2 Things to Expect (from yourself!)
When You Return from A Mission Trip
"I'm too fat for a mission trip!" It came from a former student who felt guilty about ministering to an impoverished country due to her weight. She had seen poverty like she had never imagined.
You can’t believe it’s over. After months of preparation and prayer, the trip is now a memory, a brief flash before your eyes. Whether you are returning alone or surrounded by Christian comrades, there is no escaping a sense of loss. The lump in your throat or thumping in your chest verifying what you could before only guess at:
There really is something more than life in your first world country, and you finally experienced it.
You are now also experiencing what I call PHD, or Post-Hiatus Depression (a term inspired by one of my former students). You have been away from work, school, and all of your household and typical family duties. There were very few “normal” responsibilities because you were placed under unusual circumstances. It was a service to someone else, but it changed your life as well.
Many short-termers experience some serious PHD upon their return to everyday life. This response is natural. Each person undergoes something unique on a short-term trip, and reentry is often the most difficult part, both personally and corporately.
Sometimes, upon arriving home, new missionaries become harsh critics of their native land.
I know some who really struggle with resentment toward the their home country, especially in a "first-world" culture. This sentiment of disapproval is typically generated by one of two things:
This emotion stems from guilt over all that you have in comparison to the people in the land you visited. You may feel guilty that there is so much affluence when you’ve just seen children living in abject poverty.
People react to guilt in different ways. However, most of these ways are counterproductive to helping the situation. Here are some examples: Dan, a college student, came home and impulsively made some grandiose financial sacrifices that he couldn’t afford. It would have made more sense for Dan to cautiously rethink how and on what he was spending his money, and then make some changes here and there. Upon his arrival home, Jerry wanted so desperately to return to his mission point and “better the world” that he did so immediately, without taking the time to process the decision, evaluate the situation, or find out where and if he was needed (not to mention get more training!).
Feeling convicted about the circumstances from which they had just returned, the Rochelle family removed the air-conditioning unit from their home. A more practical decision might have been for them to cut down on its use and put the money they saved toward missions.
Stacy vowed never to frequent a McDonald’s again. Perhaps she could have asked her friends to collect Happy Meal toys for homeless children instead. Long-term missionary Kim Wirgau recently told me,“Most people become hypercritical of the States after an experience like this. I actually like it when the groups that come here say they can’t wait to get back to air conditioning and fast food. It shows they know
who they are, at least! Reality for them is fast food; it doesn’t hurt to admit it!”
This happens when you experience a way of doing things that you happen to like better than the way your homeland does them. You become agitated when things don’t change in your own country. Both of these reactions are common and okay. But like anything, it is important to put them in context rather than allow them to negatively affect your relationships or your worldview.
Since you spent only a short time in your host culture, it is easy to see the good things that your host country had to offer—and it may be difficult to remain patient with the your country's way of life. Keep in mind that when someone is so enamored with a new perspective that they don’t see any serious problems (“Everyone must be this way over here”), that person has just gone on a mission trip to Dream Land.
"Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies." -Philippians 4:8-9
During this time you have been in close proximity to new friends and, as difficult as it may be to admit, a temporary and artificial environment. Yes, it was a very intense experience, and you see yourself differently from before. This “knight in shining armor” role is invigorating, but it may lead to an enormous letdown when you return to the same life you were leading before the trip.
So you don’t have to compare yourself to the world or worry about body image or anything inherently cultural in your home country. Just be Jesus. That's all the Father expects and hopes for from you.