Have you ever helped out with an exciting event? There are three elements that happen. First is the lead up and preparation. Second is the execution of the event. And third is the clean up. Of those, which do people want to be a part of?
In my experience, people love to be involved on the front end. People love to be involved in the running of the actual event. But when the excitement is over, very few are interested in sticking around for the clean up. After the lights are off and the smoke settles, it's just not as glorious. But without the cleanup crew the job is not complete, and without them you will never be invited back. Why do I tell you this?
Here's a personal story.
When I was 15 years old I chose to go on my first international missions trip. 7 weeks in Tanzania, Africa. During the months prior to the trip, my excitement was building, I applied for my first passport, started getting supplies, and I sent out support letters and raised the thousands of dollars needed for the trip. Many wonderful people - family and friends - prayed and sacrificed financially to show me they believed in me and wanted to be a part of seeing the gospel spread around the world. They couldn't go themselves, but they could pray, and they could give in order to send me.
I went on the trip and had a great time. God moved. He spoke to us and through us. I felt the call of God upon my life ... on and on it goes. When I got home I loved telling people about what we did and showing them the cool souvenirs I got from Masai warriors.
Then I went back to school and life moved on. After a few weeks my Dad asked me if I had sent out Thank You letters to all of those who had supported me. I hadn't. He told me I needed to. A couple of months later he asked me again. I hadn't. Soon he was getting questions and hearing frustration from our family and friends. "Whatever happened on Kevin's trip? We were praying and want to know what happened. We gave money to support him and he hasn't even said Thanks."
You can imagine how they felt. You can also imagine that if I were to send them another letter asking for support, they would not be inclined to give again. Why? They didn't feel acknowledged or appreciated. The truth was, they weren't asking to be thanked for the amount they had given. They were simply pointing out that they had invested themselves into this trip through their prayers and finances, and they wanted to know what happened. They wanted to celebrate with me. I eventually did send out a report of my trip with pictures and words of thanks, and it meant the world to people.
When you go on a mission trip, I would encourage you to send out Thank You letters to those who pray for you and support you financially on your trip. You can send a simple card, or better yet, send them pictures and a report of what you did and how God used you and grew you through this trip. Remember that the clean up - the follow up - is as important as the preparation and the actual going on the trip. Think of it this way: Your trip is not officially over until you have said Thank You.
My grandfather (who, by the way, was the host missionary we worked with on our trip to Tanzania) has some wise sayings. One of them is: "Experience is the best teacher. You can learn from your own experiences, or you can learn from others'. Learning from others' is better." Learn from my mistake so you don't make the same one.
*This article was written by Kevin Mahaffy, Jr. Kevin is the youth pastor at Shelter Rock Church in Long Island, New York and has been bringing his groups on Mission Discovery mission trips for several years.