Supporting Those Returning from a Missions Experience

From an email from Taylor University
Shared with Student Leaders and Team Members’ Parents, Taylor University, 2011

Student leaders and peers have a strategic role!

Proper re-entry is a crucial part of short-term missions – “even when it’s over, it’s not over”

Biblical model of re-entry care (from Neal Pirolo, The Re-Entry Team)
Acts 14:26-28; 15:35
1. They finished their assignment
2. They returned to their sending church (community)
3. They received the community’s hospitality
4. They reported all that God had done in and through them
5. They ministered again in their community

Road blocks that prevent healthy re-entry

• Busyness
• Difficult circumstances at home
• Numbness or not knowing what to do
• Disappointment
• Illness, exhaustion…

Returning students may
• Have little motivation for classes and/or other activities
• Experience restlessness – a desire to “get away” or return to the host country
• Not want the experience to be over, wishing it could continue, and desiring to re-live it
• Have feelings of sadness/grief or even depression after leaving a part of themselves on the field
• Go through reverse culture shock – disgust at materialism, self absorption, lack of gratitude in U.S.
• Experience a self-righteous/critical attitude toward home culture/people regarding waste, extravagance, apathy, superficiality…, or toward the host culture for its shortcomings
• Be confused about biblical stewardship based on the physical, spiritual, or social needs they encountered
• Question God’s sovereignty or other foundational issues for the same reasons
• Think that no one else cares about other cultures or the world’s needs
• Feel lonely or isolated – friends/family are busy or preoccupied
• Feel that no one will listen – friends/family not interested in hearing details
• Believe that no one understands their experience, even those willing to listen
• Experience an inability to communicate what they experienced and insights they gained
• Be confused about what God is doing within them or with their future plans
• Seek God’s will for their life with new intensity
• Feel that they have changed, but friends/family treat them the same
• Be excited about finding new ways to reach out and/or use newly discovered abilities
• Be assessing their gifts and passions
• Have regrets based on unmet expectations, their own conduct/shortcomings, or unresolved conflict
• Experience spiritual attack
• Have new excitement for spiritual disciplines – prayer, Bible reading, new worship styles…
• Be trying to gain a Kingdom perspective and/or accurate theology of suffering
• Be dealing with unresolved hurts and baggage they “discovered” under the stress of the trip
• Question their friendships and priorities
Etc. …

Goals for helping
1. Strive for them to feel heard, supported, and cared for
2. Assist them in dealing with unresolved issues that need to be addressed
3. Help them begin to integrate the experience into life for the long haul
4. Allow yourself to be impacted through the experience of helping (by-product of serving the person)
5. Remember that different students will need different types of help

Top 6 Ways to Help
1. Pray for them
2. Listen, really listen! On two levels
a. Public – Give them opportunities to share on the wing or floor (or in church)
b. Private – Seek them out individually and encourage the rest of wing/floor to do so also
3. Provide a safe environment for them to wrestle with issues without a timeframe expectation
4. Help them remain alert to the spiritual battle raging at all times (Eph. 6:12). We pray against attacks from the enemy on the field, but it’s just as important to pray against them once we come home because Satan would like nothing more than to minimize the impact of the experience
5. Assist them in maintaining spiritual disciplines, especially journaling/reflection. “An unexamined life is not worth living” (Socrates)
6. Encourage them to make practical application to their lives. This prevents compartmentalization and helps them integrate the experience for long term. Keep it to just one or a few goals that are achievable

Questions not to Ask
Avoid yes/no, short answer, or very broad questions such as:

• How was your trip? (too broad)
• What did you do? (too broad)
• Did you have fun? (yes/no)
• Are you going back? (yes/no)
• Did you get along with your team? (yes/no)
• Did you like the culture? (yes/no)

Questions to Ask
Ask specific, open ended questions that begin with words such as “describe” “in what ways” “explain” or “who/what/how/why”
• What was the most meaningful thing about the trip? The hardest thing? The most fun/exciting thing?
• Describe three highlights of the trip.
• What are the most significant lessons God taught you? How did you learn them?
• What did God teach you about Himself? Yourself? Missions?
• How did your expectations match up with what happened? Was this good or bad and why?
• Explain the types of ministry your team did. How did you spend your free time?
• What did God enable you to do that you didn’t think you could do?
• What do you think was your greatest contribution to the project? To the team?
• Describe three of the people who had an impact on you and why.
• Explain how the host culture is different from ours.
• What did you learn from the host culture? What do you admire about the nationals?
• What is good about the host culture and/or U.S. culture that you can embrace?
• What is negative about the host culture and/or U.S. culture that you want to avoid?
• What did you learn from the host missionaries or Christian leaders?
• How would you describe your relationship with the Lord before and after the trip?
• If given another chance, would you change the way you conducted yourself on the trip? How?
• What has been the most difficult thing about returning home? Why?
• Who has disappointed you since you’ve been back? In what way(s)?
• What new values or priorities are you bringing home with you?
• What next steps will you take spiritually? In ministry? In lifestyle choices?
• In what ways do you sense spiritual attack as you return?
• What do you remember about the people or culture you left behind?
• What do you miss most from the trip and why? What are you glad to leave behind and why?
• How do you see God working around you or in you now that you have returned?
• Was there a difficult experience on the trip for which you are now thankful?
• What are you confused or frustrated about?
• In what ways do you think God wants your life to change?
• What did you learn about your gifts, strengths, weaknesses and passions? What are they?