Many of us have felt a pull in our lives to go on a short-term mission trip. While this is an extremely practical way to become part of the solution, we often come away only to be engulfed in a dust storm of problems. Sometimes fully engaging at home means setting aside the wonderful revelations we receive while we are on the field. It’s amazing how clearly God shows Himself to us in the eyes of an orphaned baby girl, in the signals of an impoverished deaf student, or even in a simple conversation with someone holding a different worldview. While we are in the moment, we have every intention set on cherishing the gift we have just encountered, but we step away. As time passes our hearts float further and further away from that very special moment, in that incredible place, with that unbelievably fascinating person, in whom we saw clearly the face of God. The feelings that we had are distant memories seemingly unable to be revived or relived now.
It’s so easy for us to fall back into life as we knew it before our trip, almost as if we didn’t just experience some sort of transformation. As Christians, we are to count every step of our journey as an act of grace from our Creator – not to be so easily forgotten. Here are some ways we can challenge ourselves to step outside of what seems like a natural slip, and continue to live on mission.
1. ASK – Who am I? Where am I? What am I doing?
The first thing we learn when we turn the phone back on is this – life didn’t stop just because we left home for a little bit. The world kept spinning. There’s a birthday party here, a coffee date there, the laundry is piling up and what used to be a kitchen is now a room that will be quarantined until the day of Christ Jesus. Then there’s work, and there’s school, and there are friends, and it never, ever stops.
This self perpetuation of life wraps our missional experience in layers. We soon discover things take too long to unpack so we toss them to the side and move on. Life doesn’t allow for proper reflection. If we don’t stand in wonder at the many awe-inspiring experiences we have had on a mission trip we will forget them.
When I need things to slow down so I can reflect on this incredible life I am gifted with I take a deep breath and ask myself very specific and intentional questions.
Who am I? Not who am I expected to be at this particular moment. Who am I? I can answer this question by remembering who I was on the mission trip. I find my truest, most fulfilled self when I am on the mission field – serving others. It’s a glimpse of who I am in the eyes of the Creator, in His Kingdom.
Where am I? Right now I may be sitting at a coffee shop in Nashville. But it is extremely important I remember that I am embraced, and close to the heart of Christ. This is not a question I ask myself in regards to my actual, physical location. This question is directed at my relationship with Christ. How much space is there between us? There are many times I ask myself this question and come away challenged to surrender myself again.
What am I doing? Sometimes my actions don’t match up with the person I am meant to be. I do things that interrupt my relationship with Christ. This question pulls me back and keeps my heart asking for more. It helps me remember who I was as I built a home for a family or held a malnourished orphan and invites me to live with that heart.
2. Connect with team members.
Most of us don’t go alone to lands far away from home. We usually have people with us, sharing the same encounters and experiencing very similar feelings. When we come home, our friendship starts to take on new paths. Sometimes we form strong bonds with people while we are on a trip only to return and find ourselves drifting away. We can even become bitter – wondering why this person we got so close to isn’t returning the same desire to communicate.
Be aware, those feelings have roots in fear and shame. We start to feel inadequate, like we must not measure up to the expectations of others. We don’t feel good enough for them. Take a breath.
Connect with other team members. We all need your voice.
3. Meditate with music and notes from the trip.
There is a song, playlist or album that reminds you of events that happened on the trip. Just streaming that music will bring you back to the place where you left a piece of your heart and could even challenge you to get involved in serving those in your own community.
While you listen to this music, you can open the journal you kept while you were on your trip. Start to read through some of your notes. Close your eyes and remember the feel of the pen in your hand as you wrote that sentence. If what you wrote was about playing soccer with a boy in Jamaica, place yourself there. Feel the heat of the day and then listen to the laughter of others as the boy shouts gooooaaaaalllll.
Get weird with it. It’s healthy.
Maybe you don’t want to get weird with it. Maybe you remember playing soccer with the boy and you just want to pray for him. Good! Do that.
While on the trip, chances are you listened as someone shared about their struggle with something back home. You held a child that has been rescued from a serious situation. You were placed in uncomfortable circumstances with other people that are just as reckless as we are. There will always be a single moment, or conversation that stands out to you. Remember the people there, in that moment with you, and pray for those people.
May we become burdened for those we served to the point of unceasing prayer for and with them.
5. Plan for next year.
Your mission trip did not end because your feet left the soil of that unfamiliar region.
The summer of 2009 marked my first year with Mission Discovery. I was in Tecate, Mexico and had no clue what I was in for. We built a house for a family with a little girl named Bianca. In the middle of the week, her puppy died. Her tears were heartbreaking and in an attempt to focus everyone’s attention back on building the home I took the puppy, along with the family, and together we buried him in the desert. I held her hand as she tried to wrap her mind around the idea that her puppy wasn’t coming back. By the end of the week we had finished the house. We all held hands, prayed for each other, and said our goodbyes.
A couple of years went by without seeing Bianca, but I always remembered her. She marked my heart. Then one day, I was back in Mexico building in the same colonia and our paths crossed. I was hesitant. Now she was eight years old. I was sure she wouldn’t remember me. But, she started to run. Faster… and faster until she was engulfed in my arms.
For you, maybe her name wasn’t Bianca. But at some point during your trip something changed. You started to transform and began to see things through a different lens. You went to impact their world and your heart was changed. You went to be a part of someone’s solution and in the process someone became part of your solution. Let me be the one to remind you, your mission isn’t finished. We need you.
I’ll see you next year.