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Why we love local mission trips (and how you can plan your own)

Members of Messiah, Chester at House of Prayer, Newark for one of their local mission trips in 2017. PHOTO COURTESY MARGARET OTTERBURN
The Rev. Margaret Otterburn, Rector of Church of the Messiah, Chester
Members of Messiah, Chester at House of Prayer, Newark for one of their local mission trips in 2017. PHOTO COURTESY MARGARET OTTERBURN

Local mission trips have become a very important part of the lives of many of us here at Church of the Messiah in Chester. We love to “Go Local!” (Scroll down to the bottom of this article for a list of our local mission trip locations and experiences.)

At our Diocesan Convention in January I gave a presentation on local mission trips, and it was suggested that I provide information for others in the diocese who are considering a local mission trip.

Serving locally rather than traveling a distance for a mission trip provides unique opportunities, such as:

  • There will be a relatively short drive to the location which is attractive for many. This means there will be a minimum journey expense involved and no airfare.
  • Near distance means people can get home if they need to.
  • To live together, pray together, share the day’s experience, share food.
  • Help each other with the projects such as preparing the craft for the following day.
  • You meet people who live relatively close to you, implying there will be opportunities for you to meet them again at diocesan events.
  • You can spend time after the work, socializing with the church members, hearing their stories, maybe having a meal with them or driving around the area to learn about it.
  • You can plan the mission trip, making it acceptable to the strengths of the group.
  • Doing your own trip is much cheaper than paying for an organized one.

However, you should also be aware that local mission trips also have their own challenges:

  • Because people can get home, it seems unnecessary for the group to stay at the site, which undermines one of the goals of a mission trip: living together. Often the living conditions offer less than normal comfort (sleeping on a blow-up mattress in a room without central air, having to walk down a field to get to the bathroom, as examples).
  • You have to plan the trip. You have to take care providing sufficient work for all without it being too much for those with more limited energy. You have to find out what outreach opportunities are available in the neighborhood if, for example the VBS is just a morning program. Maybe there is a food pantry or a dinner program or a North Porch center which could use help. But you have to do the research.
  • You have to cater for yourselves. If the church you are with provides food for kids you all may be able to enjoy what the kids eat. Otherwise you need to self-cater. You need to check that where you are staying has a kitchen and, most importantly, refrigerator space.
  • We find the most important question to ask a potential host is “Do you have a shower, and if not, where can we shower?”

For churches wishing to do a local mission trip: I suggest you send an invitation to churches who would welcome your help. In your invitation state the dates and the number of people who would be available to serve. If you have a preference for the type of work you can or are willing to do, state that too.

For churches wishing to invite a group to serve with them: I suggest you send an invitation stating the dates you want partnership and the type of ministry you are offering.

The host church needs to be able to offer work or involvement in some ministries for the agreed number of days (assume Monday - Friday.) If that is not possible, the visiting team can contact other agencies such as the NJ Community Food Bank in Hillside to see what options there are for volunteers that week. The visitors also need shower availability, the use of a kitchen and space to sleep. AC is preferable but if it is not available then the visiting team needs to know to bring fans.

Please feel free to email me at with any questions and/or concerns about local mission trips.

Messiah, Chester's local mission trip locations and experiences

2008: With CSM* in N. Philadelphia
Team of 7 including 2 teens. Different assignments daily, kid’s day camp helpers, soup kitchens, clothes sorting.

2009: With CSM* in Brooklyn, NY
Team of 8 including 2 teens (2 “outsiders”). As above but a great many hours were spent daily on the subway.

* CSM: Center for Student Missions: They organize Mission Trips, provide a “tour guide” and take you to the sites. We each paid $65 a day back in 2008 and in 2009.

2010: At St Pauls’ Paterson
Team of 6 including 1 teen. Mornings: food pantries, clean-up work, afternoons staffed their VBS.

2011: Seamen’s Mission, Newark Diocese
Team of 5, no teens. Went with their staff chaplains as assistants, on to the ships.

2012: The Church of the Incarnation, Jersey City
Team of 5, no teens. Staffed the first week of summer camp, helped at social service agencies some days.

2013: Staten Island, Sandy restoration (through Newark Diocese)
Team of 6** including 1 teen. 100% restoration/construction work on destroyed property.

2014: Cross Roads Camp
Team of 6 ** no teens. Some post Sandy logging work, restored the grounds around the director’s home. We also spent 1 day at the Food Bank in Hillside.

** 2 other adults joined us for a single day at a care center (2013) and food bank (2014)

2015: Church of the Epiphany, Orange
Team of 6 including 1 teen. Leading and co-leading their VBS, a full day program with evening involvement.

2016: Church of the Good Shepherd, Ringwood
Team of 6 including 1 teen. Leading the morning rotations and co-leading their afternoon VBS. We stayed at Christ Church Pompton Lakes.

2017: Two mission trips

Church of the Good Shepherd, Ringwood
Team of 4. Leading the morning rotations and co-leading their afternoon VBS We stayed at Christ Church Pompton Lakes.

House of Prayer, Newark
Team of 6 including 1 teen. Showers were off site, some in the rented rectory and others at Apostles House.

For 2018 we have a commitment to go again to Church of the Good Shepherd, Ringwood, this time with a team of 6.

Note: On every self-organized trip we each made a donation for accommodations.