Your passport is stamped back into the United States. The trip is over. Your smartphone has no space on it from all of the pictures, and you have a sense of satisfaction and joy that God would give you the opportunity to serve cross-culturally. On top of that, you’re tired, but it is a good kind of tired.
Mission trips are exhilarating experiences. Not only do we get to travel to exotic places, see landscapes that don’t exist in the USA, learn about cultures that differ dramatically from our own, but we get to do all of it while serving and participating in God’s mission.
For many people, mission trips have marked their current walk with God, and have provided them with monumental moments in their faith.
At the same time, after a few months or weeks many of us have largely forgotten the short-term experience. The day-to-day grind is back and we long to experience the closeness with God that seemed to be so visceral while traveling and serving. We may go back and look at pictures of the mission trip or start planning our next short-term service project.
If we aren’t careful, we can reduce a short-term mission experience down to a quick shot of spiritual adrenaline for our currently dormant walk with God.
So, what can we do after the mission trip to get the most out of your experience?
God uses big moments in our lives to teach us things. These “mountain-top” experiences are a part of our walk with God. It is healthy and good to celebrate these experiences.
At the same time, we have to face our Christian life realistically. God has not designed our walk with Him to be a constant barrage of mountain-top after mountain-top. We should celebrate those mountain-top experiences while at the same time being reminded that a lot of the Christian life is spent walking up the mountain and then walking back down the other side.
As someone who works full-time in cross-cultural missions, I can tell you that we survive off of prayer. At times it can feel like we are really on people’s minds while they are in country with us, and they forget about us the moment the board the plane back home.
Don’t forget about the people who are on the ground. Pray for us. Ask us how we are doing. Read our correspondence and interact with what we are doing. These are extremely tangible ways in which you can continue to serve cross-cultural missions in the midst of the day-to-day grind.
It is good to objectively analyze and evaluate your mission trip. Our mission trip experiences are more than experiences. We must remember that we are dealing with real people in real situations. Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert wrote an excellent book titled When Helping Hurts, and they say, “Do not do things for people that they can do for themselves.”
Picking up a book like When Helping Hurts can be a helpful way to evaluate the methods that were used on your short-term mission trip. Don’t be too judgmental, but it is good to educate yourself so that you can ask questions in preparation for your next trip.
Part of what is interesting about visiting another country is learning its culture. Most of us hear about the challenges to the gospel, the patterns of thought, the idols and religious practices that exist in the country we are visiting.
Many people arrive back from a mission trip thinking deeply about another culture but do little reflection about their own culture. Mission trips provide us with the tools necessary to evaluate culture. If you just got back from your mission trip, look at your own culture evaluating the patterns of thought, the idols that are present, and the challenges and obstacles to sharing the gospel. This will make you more effective in the final point.
5. Remain active
Finally, and most important, remain active in God’s mission. If you can travel across the globe to share the gospel, you can certainly cross the street to share the gospel. Seeking opportunities to serve cross-culturally is important. But the main place where God has called you to serve is where He has placed you. Remain active in God’s mission, whether it is serving with a local organization, sharing your faith with your neighbor, participating in your local church.
Now that you’re back from your mission trip, don’t forget about your mission trip, but also don’t idolize it. Celebrate it, pray for those who remained, evaluate your trip, apply what you’re learned, and remain active in God’s mission.