Mission trip re-entry

Coming home from a short-term mission trip?

"He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" -- Philippians 1:6.

Good trip followup (debriefing during the trip and upon reentry) enables participants to cement life changes as well as nourishing their ongoing growth and sharpening commitment to Christ and His vision for the world.

The effects of reentry stress often include:

During and after a short-term mission trip, leaders will often "debrief" participants. Debriefing is a primary strategy used to decrease the negative effects of being out of one's comfort zone as well as helping people incorporate long-term positive changes in attitude and even lifestyle. In a "debriefing" a leader reviews the purposes of the the mission trip, encourages the participant to ask questions about the experiences, and allows the leader to address any unresolved issues that have resulted from the mission trip. Mission trip participants need to understand that the host of reactions they are experiencing are normal. The participants as well as family and friends need to understand that one good way for people to process what happened to them is to tell and re-tell their mission trip stories.

Good debriefing and re-entry preparation will ensure that mission trip participants understand that a short-term mission experience is not just a dot on the timeline of someone's life. a self-contained event in one's life. Rather than being a self-contained event, mission trip participants must see how that trip fits into their life-long discipleship journey.

Case study: Coming home from Poland

Reflecting on this case study may help you survive the re-entry. Or, if you have friends coming home from a trip, it may help you do some quality debriefing with them.

Originally written by Angel Leigh Grant, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA

I had expected my short term mission experience in a European country like Poland to be wonderful; and it was! Going on that trip was one of the best things I have ever done. What I did not expect, however, was the enormous difficulty I had re-adjusting to life on a university campus in my home country.

I spent five weeks in Poland as part of an InterVarsity short term missions program. Three of those weeks were in Wisla, a wonderful small mountain town near the Czech border. In Poland our “cultural exchange camp” included thirty Polish university students, none of whom were evangelicals. They seemed excited about the chance to study English with native speakers and to learn about us.

Each of the Americans had two or three Polish roommates. Almost immediately, several began asking questions about how we believed and practiced our Christian faith. Many were fascinated by the worship times to which we invited them on Sunday nights. They often wanted to continue praising God after our worship had officially ended. They even initiated some impromptu worship on other nights of the week!

“I am intrigued by you Americans,” my Polish roommate Anna told me. "There's something special about your faith. I can feel it when you are singing."

Several small group Bible studies started up as well while we were in Poland. “My Polish roommates were the ones who initiated the Bible study,” said Jeanna Leigh Allen, my American prayer partner during the trip. “I don't know about at your school, but at UMPI [University of Maine at Presque Isle], no one would ever say to me, Hey, do you want to get together and read the Bible?

"I was floored by what God did there," another North American teammate, Amy Sparks, a senior at Milligan College in Tennessee, said to me. “I did not know the Poles would be so eager to openly talk about spiritual things.”

That openness of the Polish students made returning to an American campus difficult for me. Back at my school, everyone — me included — seems to have an extremely busy agenda. No one takes the time to just sit and talk like we often did in Wisla.

As classes back in the USA got underway, I found myself wondering if I was selfish because of all the time I spent sitting in classes. It felt as if I was studying just for my own sake. I questioned if the path I was on was going to benefit anyone else. I wanted to be back in Wisla with the teammates I had grown to love dearly. I wanted to be back in Poland talking about God's love with people who seemed sincerely interested in knowing Him.

When I returned to the States, I experienced reverse culture shock. Almost everything I saw reminded me of something in Poland. I needed to talk about my experience, but I didn't feel other Americans could understand because they hadn't been there. I feared that people were tired of hearing me talk about my trip.

I came home wanting God to do wonderful things on my campus. Still, for some reason I was reluctant to throw myself into any campus group. Leaving Poland was hard. The truth is, I hadn't wanted to return to the USA at all.

In Poland, I saw God's Holy Spirit work in ways I'd never seen before. Back home in my everyday routine, that was not the case. For one thing, Entire days now pass at the university without my talking to God. In Poland, the ways I saw God at work drove me to my knees multiple times each day. The differences between what I experienced in Poland and what I experience on an American university campus have caused me to struggle in my relationship with God.

Talking to my teammates from the trip to Poland helped in the readjustment process. As we came back to the States, we all felt that we had changed somehow. We were not the same people who had left our home country. I discovered that we all had experienced similar conflicting emotions and re-entry difficulties.

Time and prayer have helped me to re-enter life at school. Still, I wonder if there were things I could done to better prepare myself for what turned out to be a bumpy re-entry. Are there things in that re-entry period that I should have approached differently? How can I use my summer experience to be even more effective as a witness on my campus and as an encouragement to other believers?

First published in Student Leadership Journal © InterVarsity Fellowship. Adapted and used by permission.

What do you struggle with? Jill Fischer, summer study abroad coordinator at Northwestern College (Orange City, Iowa) has identified five issues that students at her school struggle with as they return home from extended mission trips:
  1. Attitudes toward wealth, consumption and stewardship
  2. Gender roles in other parts of the world
  3. The ways our individual choices as well as the policies of our government affect the world
  4. Christianity in other cultures and around the world
  5. Issues of justice, including what it means to "pursue justice" as a Christian

"I will never be the same again"

Tears streamed down my face. It was a Sunday morning in early June and I was sitting in a Sunday morning service in Pasadena First Church of the Nazarene. The next morning those young people who filled the sanctuary choir loft would be heading out around the world in small groups for eight weeks of short-term mission assignments.

One fourth of those Nazarene university students in that choir loft were from Southern Nazarene University where I taught missions and helped oversee short-term mission trip teams. At that moment I was listening to them sing Geoff Bullock's song "I will never be the same again."

I knew they wouldn't be the same again and that's one of the reasons I wept that morning. I knew those young people standing there singing, "Burn away the chaff . . . Whatever you need to do Lord, do in me," would come back radically changed from their eight weeks of cross-cultural ministry.

I knew that some of those young people's close friends would be mystified and maybe even turned off by the changes which were about to occur in them.

I knew some parents would wonder what had happened to their offspring who stood before me singing: "I will walk the path, I'll run the race, and I will never be the same again."

So, that morning I wept both for joy at seeing their dedication and excitement as well as for sadness at the bewilderment that lay ahead in their re-entry paths at the end of the summer.

    -- Howard Culbertson

"My brother-in-law recently went on a mission trip to India. He actually had a very hard time adjusting back to 'American culture.' I remember him telling us that he was dismayed on how Americans are so different and really focus on the most insignificant things. I think his biggest complaint was how 'spoiled' my kids were. :) ." -- Melina H., Northwest Nazarene University student

"I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers." -- Philemon 1:14

Reentry from Bulgaria

NextA volunteer's reflections on reentry after a year in Bulgaria [ more


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