Coming Home From Mission Trips - Now What?

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In last week’s blog entry, Jerry Meadows wrote about prepping students for missions and questioned how they might integrate a missions experience into their daily lives once suitcases were unpacked. It is the hope of most youth leaders that students come away from a mission trip having grown a deeper understanding of their faith, a deeper sense of self and others, and a greater understanding of God’s call on their lives to be agents of justice in the world around them. Yes, some incredible outcomes are hoped for here.

We cannot, of course, assume students will easily transfer their experiences to everyday living and so leaders need to be intentional about the entire mission trip experience. This includes proper pre-trip preparation (not just fund raisers); on site reflections and debriefing about what happened and what was learned, and evaluating what that means for each person as they go home. The 7 Standards of Excellence for Short Term Missions (they have been referred to in previous posts in this series), indicate there should be “thorough, thoughtful, and appropriate follow through for goer-guests,” and so dedicated time needs to be spent on debriefing – not just sharing photos over a pizza dinner. Lastly, and probably most important, is the transfer of things learned on the trip. In their book, Deep Justice in a Broken World – helping your kids serve others and right the wrongs around Them, authors Chap Clark and Kara Powell have a chapter on how to “help students move from doing Kingdom things, to being Kingdom people.” Important then to working with a group of students is to help them understand that this is not about the trip being over, but a journey that continues.

So how do leaders help that process of building Kingdom people?

Here is a list of ideas and suggestions that may be helpful: 

  • Assign each student in your group a mentor (or ask the student to choose someone) who will walk the mission trip journey with them and help them process each component of their experience and ask questions that will bring clarity and meaning to what they encounter. Although not necessary, it would be great if the mentor has previous mission trip experiences. 
  • Follow up with students a number of times after a trip to continue processing how they are doing post trip. Do they have more questions? How have they seen God impact their lives now that they’re back home? What ideas do they have to impact their youth group, church or community?
  • Upon return home, provide other activities that place students in environments that will expose them to issues in their own community, stretch their skills and perceptions, and maximize what they learned on their trip.
  • Continue to educate your Youth Group on how best to serve. Consider an annual theme for your ministry program that will create deeper awareness of issues related to poverty, justice, and missions. The Chalmers Center has some great video clips that will trigger some excellent discussion.

Finally, over the last few years, a group of denominational staff have met together on a regular basis to evaluate their mission programs in light of the 7 Standards of Excellence and bringing all their resources, policies and procedures in line so that mission trips are facilitated with excellence that benefit the senders, goers and host receivers. Along with that work, the group is supporting the development of a curriculum designed with the Standards of Excellence in mind. It is called Curriculum for Life and considers all participants and their involvement through the process. It is this group’s hope that this material will be available towards the end of 2015. Stay tuned for its launch! 

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These are great suggestions for following up on a trip.  I would like to add one: Help the youth cultivate an ongoing relationship with the missionary or ministry they visited.  It can be discouraging to have a group come in with exciting music, colorful materials, and other things and then disappear, leaving the missionary to continue his or her work on a limited budget unable to provide the excitement the short-term group generated.  If the group keeps in touch, relationships can be cultivated.  Perhaps the group can send Christmas gifts or holiday supplies, do a fundraiser for an outreach program, exchange video greetings regularly, or adopt a project financially.  These continued contacts will show both the missionary/ministry leader and the people he/she serves that the visiting group wasn't just there to add another notch on their experience log, but to build friendships in Christ.

 

Thanks for this additional suggestion Cindy of continuing the relationship with the missionary. I especially like the idea of exchanging video greetings. We've done that in my own church where it was well received by the missionary as well as members of our congregation. This allowed relationships to be developed with a broader group of people beyond the mission team that had gone out to serve.