Yesterday I returned from what I think was my seventeenth mission trip. Read on, it’s not as spiritual or impressive as you might think. I’ve been on mission trips in several American inner cities, Mormon headquarters, Paraguay, Mexico and Guatemala. Each trip is unique and I’ve learned to expect the unexpected while “on the field.” I can deal with changing schedules, lost passports, delayed flights and getting swindled.
No problema, amigo.
So you’d think by now I’d have the “re-entry” game figured out too, but I don’t. I really, really don’t. I am tired and grumpy, really grumpy. Additionally, at some point today or tomorrow I will cry for no reason – I hate crying for no reason. Then out of the blue I’ll feel overwhelming joy as I reflect on what God let me do and see. Sure some of this re-entry difficulty might be from the travel, emotional exhaustion, long days, new people and foreign languages. But I am growing confident there is more to this, there is something inside me crying out for change and if I will be attentive it could be the beginning of a great renewal in my life.
So I’ve spent the morning thinking about this and below are my rambling thoughts and insights. They are in no way complete or comprehensive. They are really just designed to serve my friends, Beth and Sean, who I travelled with to Guatemala this past week and the others who will go with us in future trips. I share my thoughts here hoping they will serve you as well in returning from your next missions experience.
First, maybe you’re thinking, “I’ve not been on a mission trip in a long time or even ever.” keep reading. I think these reflections apply to you in every aspect of a transforming encounter with God. Whether it’s a theological awakening, a powerful retreat, a life-changing time in worship, impartation of new gifts or even living as a missionary in your neighborhood; these realities will be your experience too. This leads me to my first of three major reflections on re-entry…
A new normal.
Here’s the thing, a mission trip serves as an opportunity to uniquelly live as God designed his church to live normally. So first of all, there’s an indictment on my heart when I return no matter what. All the weird stuff that happened on the mission field, is actually supposed to be normal. And all the stuff that feels so normal at home, was always supposed to be really weird.
- Praying for random people on the street, normal.
- Giving all the cash in your pocket to a stranger for food or medicine, normal.
- Begging the Spirit for His words in most conversations, normal.
- Building relationship with people of another color, religion or social group….normal.
But it’s not. It’s not normal at all, in fact most of that is pretty weird. And stuff like consumerism, vanity, selfishness, seeking power, striving for esteem – these things are supposed to feel pretty weird for followers of Jesus.
You just got exposed for a week, now all you want to do is hide.
Mission trips have a way of exposing the best and the worst in a person. The areas of character weakness in you will show themselves, they might be clear ON the trip, or perhaps they won’t bubble to the surface until AFTER the trip. But they will show themselves, and take my word for it, it stings.
If you are lazy normally, there were likely several moments on your trip when you were blown away by how hard people on the field or in your team worked. “Man, these people work hard,” you thought privately. You probably wanted to hide when there was work to be done on your trip. You might have even justified why you shouldn’t be doing their same level of work. In fact, your first few days back might actually even feed this lazy-bug in you since you have a great excuse to lounge. This is a transforming thing to explore as a disciple of Jesus, so don’t hide. Instead ask the Lord to lead you in a process of rehabbing your lacking work ethic.
What about MY needs?
If you’re selfish normally, the trip might have served as a really positive way of hiding who you really are inside. You simply hid all week by pouring yourself out. It probably felt great, but if you’re truthful with yourself and others, that wasn’t the real you. Now you’re back home and you are feeling REALLY needy: Demanding your way, insisting on certain meals, begging for attention, complaining of physical ailments or annoying team members. It’s a great time to detox a bit from your own selfishness and God is longing to walk you through it all.
If you pursue power and/or esteem normally, the missions trip – or seventeen to be exact – has likely served as fuel for that fire. Everyone thought you were a rockstar for going and when you arrived on the field they were so thankful for you. Maybe they even handed you a mic and offered applause in gatherings for your willingness to come and serve.
ugh, it’s gross how much you loved it all, right?
Now you’re home and no homecoming party or sign at the airport seemed to match your expectation for a the Heroes Welcome you’ve anticipated. You find yourself thinking, “Why don’t my family and friends see how great I am?” A low-level depression sets in as you go through power/esteem withdrawals and you simply want to hide. You feel the discrepancy between who you were to the people last week and who you actually are to the people in your life. Again, if you lean into this exposing darkness in your heart God will show up and disciple you well.
One week away, now YOU are the moral compass.
“How dare they buy that when kids are starving…” and “What is she thinking, caring about THAT?”
You justify these indictments in your own mind as insightful or maybe even prophetic. But in all likelihood it’s just self-righteousness finding a root in your life after the trip. This is a weird thing for people returning from trips, they…you…and yes, ME, all of sudden believe the whole world has somehow become more sinful than it was seven days ago and we have somehow become far holier in that same span of time.
Despite all evidence to the contrary and the stuff going on in your heart, which we discussed above, you somehow find yourself as the self-proclaimed conscience for family and friends. Listening more and speaking less will serve you REALLY well in the hours and days ahead. It’s like that verse from Proverbs, remain silent and be thought of as a fool, speak up and remove all doubt. Your best contribution in these days is to ask God to create a right spirit within you and seek the road of humility.
Yes, there are moments of detox and rehab that will present themselves to you today and in the days and weeks to come. However, there is also renewal waiting for you if you will lean into the gap between who you appeared to be this last week and who you actually are on the inside. If you are anything like me, you probably just want to hide today. It’s part of why you want to sleep all day, eat too much or slip into chronic sins of escape today. It’s weird, but you might actually feel MORE sinful after your trip than you did before.
All of this provides opportunity for the renewing of your mind and the transforming nudges God has put in your path. You did amazing things for God this past week, yes. Don’t miss out on the amazing things God wants to do for you in the weeks that follow. They will sting a bit, but the fruit they bear will be tremendous.