For our team, it had been—quite literally—a mountaintop experience. We had enjoyed a week of medical missions together on a mountain in Central America. God had welcomed 137 new believers into his family and provided healing for many others through our very humble efforts.
But as I stared out the window on the plane ride home, I began to feel uneasy. How could we—how could I—take what God had invested in us during our trip and continue to live that out back home? How could we apply it in our real, busy, and broken everyday lives where we so often just survive?
There’s no easy answer, but here are seven ideas that have been helpful to me that may be helpful to others returning from a short-term missions trip.
Expect Some Setbacks and Failures
Short-term trips take us out of our comfort zones, and while we are there outside the norm, we often experience a spiritual growth spurt. We learn new ways to rely on God and engage with people. But when we return, as fallen sinners it’s natural to slide back into patterns of self-reliance or simply become overwhelmed.
Recognizing and turning from unhealthy pre-trip patterns is a sign of God’s grace, but we need to have reasonable expectations for ourselves when we return. If we don’t, we may despair and fall back into doing nothing at all once we fail to integrate our new spiritual lessons into everyday life.
Prayerfully Reflect on What You Learned
Think through some specific things that God showed you about himself, about your host culture, about your home culture, and about yourself. Perhaps you observed a particular injustice that grieved you. God sometimes lets us see the world’s brokenness for the simple reason that we will become part of the solution. Ask God to “give you understanding in everything” (1 Tim. 2:7 ESV). Pray, raise awareness, and continually have honest conversations with the Lord about what you’ve experienced and learned.
After Jesus sent out a large short-term team (seventy-two people), they returned with joy and told him enthusiastically how even the demons obeyed them in his name (Luke 10:1, 17). Other trips in Scripture did not go as well, like Moses’s interactions with the Israelites in the desert (Num. 11:10–23). But awesome or awful, God wants to relate to us about the short-term trips we took. After all, through them we are further conformed into the image of Christ.
Set a Goal or Application Based on What You Learn
Setting a goal is one way to “not [only] love in word or talk but [also] in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18 ESV). For example, I know I need to work on my Spanish and that simply continuing with free online apps isn’t enough. I need to diligently seek direction from God in order to figure out what it means to pursue that practically and wisely (using the SMART goal format may be helpful).
Take an Interest in Others Rather Than Focusing on Yourself
After returning from a trip, you’re naturally excited and want to tell others about everything you experienced. And there’s certainly a place to tell others about God’s awesome works (Ps. 105:2). But also be willing to “look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4 ESV). A friend of mine, for instance, said that he often waits a day or two after a trip before sharing much with his wife because she’s exhausted from holding down the fort in his absence.
When people first see you after your return, assume they’re going to ask how your trip went. Some will ask to be polite, while others will genuinely want to know more. To serve others and honor God for what he did, sketch out a few good responses to this question that are appropriate to likely “audiences” before you return.
There’s a place to tell others about God’s awesome works (Ps. 105:2).
Pray for Your Host Country, Partners, and Teammates
God invites us to continue deepening the trust in him we cultivated on the field through growth in prayer at home. And through our prayers, God is “able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us” (Eph. 3:20 ESV). Praying for the people and country you visited is also a great way to keep your entire family involved.
Stand in Awe of God and His Heart for the Nations
Ultimately, our short-term trips are all about God. Although “all the nations are as nothing before him” (Isa. 40:17 ESV), “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14 ESV). What an utterly amazing privilege that God has included us in his eternal plans for his world. Taking a moment to acknowledge that reality glorifies God and is good for us.
So Now What?
It’s easy to look at a list like this and feel guilty or overwhelmed. But those feelings are not from the Lord, whose Spirit fills us with joy and peace (Gal. 5:22). With God’s help and a little effort, a short-term trip can impact us and those around us for the rest of our lives. Ask God to help you think of at least one small step you can start taking today so that his work in you will continue now that you’re back.
Bryan Stoudt is a pastor serving healthcare students and professionals as area director for Christian Medical & Dental Associations in Philadelphia, where a large percentage of the nation’s physicians come to train. After Jesus, his passions include his beautiful wife, Sharon, and their four children, as well as coffee and running. He writes at bryanstoudt.com and loves to connect with readers online through Twitter and Facebook.