Pack Openness and Humility
To be prepared helps serve better.
For a trip of just a couple of weeks, the volunteers of Amor en Accin (the missionary arm of the Archdiocese of Miami) spend six months in training.
During that training volunteers learn, for instance, that there are certain T-shirts they should not wear in the Dominican Republic because of their culturally laden messages. They learn certain gestures to make and others to avoid, certain words and greetings to use and others to avoid.
An essential part of their training is the basis of spirituality they need to develop by reading, reflecting, and praying on documents of the church related to the missionary vocation of all Christians. Going to a mission is not a vacation or leisure trip; nor is it an adventure. It is, rather, a step of faith and an expression of a response to the call of God.
The most important thing they learn is that they are not going to show how "good" they are by serving others; nor to demonstrate how much they know. In a way, they have to learn that they are not going to help but to be helped; not to teach but to learn. The first thing they need to do is learn to listen and get rid of their own ideas of how things should be done. They need to learn the faith expressions of the people to whom they are being sent and to respect them even if they are different from their own.
The training provided by Amor en Accin also includes techniques and skills needed for their work in the mission. This requires even more openness because their work will not be determined by what they like to do or even by the leaders of the organization, but by the communities to which they are assigned.
If the community decides, for instance, that what is needed is to work with the children in relationship building or behavior, that is what the volunteers will have to learn; if it's catechesis, youth ministry, building of houses the volunteers would have to learn just that.
It seems like a short trip; but it can be the beginning of the journey of a lifetime.