living expenses while you’re there, unless your organization handles that cost. On top of that, consider what ongoing expenses you’ll be leaving at home. Will you be able to manage recurring expenses like car payments, rent or student loan payments while you’re overseas? Think about how you’ll handle the essential expenses while you’re away.
Can you live without modern conveniences? Depending on where you’re going, you may be sharing quarters with several people, sleeping on a floor and having limited access to sanitary facilities. You may also have to leave behind your cellphone or iPod – even if you can get a signal, you may find the cost of using such devices is prohibitive. If you’re someone who can’t stand camping and is addicted to Facebook, living in an undeveloped region for any length of time could be quite difficult.
Are you willing to take risks and go into unfamiliar territory? Missions work isn’t always safe, and in some areas, it can be downright dangerous. Emotionally, you’ll be stretched beyond what you can even imagine and probably feel a type of fear you didn’t know was possible. Physically, you may be exposed to diseases or allergens that you’re not prepared for. Make sure you get mission trip insurance to cover any unexpected health concerns while you’re away from home.
Although mission work is rewarding, it’s also extremely demanding and unpredictable. There’s no time for selfishness or laziness, so you need to be physically and emotionally ready to give of yourself for the benefit of others. The best missionaries are caring, energetic and willing to do anything, even if the things you’re called on to do aren’t even remotely close to what you thought you were signing up for.