Working and living alongside people in need in different parts of the world is often a life-changing experience. After returning home from a mission trip, it's common to feel a disconnect with your home culture after spending so much time accommodating to a foreign world. Maybe your heart is still with the people you helped, or maybe you're just having a tough time decompressing the experience — the sights, smells, and emotions you felt throughout the trip.
The good news is there's no reason why you would need to completely push the experience from your mind just because you've returned home. A mission trip can impact your life in many ways, and you'll most likely want to find a way to treasure your memories of the experience for years to come. Here are three easy ways to remember and celebrate your trip in the first month back home.
1. Talk About Your Trip
This almost goes without saying, as the first thing you'll most likely want to do once you arrive back home is tell your family and friends all about your experience. Describe the culture and share stories of how you learned new phrases and communicated with the people if there was a language barrier. What did you eat? How were the sleeping arrangements? If you didn't call home during the trip, you'll have plenty to share.
Once you've settled back home, consider writing down your thoughts and recording your memories. The writing process can help in the decompressing, as well as a more permanent way to store the experience. One resource worth checking into is the missionary blog, A Life Overseas: The Mission Conversation. Their "About Us" page states:
"A missionary crams a life into a suitcase and begins a journey into foreign places, both geographically and spiritually. Assaulted by cultural stress, ministry challenges, learning a new language, and the trauma of culture shock, missionaries long for community — a sense of connection. No doubt, living overseas can be brutal — on a family, on a faith, and in a soul. But, there's no doubt, too, that it can be one of the most depth-giving experiences an individual can embrace. Like all of life, though, our stories are understood best when we have a community to share them with."
The blog is a great place to read about and relate to other missionary stories, and they also accept guest writers as well, so you can share your story with a community of people who share your interests. You can always start your own blog, too, of course, for your own personal records or to reach out to fellow missionaries in your community. By sharing your stories, you could encourage others to take their next trip, or possibly even inspire people you know to become missionaries.
2. Continue to Serve
Just because you're back in your hometown doesn't mean you can't still help and serve others. It's true, many people on foreign shores need help, but people in your neighborhood are in need as well. Service is not just a one-time deal, but a lifestyle of helping those who are less fortunate. You can continue to lead a missionary lifestyle by looking for opportunities to volunteer at a soup kitchen or by organizing a donation drive for your local food pantry, just to name a few.
If you want to stay involved with global issues, try finding a refugee service center in your area. Most states in the U.S. have their own refugee centers. If you're itching to pack your suitcases and head out to another foreign destination to provide help, there are several websites that can help you set up a new mission trip, such as:
- Adventures in Missions - An interdenominational missions organization that focuses on discipleship, Adventures in Missions emphazies prayer and relationships in their work amongst the poor. Their website provides resources in finding your next mission trip, blogs written by other missionaries, and a way to donate to many different mission projects.
- OM Mission Trips - Operation Mobilisation works in over 110 countries, motivating and equipping people to share God's love with people all over the world. OM seeks to help plant and strengthen churches, and offer both short-term adventures and longer-term mission opportunities where you can use your professional skills to help others.
- VolunteerMatch.org - Another way to find missions and other volunteer opportunities, VolunteerMatch takes into consideration your passions and interests when matching you up with an opportunity to help. You can also read more about the many volunteer organizations in your community on their site, as well as the stories of others who have found meaningful ways to give back.
3. Keep in Touch
The power of technology unites us in ways that were unthinkable even a decade ago. Keeping in touch with the people who were a part of your missionary work can help you keep the spirit of helping alive. The people who shared the same experiences with you will also be a great resource for the decompressing process.
Before you leave, get the email addresses, or possibly cell phone numbers if they have them, of the local missionaries you worked with throughout your trip. The missionary will be able to relay your messages to the people you helped and met during your trip, who will no doubt enjoy hearing from you. If email is not an option, good ol' snail mail can get the job done as well, and you just might receive a reply.
Be aware, however, of missionaries serving in "closed countries." New communication techniques such as email and text messaging can become security concerns in restricted access countries where many missionaries travel. If you served in that country, you'll most likely already be familiar with the security measures that are in place, but it doesn't hurt to double check before attempting to communicate.
This video from The Returned Missionary features other former missionaries who have additional pieces of advice and ways to keep the missionary spirit alive after returning home.