A Life-Changing (Virtual) Journey to the Ends of the Earth
Mission trip not feasible? Consider an online alternative!
Jackie has an amazing ministry. She and her family help lead an effort to open doors for the gospel in a Southeast Asian province with more than 500 villages. To do that takes a big vision and a large network of prayer supporters to stand with them—in this case, more than a thousand people who are following their work. How do you keep a network like that going? And how can you do it without losing your focus on inspiring, encouraging and serving your local partners?
What if there was a way to do both at the same time?
Come and See!
Many supporters have come to visit, says Jackie. They’ve seen the villages and met the local partners. Experiencing the place for themselves goes a long way. But not everyone can do that. “The places we go are very remote. The physical conditions, hiking through rough terrain, plus work and family schedules, make it difficult,” says Jackie. “We saw a category of people who would love to be more connected but can’t come here. There was nothing to give them.”
So someone came up with the idea of putting together a virtual prayer team for supporters of the ministry. The first time they tried it, more than 60 people participated! “That’s way more than we could have come to visit us at one time,” said Jackie. Security is a factor, and of course, it’s a lot of work to take care of a big group of foreigners. Through an online platform, though, they could do it easily. It worked so well that Jackie and her team have hosted at least half a dozen more virtual prayer journeys in recent years.
Those who go? They get to see it. To be part of it. To play a key part in lifting up the strategic ministry through prayer. And they don’t have to deal with jet lag, unfamiliar food, heat, mosquitoes or the risk of malaria.
Covering an Outreach in Prayer
Each prayer trip is scheduled to coincide with an outreach to a strategic new region where local church planters hope to launch a ministry. Their goal of each outreach is to build trust and friendship and meet a practical need to open doors for the gospel. And for that to happen, prayer is essential.
The first virtual prayer team was charged with bringing prayer covering for a community health outreach. Three doctors from the US joined a team of local church planters, plus members of Jackie’s team, to conduct four days of community health screenings in needy areas where the people had requested that kind of help.
How Does It Work?
Jackie sent everyone who signed up an email to welcome them and get them started.
“Wow! We have over 53 couples and families signed up so far for this virtual prayer team! Amazing! Thank you for joining us this week. We are so glad YOU are going to be jumping into this wild journey with us. We hope this experience will capture the work, the people, the stories and emotions—and give you some genuine Holy Spirit encounters along the way. And there’s always the power of your prayers which is hugely awesome! We can really feel the difference when people are praying with us, so you will make a big difference for our week by being part of this virtual trip and praying.”
The email provided instructions for setting up WhatsApp and joining a group chat Jackie had set up. She also sent them the health team’s itinerary and a map showing where they’d be going. Every day, while the prayer team was sleeping, Jackie posted an update with a devotional thought, daily prayer points, photos, and videos of the trip so they would be part of all that happened. Sometimes she asked the group questions and started conversations. They sent back scriptures, prayers, and encouragement for the health team, as well as questions and comments for Jackie. Along the way, they developed camaraderie with one another.
How Much Work Is It to Host a Virtual Mission Trip?
Does it take a lot of energy to host a virtual team and manage a team on the ground at the same time? “Not really,” says Jackie. “I’m already going on a trip and I love to talk! The prayer teams add to the outreach team’s experience. It never feels like a drain.” Setting things up at the beginning—getting everyone on WhatsApp and adding them to the group—takes some time, she admits. And she has to be intentional about uploading content. But the time difference helps. She just needs to have something posted by the time the virtual team starts logging on in the morning.
Who Can Come?
Hosting a virtual team brings less risk than traveling through an unreached area with a bunch of foreigners, but online security is still an issue. Using a tool like WhatsApp instead of a more public platform like Instagram reduces risk to the ongoing ministry efforts and also allows for better, more personal interaction. Jackie also prefers to limit the trips to people with whom she has already had some contact rather than throwing them open to strangers.
There are only a few qualifications to be part of the prayer team. “We ask them to commit to pray and engage daily,” says Jackie. Some will pray and fast throughout the trip and actively participate in group discussions. Others just check the updates and pray, maybe as a family, once a day.
Each person or family is also encouraged to choose some type of remembrance—an object that will remind them to pray throughout the week, such as a wristband, something they carry in their pocket, or a “prayer centerpiece” made of objects to help them remember they are part of the team every time they sit down to eat a meal.
What Are the Benefits of a Virtual Prayer Team?
These prayer teams have played a part in bringing spiritual breakthroughs in strategic places. By God’s grace and through the faithful efforts of the local partners, churches have grown in each place one of the virtual prayer teams has “visited,” says Jackie. That alone is a great reason to do virtual prayer teams!
But the team members also get something out of it, and so do the missionaries who set it up:
1. A sneak peek for a future visit
Some who had been on the fence about coming to visit this area saw what it was like through one of these virtual experiences. They thought, “I could go there! I could do that!” So they joined an in-person trip.
2. A rekindled passion for mission
Historically, many rely on short-term mission experiences to keep their vision for missions alive. But what if you can’t go? Being part of the virtual trip can reinvigorate someone’s passion for missions in much the same way as a face-to-face visit. Jackie found this especially true for those who had already visited the ministry in years past. They love to reconnect. As one team member said, “This is the most fun I’ve had all year!”
3. Strengthened connections with missionaries
One couple had supported this ministry for ten years, Jackie says, “but we never heard from them.” That is until they signed up for a virtual prayer team. Then the relationship grew. “We find it a great way to engage people who would love to travel here, but can’t,” says Jackie. “It broadens their horizons and helps them feel more connected with us and adds dimension and depth to what they get from our prayer letters.”
Virtual Mission Trip Strategies
Jackie’s ministry has been hosting virtual prayer teams since 2017. Yet the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed more and more churches, organizations, and teams to consider a variety of virtual models to replace or augment their more traditional mission-trip approaches.
Some, like those we’ve described here, are all about prayer and may have a very specific focus. Others include ministry that can be done online, like conversational English classes or online evangelism. Many include eye-opening and informative presentations from missionaries and local ministry leaders or virtual tours of various kinds. These experiences may take place over a couple of days, just one, or include a series of meetings spread out over time.
Although going on a virtual mission trip doesn’t have the same costs to cover, some models include a fundraising element, such as asking participants to raise funds or make a donation that supports the long-term work.
Have you been part of a virtual mission team? If you were putting a virtual mission trip together, how would you do it? We’d love to hear your experiences and ideas.
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