Thursday, October 08, 2015

Short Term Mission... Solving the Riddle of Your Return Home

Its been more than three months.

In that time youve prayed like never before. Clearly you understood that God was calling you to join the short-term mission team your church was sponsoring. As you thought about that, you became convinced that in order to present yourself holy and pleasing to God, you had to make some changes in your life, both public and private.

In addition to prayer, you attended every pre-trip training meeting and have even been doing a daily bible devotional so youll be ready once you get to the field.

Your fundraising went well and you were able to raise over and above your goal, helping others on the team get over the hump. Once you arrived on the field, everyday seemed so vital. If you were not sharing Christ directly with your words, you were serving others in his name, a visible witness to the loving and transforming character of Jesus.

Each day seemed to show a new level of the depth of Jesus as you poured yourself into his mission 24/7. You had never experienced anything like this in your faith walk before. You were alive in Christ, living each moment for him. It was challenging, stretching and frightening, all at once.

And then the dreaded day came the end of your mission. You found yourself at the airport with the rest of your team and thats when you started to notice it. Looking around, with the trip in your rearview mirror, the team started to change. Incredibly, before even getting on the plane, many had already returned home.

Instead of the simple cup of tea your hosts made for you each morning, everyone now needed a Caramel Frappucino from Starbucks. No one even noticed that most of the drinks at that coffee house cost more than a days wages of the people you were serving. No longer was the team looking for ways to build each other up. Making fun of the way people looked as they traversed the airport was way easier. And a lot more fun.

When you arrived home the first place you went was to the bathroom. Your bathroom. You had never dreamed that the simple task of flushing paper could bring such great joy, but it did. Next was the shower, and gallons upon gallons of hot steamy water. You werent aware of it at the time, but you were washing your mission experience right off of you and down the drain.

The next day you and the team shared at church. Each team member brought up a moment when they felt uniquely connected to God and the people you went to serve. The pastor asked about future plans and most of you said you were already making plans to return, praying daily for your new friends on the other side of the globe and sharing Christ more in your home circle of friends.

And then it was over.

You went back to school, work, or the challenges of daily life. The remote control seemed like it was calling your name the moment you walked in the house. Texts from your friends started filling your phone almost immediately and when you opened your email for the first time in over a week, you had almost 800 messages waiting.

"Coming home from your STM without a clear plan in place to consider and apply the lessons of that mission is a recipe for disaster, one countless people and groups serve up every year."

Soon not only were you not reading your bible, you werent even praying. Life had crowded out your mission, making it indeed a short-term experience. You felt like a failure, to yourself, your friends and perhaps most, to God.

Relax, youre not alone.

Youre not evil and you are definitely not a failure. You are like thousands of other people who have gone on short-term mission. You were incredibly impacted by God, but now back home no one seems to understand what you went through. You are struggling to keep your mission game face on as you navigate a world that seems designed not to encourage faith, but to push you everyday into a more self absorbed individuality apart from God.

So what should you do? The answer lies not so much in what you should do, but in what you should have done.

Ive found in over 25 years of receiving short-term mission teams that the single most important part of mission prep is not getting ready for the trip. Its getting prepared to come home. If leaders and participants are not preparing for the reality of reentry and the impending faith challenges back home, short-term mission participants will continue to struggle when they come home.

Coming home from your STM without a clear plan in place to consider and apply the lessons of that mission is a recipe for disaster, one countless people and groups serve up every year.

So, what should you do? Here are three simple steps to help you cement the faith and life lessons you learned on the field.

Set aside time for reflection. This seems so basic, but it is often overlooked. On mission, every day you were intimately connected to God, and you also should be when you get home. Pray and spend time doing nothing except listening to Him, seeking wisdom for your life in light of your mission experiences. As on the field, make Him a priority.

Dont go it alone. Proverbs 12:15 says The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice. In business we call this taking a partner. Get a trusted elder, pastor, leader or friend to walk with you on your return. Often they can help you better navigate the feelings, struggles and difficulties of coming home and understanding Gods will.

Get involved. Find a local ministry where you can serve others as you did on the field. God does something in us when we serve. We should do it at home with as much excitement as we do on the field.

Three simple steps. But they come with a caveat.

Youve got to plan them ahead of time. Completely. Set dates, times and appointments with people before you even leave on mission. Otherwise, youll be like so many others when they return wondering why just a few weeks ago God was so close to you, but now seems so incredibly distant.