Every summer, tens of thousands of Americans (probably more!) go on short-term missions trips either within the United States or abroad. Perhaps you are one of those who have been fortunate enough to go on one of these trips this summer and I hope that you have found that the Lord has changed you in some way because of the experience.
But now that you are back home, what can you do to make the most of your trip? In other words, if God has used this trip to grow and transform you, what can you do to further nurture this new growth, rather than allow it fade as time passes?
Below are a few suggestions to help you to make the most of your short-term mission trip now that you are home.
Write it down. Take some time to reflect on the trip and to write down your experiences, thoughts, and feelings. Write down the things that particularly impacted you, both good and bad, as well as things you feel like the Lord put on your heart. Why write it all down? As time passes, your memories and feelings about the trip will change or become less vibrant as you re-engage in “normal” life. Writing about your experiences will help capture your initial thoughts and feelings and, as you read it down the road, remind you of things the Lord has showed you. If you need help getting started, check out the free Go Journal.
Share about your experience with others. When you come back you will be brimming with stories and wanting to share all about your trip with everyone you meet. Sharing how you saw God at work and how God was at work in you is one of the privileges and responsibilities of missions. Other believers can be encouraged and challenged by your experiences so please share. However, don’t be discouraged if those you share with don’t share your level or enthusiasm or interest. Give them grace, they have not experienced what you have so it will be hard for them to fully understand. Even so, find ways to use your experience to encourage and challenge others. And perhaps in the future you will be more sympathetic when others try to share with you about their experiences.
Don’t be over critical of your home culture. A short-term mission trip, particularly one abroad, will open your eyes to other cultures, standards of living, and expressions of faith. It is easy, and to some extent natural to make comparisons between your host and home cultures. You may experience things that seem better than your home culture or even things that make you feel ashamed of your home culture or your home church. While these mental comparisons are inevitable, being overly critical of your home culture and especially your home church is rarely a good idea. If you goal is to see others transformed by the Holy Spirit and to have others around understand the differences you have observed, these observations need to be shared with wisdom and grace.
Keep growing your knowledge. If the Lord has given you a new heart for a particular country, people group or type of mission work, seek out opportunities and resources to learn more about them. This will help fan the flame of interest that came from your trip and will help make you a better-informed advocate for missions in general but also for the country or people group. Some great resources for exploring countries and people groups are Operation World and the Joshua Project. Taking the Perspectives course is also an excellent way to learn more about missions.
Find opportunities to serve. If you have returned from your trip excited about what the Lord is doing and fired up from being a part of it, find opportunities at home to continue serving those around you. Find a ministry at your church or in your community to help with. Joining the Lord should not be limited to special mission trips, there are needs in your community and church and you can be a part of what God is doing here at home.
Find other missions-minded people to hang out with. If you want to keep your passion and interest in mission alive, find others who share that passion and spend time with them. You will encourage each other and help hold each other accountable for the burdens that the Lord has put on your heart.
Encourage others to go on a short-term trip. If the Lord has used your short-term mission experience to change you, then encourage others to go on their own trip so that they can also be transformed. Research suggests that only a quarter of evangelical Christians have gone on a short-term mission trip. If these trips are transforming the faith of believers then we should be encouraging more to take part.
I hope these suggestions are helpful. You have had a wonderful privilege to have experienced God at work in a new and different context. Don’t let your enthusiasm and passion and the things the Lord has showed you wither with time. Find ways to keep growing in your faith and putting into practice the things the Lord has put on your heart!