So, you’ve finally done it. You stepped out into the Great Wide Unknown and experienced another culture, saw another way of life. And your life is forever changed—but what now?
This is where most people fail and get frustrated, where they fall apart and check out. Why? Because most people have the wrong expectations when they come back from a life-changing experience like a mission trip, and they don’t know how to translate the urgency of “mission” into everyday life.
Here’s how you can avoid the burnout and disillusionment upon reentry—without selling out:
1. Pray. This has the potential of sounding trite and expected, but it’s still important. Overseas (or across the border or wherever you went), you were probably challenged to step out, take risks and trust. Keep doing this at home—these were good lessons to learn. Keep praying for those you served on your trip, and pray about how you can serve those around you now at home. Life is about to change as you descend from the mountaintop and maintaining open and honest communication with God is important.
2. Respect other cultures (including your own). On your trip, it was easy to show interest in native music, customs, and history—it was expected. You may have even learned a little bit of the language (if you were in another country), but now you’re going back to your boring, old homeland. What could be exotic about that? A lot, in fact. Before your trip, you may have given in to the temptation to have the misguided assumption that your culture was superior to the rest of the world; now, you might think the exact opposite. Neither are true. Treat your hometown, community, and country with the respect is deserves—just like you would a foreign country. Take time to notice all the interesting and unusual things you used to take for granted.
3. (Re)learn the language. Just like you’d learn Spanish in Mexico or Mandarin in China, it’s time to relearn your native tongue. Sure, you’ve been speaking it your whole life, but have you been paying attention to all the wonderful nuances of your native tongue? When I came back from studying abroad in Spain and spoke English for the first time in months, I had a new appreciation for the words I used to squander. It may sound silly, but realize what a gift it is to be able to communicate in a language that you understand—and use it to make a difference. Learn how to articulate the Gospel in your own language, just like you did while you were abroad in the native language.
4. Keep trying new things. Overseas, this meant eating new foods and stepping out of your personal comfort zone. It may have also meant learning the local dance or national anthem, maybe even buying a souvenir or two. You may have loved this or hated, but the point is it caused you to grow. Keep doing that when you go back home. Because the truth is there are amazing sights to see and wondrous things to experience—right in your own backyard. Take a bus tour of your city, visit a museum, take a class, check out a farmers market, enter a language exchange program. Do something different. Keep growing; you have more opportunities to do so than you realize.
5. Don’t go back to normal. When you return from a trip, you may feel “different.” Things that used to be important to you may now seem silly or trivial. You may find yourself getting annoyed with your friends or aspects of your culture. This is dangerous territory—where you may be given cause to resent those closest to you. Remember to be patient. This was part of why you went on this trip: to change. Embrace the changes God has made in your life, and honor them. There’s a reason for why you experienced why you did, and it wasn’t just so you could sulk.
Going on a mission trip will change you—if you do it right—but the real change happens when you come back home and return to normal. Take what you’ve learned and find a way to apply it where you end up, and you’ll find yourself on a new journey back at home.