A Theological Packing List for Short-Term Mission Trips

By Chip Lamca

packed suitcase

Missiology, or the study of missions, falls in an unfortunate category called practical theology, as if contemplating the Trinity or learning to exegete the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts is impractical theology, or esoteric theology, better known as silly-waste-of-time theology.

At the risk of being thrown out of the missionary’s club, allow me to put the ‘theology’ title ahead of the ‘practical’ title for just a few minutes. It is my contention that a mission trip packing list is a theological document, as it speaks volumes about what we value.

Student spiritual leaders and other short-term missionaries often ask what they should pack, what they will eat, what they will drink. Though I admit to getting worn out by the questions, Jesus dealt with the same and responded,

But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33)

What Do You Value?

For a period of 10 days to four weeks, what do you really need? We tell our students headed to Peru, Africa, India and other parts of the world to keep the most important things close to them and to work their way out from there – but not too far out!

Believe it or not, you do not need to take all of the luggage that the airline will allow. We go with the clothes on our back, a personal item and a carry-on bag.

In the past, I saw our team members arrive at the airport with a backpack, a carry-on and two large suitcases that could be used as a life raft in case of emergency!

What does that say to those we are traveling to meet when we take more for two weeks than they own as a family? More importantly, does it reflect the instructions of Jesus to not be anxious about food, drink and clothing? Does it say that we are dependent upon God or upon the store near our home?

But what about ministry supplies? It is only in the rarest of places and ministries – like a disaster relief project – that we might need to carry in items not available.

While your local big box store might have super sales, many places where you are going will have the same things: pencils, paper or crayons, for example. What if we purchased from local merchants and viewed those as opportunities to minister? What if we purchased deworming medicines or vitamins from local stores?

In our travels, we have had pharmacists who asked if they could be involved in helping their own people! What a chance to minister and demonstrate why we are really there. What if we pared down our activities so that we could be viewed as co-laborers and not patrons from the wealthy land far away?

This is most appropriate for where I go in Latin America, but you can always and should always modify it to fit your context: Keep the most important things closest to your person and keep in mind that my preferred travel uniform is loose cargo pants, a T-shirt and a light shirt with at least one pocket.

Your Mission Trip Packing Essentials

Shirt Pocket(s)

  • Passport (Paul realized the value of citizenship, Acts 22:25)
  • Wallet with driver’s license, a credit or debit card, insurance card and crisp, fresh $20 bills (Do you really need every discount card? And by the way, your Blockbuster video card is probably not much good to you anywhere anymore)
  • Cell phone (There is no need to make family suffer from never hearing from you)

Pant pockets

  • Small bills for buying snacks on the plane or airport
  • Phone charger
  • Color copy of passport
  • Scriptures or tracts in the language of where you are going (some of the most important people in that country are likely on the plane with you, so start planting the seed of God’s word)

Cargo Pockets

  • Prescription medicines and/or allergy medicines
  • Pepto-Bismol tablets, favorite headache remedy
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Wisp (disposable pre-pasted toothbrushes)
  • 2 pairs of socks
  • 2 pairs of underwear (I recognize that we are really at the practical level, but if your luggage gets lost, do you really want to go underwear shopping in country in which you do not speak the language well?)

Personal Items (purse or small backpack or computer case)

  • Remember that anything in your carry-on must meet TSA regulations and liquids are limited to 3.4 ounces. Believe it or not, many countries have shampoo and toothpaste
  • We suggest a small bag that you can carry to the bathroom
  • At least one day’s change of clothes (you should not open your pilot case until we get to the final destination)
  • Sunglasses
  • Local language phrasebook
  • Paperback Bible
  • Shower shoes (flip-flops)

Pilot Case (a small case that is typical carry-on luggage – this may end up getting checked, but it will be great if it isn’t)

  • 2 single sheets and a pillow case
  • Quick dry washcloth and towel
  • Shorts and T-shirts for sleeping, etc.
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug repellent
  • Appropriate clothing for your mission activities. Clothes need to be neat. Jeans, shirts with sleeves, socks, etc. Men should reserve a nicer shirt and pants for church. Ladies, at least one dress or skirt and blouse to wear to church and church services in the evenings. Avoid tight or revealing clothes.
  • A hat
  • Enough socks, pajamas and underwear for the length of your trip
  • A water bottle that can be refilled with clean water
  • Plastic bags for packing dirty clothes for the return home
  • A notebook and pens to record new words, memories and observations

It is hard to put on a list, but be sure to take with you the love of God, the mind of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. Otherwise, you will return with pictures of a really difficult vacation, rather than an experience of being on mission with God!

If you’re interested in learning more about mission trips or how you can help out, explore global outreach at Grand Canyon University.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.


Scroll back to top