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Making Sense of a Mission Trip

Post-trip Tips for Short-Term Missionaries

By Marti Wade

Congratulations, you've done it! You navigated the path to mission service all the way to coming home. But now what?

Some return from a short-term trip on a spiritual high, ready to change the world. Others come home confused or upset. We may have proven ourselves; we may have disappointed ourselves. Some of us come home unsure what to make of the world we just left behind (or the one we came back to). After being away for a while we may also suffer symptoms of reverse culture shock: feeling disoriented, judgmental, or just lonely and out of place.

Welcome to the fog of reentry. You may not want to linger in this land of shadows, but it could be the very place where you hear God's voice the best. So do not leave it too soon!

The longer and/or more intense or significant the trip has been, the more important it is to get some help in processing what happened, usually a group or individual debriefing. Those returning from a trip of several months or more may also profit from the wisdom offered in Craig Sorti's book The Art of Coming Home or Peter Jordan's Re-Entry.

Questions for Reflection

What can we do with the emotions and responses triggered by a mission trip? The first thing may be just to identify them. Consider your answers to questions like these:

  • How do you feel about how the trip went?
  • What was the best thing about it?
  • What was the hardest part for you?
  • How were prayers answered?
  • What did God teach you?
  • What are you going to do next?

For more questions to help you identify your emotions and concerns, see the article Coming Home: Debriefing Exercises to Help You Process Reentry Shock.

Locking in the Lessons

Whether the mission trip seemed a blast or a bust, chances are that God wants to use it in your life. He showed you things about yourself, those you served or served with, and his purposes in the world. Don’t let the things that shook you just sit on the shelf. Bring those memories and experiences to mind and consider what you can learn from them.

This handy worksheet may help you organize your thoughts and prepare to share them. And telling others may be an important part of the experience. After all, if your mission trip was life changing, you'll want to give thanks to God and to those who prayed for you while you were gone.

Going the Next Mile

For those whose purpose in going was to explore long-term direction—or who came back thinking that way—simply processing the experience on the field and how it applies to life back home is not enough. The best resource for charting your course from short-term to long-term may be a mission coach or mentor. Someone who’s a little further down the road than you are can provide the encouragement and insight you need to take your next steps and navigate the obstacles.

Finally, check out The Next Mile, a collection of resources for mission trip follow-up. Start with their list of Top 10 issues for returning short-term missionaries, then consider signing up for their free series of follow-up emails, The Next Mile E-Zine.

Marti Wade has been a mission mobilizer since 1995 and has trained dozens of short-term teams for relationship-based research among the world's least-reached peoples.

This article first appeared in the ShortTermMissions.com eNewsletter.