Processing the Short Term Experience

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By Tory Ruark

Normally I write an article to short-term mission (STM) participants or pastors. This one is going to be different. This one should be SENT to anyone who had a friend or family member go on a short-term mission trip. That might mean you are going to have to forward a link to this article--just make sure you delete the FW at the beginning of the subject! We don't want to be confused for one of those annoying forwards your coworkers always send you!

Have you thought about what coming home might be like for your friend or family member? Maybe you have been on a trip and know, but if you are reading this article, maybe you haven't. Coming home from a STM trip can be an exhilarating and scary thing. It is exciting to come home and tell stories and show pictures. Often we have a new purpose in life. But it can be a scary, depressing time as well.

I want to give you an idea of what to expect when your STM trip participant comes home. There is typically a four-stage process:

  1. Excitement--coming home is exciting. The participant can't wait to share stories, show pictures, and live "a new way."
  2. Hostility--the air is let out. Life is harder than imagined, change seems impossible, and no one seems to care. Sometimes we treat others with disdain, judgment, and superiority.
  3. Adjustment--we gradually adjust back to life as it was. We give up trying to "change the world" and just accept life as it is and was before the trip.
  4. Integration--taking lessons learned and applying them to a transformed, more Christ-like life. Most people never get to this stage--they stop at #3.

So what should you do? How can you help your friend or family member through the coming home process? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Listen to their stories and look at their pictures--I mean all of them. It may take one whole evening. Put in the time. They need to express themselves.
  2. Listen for heart change. Listen for how God is calling them to change. This may come across as contempt for their current life--don't take it personally. They may be processing our affluence in comparison with deep poverty. Listen for the heart change and encourage them.
  3. Encourage them to stay in contact with the team. They have a shared bond and shared understanding. Their interaction and desire to be together will eventually fade, but for now they are a good support for each other.
  4. Journey together. You may not have gone on the STM together, but that doesn't mean you can't journey together. Listen for the heart change and pray about what God is calling both of you to do or become.

I'm going to let you in on a little secret. Sometimes the people who appear the least affected on the outside are the ones struggling the most on the inside. All STM trip participants need their friends, family, and church to love them well when they come home. I hope this article helps you know where to start.

Coming home is hard. Follow-through with a returning STM trip participant can be even harder. If you need help knowing how to relate to your friend or family member, or you feel he or she needs someone else to talk to, I am always available. You can contact me at 520-404-0841 or toryr@delaministries.com.

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  • Resource > Article
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