Cross-cultural mission trips can be, and usually are, experiences that change us in deep ways. We come back from a short-term trip somewhere and, in the heat of the excitement about what we saw and did, want to make significant changes in our lives. Most decisions made in emotional times like this may not, in fact, be good ones. Here are some things to consider NOT doing as you process what you experienced on your mission trip.
All, or at least some, of these things will be part of the path if God does lead you into cross-cultural work or ministry, but let’s not rush it. More harm than good can be done on many fronts if you blindly force yourself forward against the timing of God.
1. Don’t quit your “day job” or school
Money may be the root of all evil, but it is necessary to survive, even as a missionary. The path to getting on an airplane to some other country isn’t necessarily a short one, so you will need to have some funding along the way. There’s no better place for that to come from than your current job (normally). Besides, your supervisor may have just done you a major favor by letting you take two weeks off to do that trip you just got back from. A quick word on school and other preparation: going ill-prepared or unprepared to another country to do God’s work usually makes you a liability to others already working there… or even to the community that you are there to minister to. Doesn’t it seem best to arrive with a skill set and experience that you will apply to the need in the area? It’s not that God cannot “gift” you with special abilities when you need them, but let’s not force his hand. We might call that being presumptuous in our faith (like buying something on credit because you KNOW God wants you to have it but you don’t want to wait to save up the money for it).
2. Don’t break up
Highly emotional times often cause us to make highly emotional decisions. Just because your boyfriend/girlfriend doesn’t see the writing on the wall like you might right now doesn’t mean they are not meant to join you in this adventure. It is very possible that they just need time for God to reveal that same leading to them. Doing the missions thing is a HUGE step of change and should be considered carefully. Who better to test your motives and calling than the person you feel closest to? If you truly remain on different pages after a significant time of respectfully discussing it, the future for both of you will be clear. With a similar attitude to the above comments, don’t make decisions for God. Let God make decisions for you.
3. Don’t change your career direction
This is one of the most common things we see happen when people return from a ST missions trip. After having seen the tremendous need abroad and being excited about trying to do something about it, we are tempted to change our major in college to “Intercultural Studies” or quit our job and go to seminary. I have nothing against either of those things, but I think you should only do them after a considerable amount of time and counsel. An ICS or seminary degree prepares you for some things, and, if those are things that God is indeed leading you toward, may be ahead in your path. But the missionary enterprise needs workers with all types of training and education. In fact, it is more important that you pursue your areas of God-given passion because God intends to use that drive in and through you. Everyone can find fit in kingdom work, not just those with seminary or ICS degrees.
4. Don’t sell everything
I know Jesus asked the rich young ruler to do that but I don’t think he intended that for everyone. He knew that young man was putting his wealth ahead of his obedience. Trust me when I say, from personal experience, that if there are things in your life that you are holding on to and they are getting in the way of God’s will for you, he will ask you to let go of them (and sometimes even take them away). You don’t need to get a head start on it, though, on your own. Remember, the road to a longer term mission experience is a longer road. You will need resources along the way and God has already provided those for you. It may be that God leads you to sell most, or all, of your local possessions in time, but let him direct you in that! God’s wisdom abides in the counsel of many.
5. Don’t change churches
If you went on this trip with your church, this may not even be on your radar, but many churches that are big on short-term experiences are not so big when it comes to supporting someone who wants to go and live somewhere else. The energy, money, and commitment needed for that kind of thing runs high above the same needs for a short-term experience. If you are thinking about a longer-term missions life, the absolute first thing you should do is talk with your local church leadership about what they think concerning that. If they say, “We’re sorry – we only do local outreach” you have a challenge ahead, but I would advise you to take the challenge on rather than bail immediately. This church knows you. They will be the best support for you. It takes years to develop deep relationships in other locations, deep enough to support sending you off with finances and spiritual resources. See your first mission field as trying to help your local church to catch a global vision and for you to be their first global worker!