I wrote the following letter to my church shortly after I got back home from an amazing trip to Guatemala, where our team had the privilege of being used by God to do amazing things and visit amazing people. Since some of what I originally wrote was directed at them, this letter has been adapted, but I thought it would be helpful for you or for the leaders in your church as we close out the summer season of mission trips. I pray these thoughts can serve you well.
Even if you’ve not been on a mission trip in a long time, or ever, I think these reflections apply to any transforming encounter with God, whether it’s a theological awakening, a powerful retreat, a life-changing time of worship, an impartation of new gifts, or even living as a missionary in your neighborhood.
This trip to Guatemala was my seventeenth mission trip. Each trip is unique, and I’ve learned to expect the unexpected. I can deal with changing schedules, lost passports, delayed flights, and getting swindled. No problema, amiga. You’d think I’d be wise about how to re-enter my daily life too, but I am not.
I get tired and really grumpy. At some point, I will cry for no reason, and out of the blue I’ll feel overwhelmed by joy as I reflect on what God let me do and see. Some of this might be due to travel, emotional exhaustion, long days, new people, and foreign languages, but I am growing confident there is more, that something inside me is crying out for change and it could be the beginning of a great renewal in my life if only I would be more attentive.
Here are three major reflections I have come to through all of my trips.
A NEW NORMAL
A mission trip serves as an opportunity to uniquely live as God designed His church to live. This means there’s an indictment on my heart when I return, no matter what happens. All of the weird stuff that happened on the mission field is actually supposed to be normal, and all of the stuff that feels so normal at home was always supposed to be really weird. Praying for random people on the street, giving all of the cash in your pocket to a stranger for food or medicine, begging the Spirit for His words in most of your conversations, and building relationships with people of another color, religion, or social group should all be normal activities.
Yet, none of this is normal to us and instead feels pretty weird. Rather, things like consumerism, vanity, selfishness, seeking power, and striving for esteem, which feel so normal, are supposed to feel pretty weird to followers of Jesus.
EXPOSED and HIDING
Mission trips have a way of exposing the best and the worst in all of us. Character weaknesses will show themselves. They might make themselves known on the trip, or perhaps they won’t bubble to the surface until after, but they will show themselves.
If you are normally lazy, there were likely several moments on your trip when you were blown away by how hard those on the mission field or on your team worked. Now that you’ve returned, you might feed this lazy bug since you have such a great excuse to lounge. This is a transforming thing to explore as a disciple of Jesus, so don’t hide. Instead, ask the Lord to lead you in a process of rehabilitating your lacking work ethic.
If you’re normally selfish, the trip might have served as a really positive way of hiding who you really are inside. You simply hid all week by pouring yourself out. It probably felt great, but if you’re truthful that wasn’t the real you. Now back home, you are feeling really needy: insisting on certain meals, begging for attention, complaining of annoying team members or physical ailments. It’s a great time to detox a bit from your own selfishness, and God is longing to walk you through it all.
If you normally pursue power or esteem, the mission trip has likely served as fuel for that fire. Everyone thought you were a rock star for going, and when you arrived on the field they were so thankful for you. And you loved it, which is the disgusting part.
Now you’re home, and no homecoming party or sign at the airport seemed to match your expectation for the hero’s welcome you’ve anticipated. A low-level depression sets in as you go through withdrawals, and you simply want to hide. You feel the discrepancy between who you were to the people last week and who you actually are to the people in your life. Again, lean into this exposing darkness in your heart, and God will show up and disciple you well.
THE MORAL COMPASS
There is a weird dynamic when you return from a trip and all of a sudden believe the whole world has somehow become more sinful than it was a week before. This thought is coupled with the idea that you have somehow become far holier in that same span of time. Despite all evidence to the contrary—and in the midst of all of the stuff percolating in your heart—you somehow find yourself as the self-proclaimed conscience for your family and friends. Listening more and speaking less will serve you really well in the days ahead.
It’s like Proverbs says, “A truly wise person uses few words; a person with understanding is even-tempered. Even fools are thought wise when they keep silent; with their mouths shut, they seem intelligent” (17:27–28 NLT). It is important to ask God to create a right spirit within you and to seek the road of humility, even more so than usual during this time.
There is a renewal waiting for you if you will only lean into the gap between who you appeared to be on your trip and who you actually are on the inside. This is time God has given you to renew your mind and accept the transforming nudges He has put in your path. God used you to do amazing things on the mission field; don’t miss out on the amazing things God wants to do in you and through you in the weeks that follow. It might sting, but the fruit will be tremendous.
NAB Vice President of Advancement
As you begin to plan any upcoming mission trips and how you can best transition into and out of the field, consider utilizing Gateway, a resource available to all NAB churches. Gateway exists to equip churches for global partnerships by helping prepare them for effective ministry based on excellent missiology. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to get more information.