Three years ago Rex and Jen Bingham* were volunteering in their church’s youth ministry. Now they’re living abroad and working with one of the most difficult people groups in the world (other than American youth). Much of their story turns on a vision trip.
Just what exactly is a vision trip?
A vision trip is the term traditionally given to essentially scoping a place out. It’s intentionally traveling to a particular place to explore the possibility of moving and ministering there.
If you took a moment to think about transplanting your own family in another neighborhood, city, or country, you would quickly sense the importance of knowing what you’re getting yourselves into—before getting yourselves into it. Unfortunately, and unbelievably, many churches and mission organizations see vision trips as nothing more than an option. Sometimes they’re even treated like a detriment to the nobility of “the missionary call” to sell all and set sail to unknown pagan lands, ne’er to return. ‘If your faith is big enough,’ so it infers, ‘then just trust God and go.’
When I shared this dynamic with Jen Bingham, however, she burst open with wit and wisdom: “I mean, would you walk into something blind-folded? Why would you not take advantage of the resources that are available today? Do you not think that [missionaries of old] would have taken advantage of those things?”
The story of her and her husband is one of stretching faith—the vision trip included. After participating in a short-term mission trip to the Middle East with their church, the Bingham’s began desiring to take their skills overseas permanently. It felt like a crazy idea, so they took one step at a time.
As they debriefed the mission trip, a church leader encouraged them to enter the church’s missionary development process. That meant enrolling in their school of missions and having an assessment interview. Based on their assessment, church leaders produced growth plans for both Rex and Jen. Near the top of those plans it read simply, “Take a vision trip.”
“Our church helped us discern where the Lord was leading,” said Rex. “They spoke into where to go and who to meet with. We even had a leader who went with us. They processed with us and helped us know how to ask good questions.” Jen, in fact, still has pages of questions listed in her journal that she asked of the various mission teams they visited. Some of those questions include:
- Where do you stand theologically?
- Who’s your sending church? How are they involved?
- What do you struggle with?
- What are the options for my child’s education?
- What does medical care look like here?
- Can you give me a job description?
- What do you do for fun?
- What does community look like on this team?
- How close do teammates live to one another?
- What’s the vision?
- What’s a day in the life of a local?
- What’s the first year like?
- How do I learn the language?
- What are your expectations? What do you think of my expectations?
Yet even in light of researching well, Jen also said, “It’s not that you have to go on a vision trip to answer every question and have the perfect plan. You still have to step out in faith. You’re going to catch the Lord’s vision, not your own, so you have to listen.”
The Binghams did just that, but not just as they chatted in the living rooms of numerous team leaders. What spoke most loudly was an afternoon spent sharing a meal with a national. “We didn’t make the decision at the time, but just took it in,” Rex reminisced. As they prayed and processed again with their leaders, the Binghams couldn’t shake that indigenous experience.
Next, however, they had to get real about what they could and couldn’t handle. Rex explained:
Yes, you have to be open, but also you have to be honest with yourself. What [must be] on the table? What do you have to have? If you hate cold weather, then Russia probably won’t be the best fit. If you don’t want to homeschool, then don’t go out in the jungle. Test it out and see if it’s realistic. There’s both faith and common sense. Because of God’s grace, it’s ok if you can’t live without air conditioning. God’s made you who you are.
After much dialogue and prayer, the Bingham’s and their church discerned together that the Holy Spirit seemed to be leading them forward. It had been a shared journey.
At the end of the interview, when I expressed my gratitude for sharing their insight, they just shrugged their shoulders and said, “We learned all this from our sending church!”
May this be an encouragement to all churches in their opportunity to step into the lives of those exploring cross-cultural missions. You certainly don’t (and won’t) have all the answers, but God has empowered you to lead by walking alongside your people. God is calling all your people to himself and to his mission. You can send them!
*Names changed for security
This article is a republication from The Upstream Collective. Used with permission.