3 Ways to Process Your Mission Trip
My strongest memory of my many trips to Honduras is the way the humidity slaps me in the face like a sarcastic “welcome back” every time I step off the plane. I love it! It is a refreshing reminder of my second home.
Earlier we talked about perspective changes and challenges to our personal worldview. If it hasn’t hit you yet, it will. Wait for it. It usually screams at me on the seven-lane paved interstates of Atlanta or when I stop by the Burger King and notice it is not guarded by a guy with an Uzi. There’s a big difference between here and there. And now there’s a big difference in you too.
Embrace it. Find a way to turn your revised worldview into a positive experience that you can share with others as you see what God is doing all around the world through different cultures and different peoples. You were part of that for a time. Now it is part of you.
You are not the first person to have been moved by what you saw. Millions have gone before you, and many share your perspective. You are not alone in your desire to change the world. Join with others in this pursuit.
During the time of your mission trip, you were 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. In case you are feeling that way, here are two important things to keep in mind:
1. Be aware that the trip has reformatted your perspective.
You may feel a greater capacity for personal improvement, cross-cultural communication, and the ability to integrate these observations into your everyday life. You may lose perspective for a while, see life in your old home as trivial, perhaps clash with others who don’t share your outlook.
Allow yourself ample time to process your feelings. Eventually you will develop an understanding of what happened to you during the past few days or weeks.
Share What You Learned
No one can understand your experience better than a fellow short-termer, someone who has traveled to the same place, or even just another person with a passion for missions.
Besides your parents, however, the aforementioned folks might be the only people who will actually want to sit down with your photo album and listen to your stories. Bottom line, most people just want to know that you had a good trip. Some may not be as interested as you’d expect, even if they gave you money.
2. Give your own country a break.
There is no need to apologize for your homeland’s way of life. Like it or not, it is part of what shaped you as a human being. If there is something you don’t like, first seek transformation of yourself; then, as you see ways to influence your community, participate.
What I’m Saying Is ...Be Ready for Anything
You know, they didn’t go with you; they don’t get it. But that doesn’t make them shallow or insensitive. And it shouldn’t make you holier-than-thou, either. It just means they didn’t share the same experience. Would you really be that interested in what they did last week?
Yes, you can share your new perspective with everyone, but it may not be how you think. It is not just about telling what happened; it is about becoming something new. You just lived a parable. You have come to understand at least one of the stages a long-term missionary goes through—that “honeymoon” stage in which everything is new and exciting. You have had an effect on those missionaries and the indigenous leaders. You have “done a 180” in your perception of other cultures.
So how do you share this new you with your family and friends? Wait until people ask you questions and show interest before you start talking.Many people either close down or are in awe and don’t ask; others simply can’t imagine what it’s like, and so they try to equate your experience with theirs in the States and ultimately don’t seem to hear you. Again, exercise patience.
Okay, so you probably know yourself well enough to determine whether you are going to be an emotional basket case when you return. You have a newly realized, acute awareness that North America is no longer your home.You have left good friends behind, and when you think of their plight you may cry and grieve the distance.
But you will also come to grips with the fact that you are in an eternal relationship with people and would never just say, “Oh, at one time that was a part of my life, some idealistic pragmatic church growth humanitarian thing . . .” NO! You are in eternal community and love your new brothers and sisters. You will always pray for them, you will continue to write them, and hopefully
you’ll be able to make a return visit.
3. Be an Ambassador
You still identify with your homeland, but you have now developed another sense of who you are. It has possibly accelerated the process that we all go through as Christians (and as humans)—that is, realizing where our true sense of place, of home, is.
You are not just an ambassador of your home country. You are an ambassador of the kingdom of God. You took into another culture the traditions of Christianity, which goes against the grain in many countries. You represented not only the kingdom, but also its King.
The Story of Babel Still Rings True
“If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” (Genesis 11:6–7, NIV)
In many mission situations the comment is made, “We all speak a different language, but share the same God.” Or, "One day we will all sing and praise Him in the same language.”
Yes, it is a sweet thing to know that God is above culture, and a sweeter thing still to know that one day we will all speak the same language. There will be no miscommunication, no cultural barriers, no preformed ideas, and no ethnocentrism. More important, one day there will be no pride. According to Genesis, pride got us into that mess. According to Jesus, only humility will get us out. There are many different languages and cultures in the world, and you as a short-term missionary just attempted to break the barrier put in place by Babel for the sake of the gospel. You sacrificed time, comfort, and your life on “foreign soil” to follow the Great Commission.
But the Great Commission is not short-term! That commission was a call to follow the example set by Peter, who offered a beggar not just a handout, but also the chance to be healed and to worship God (see Acts 3:1–10).
Peter said, “I don’t have a nickel to my name, but what I do have, I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk!” He grabbed him by the right hand and pulled him up. In an instant his feet and ankles became firm. He jumped to his feet and walked.
You’re home. It is time to walk with peace in your heart and a revised, refreshed, even rocked understanding.As my longtime missionary friend Glenn Robb likes to say, “You did not just become a missionary by crossing the seas, but by seeing the cross.”May the high place of the cross give you perspective, confirm your purpose, and help you bring the true gospel of peace to your new friends in a different culture. May you “be the miracle.”
And may the Lord bless you and keep you. I leave you with this thought today, sung by kids as our supporting congregation waved goodbye to my parent on their way to New Zealand.
“So when I am big and grown up to New Zealand I will go,
or some other land where people have not heard and do not know
that Jesus bled and died for them because He loved them so . . .”
O for a faith that will not shrink.