Put your oxygen mask on first: Self-care on a mission trip

You may or may not have really paid attention to the flight attendant’s safety instructions last time you flew on a plane. If you did pay attention, do you remember the most counter-intuitive instruction they gave? It’s about that oxygen mask that will drop down from the ceiling in an emergency. If you’re flying with someone who’s dependent on your help, your instinct would be to help them get their mask on before putting yours on – putting their needs before your own. But that’s NOT what they tell you to do!

They tell you to put yours on first so that you can have the oxygen you need to actually be of help.    

When you’re an adult leader on a mission trip, it’s easy to think the week should be all about putting the needs of your youth above your own. But that’s NOT what we’re going to tell you to do! You need to get some oxygen and take care of yourself so that you can give your youth the support and leadership they need. Here are five ideas for how to care for yourself well on a mission trip:  

1. Rest well, especially before and after your trip.

It is no secret that good sleep is one of the keys to self-care. It’s also no secret that sleeping on an air mattress in a room full of teenagers is not exactly the key to good sleep. Certainly, do everything you can to help yourself get good sleep during your trip (and grab a 10-minute power nap in the adult leader room sometime if you need to!), but also strive to get a good night’s rest for 2-3 nights before the trip, and plan for some time to recuperate after.  

2. Pack that one thing.

Space is always at a premium when packing a mission trip, but think about packing one extra (small) thing that will make your trip a little easier and more enjoyable, whether it’s a set of earplugs for nighttime or a comfy pair of sandals to wear during free time or a stash of flavoring packets for your water.  

3. Keep your heart and eyes open.

One thing we emphasize with our staff is the importance of making morning Devo time their own devo time. We encourage this for adult leaders as well! Take advantage of this time to be quiet, read God’s Word, and pray. Beyond that, look for opportunities to pray – whether silently or with others – throughout the day, and don’t forget to be on the lookout for “Yea God’s!” Noticing and celebrating these evidences of God’s work and faithfulness can go a long way towards encouraging a trip-weary leader!  

4. Do something that brings you life and joy and blesses others.

Don’t leave your interests, passions, and skills at home! You are not merely a spectator on this trip. Whether it’s an aspect of your professional or personal life, find a way to incorporate something you love doing into your mission trip week. Maybe it’s playing music or speaking another language or an eye for design or a heart for a certain population or a knack for fixing things or just an incessant love of cleaning – look for opportunities to do one of the things that make you YOU, and who knows how you might, in turn, be a blessing to your YouthWorks community, housing site, staff team, and your fellow trip participants!  

5. Don’t go it alone!

Talk with other adult leaders about what each of you needs to stay healthy and sane during the week, and think creatively about how you can help each other out! Be honest about those things that really drain you and see how you all can work together to make sure everyone gets a few moments to recharge each day. And don’t forget to pray for and with your fellow leaders!  



Jenilyn Swett spent five years and a total of nine summers serving with YouthWorks in various capacities. God used YouthWorks to shape and influence her in countless ways — she credits her time on staff with introducing her to Chick-Fil-A, all things Southern, the beauty of places like New Orleans and Savannah, and many of her dearest friends. Beyond that, she developed a deep love for the Church. After graduating from seminary, she now serves as the Director of Women’s Ministry at a church in St. Louis, Missouri (where she spent her second YW summer in 2003) and follows #yw2018 incessantly!

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