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?

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Post Mission Trip Re-Entry Stress

Definition, Symptoms, Coping Styles, & Tips
A. Definition
Re-entry stress is like culture stress (also called culture shock) in many ways – only in reverse. While culture stress is associated with a sense of disorientation brought on by a new and unfamiliar environment, re-entry stress is precipitated by returning to a setting you presume to be familiar, but which in reality is no longer the same.

It is the unexpected and often subtle nature of such change that can cause stress for you as you return from cross-cultural service. What was once familiar and comfortable no longer appears the same. Something definitely has changed – sometimes it is the environment but often times it is you.

Suddenly you find yourself out of phase with your own culture. Your reaction may come in the form of bewilderment, dismay, disillusionment and perhaps even irritation or anger. Somehow, “things are just not the way they used to be…”, “nobody seems to care….”, “nobody really understands…”.

There are several contributing factors to re-entry stress. One is that you are being caught by surprise – you do not anticipate change and consequently are unprepared to cope. Another factor is value conflict. Your values, once taken for granted and even highly cherished, now seem of lesser significance or of little importance at all. Your way of thinking, your manner and your responses to many situations have been changing. Often these changes are not apparent until you are back in your home culture.

B. Common symptoms and effects of re-entry stress
1. Disorientation – feeling out of place, not fitting in
2. Feelings of loneliness, isolation, or being lost in the crowd
3. Restlessness – a desire to “get away” from those who don’t seem to understand or care
4. Feeling that nobody understands your experience or that nobody cares
5. Feeling tired, listless
6. Critical attitude toward home country – its waste, extravagance, wrong way of doing things, etc.
7. Loss of identity – just “another cog in a big wheel”
8. Inability to communicate new ideas, concepts freely
9. Feeling of superiority – standing aloof from others because of your overseas experience
10.Feeling dissatisfaction
11.Defensiveness in responses
12.Retreat, withdrawal, lack of concern
13.Unnatural, uncomfortable responses to “ordinary” situations
14.Confusion over conflicting attitudes and responses
15.Rejection of overseas experiences or a desire to forget and not talk about them

COPING MECHANISMS
1. ISOLATE and be alienated
A person who responds this way to re-entry stress. . .
• pulls away from being in a stressful situation by being alone or with like-minded people (e.g. former short-termers)
• continues to identify with the home culture for the most part, but has strong negative reactions to it
• may express a strong judgmental attitude towards the values and lifestyle of the home culture (church, family, friends, politics)
• may feel deep guilt over home culture’s materialism and affluence
• may tend to day dream a lot about the short-term experience, holding on to memories
• unaware of other alternatives to impact the home culture (church or campus group)
NEEDS – someone who has been through re-entry stress to help in understanding the transition process and exploring options

2. IMITATE and be re-socialized
A person who responds this way to re-entry stress. . .
• “Goes native” in USA culture by reverting immediately back to conventional norms
• resumes life as if nothing happened
• unable to translate the impact of short-term experience to the rest of life
• may have a very high need for acceptance by the home culture
• may be afraid of the repercussions of being different or standing on one’s convictions
NEEDS – to be with compassionate mission-minded people who can assist in sorting out the short-term experience

3. INTEGRATE and be proactive
A person who responds this way to re-entry stress. . .
• accepts the reality of transitions between two cultures
• relates back with the home culture in a way that does not compromise or negate new values or lessons learned from short-term experience
• recognizes that changes have occurred through the short-term experience
• continues to learn lifestyle incorporating the old and new
NEEDS: seeks support from like-minded people

TIPS FOR DEALING WITH RE-ENTRY STRESS
Prepare for re-entry stress before you leave home by expecting it! You will never be completely at home again after your time of service because part of your heart will remain with the people you serve. This is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.

Tips for dealing with re-entry stress.
1. Expect it and realize that it is normal! Give yourself time to work through it. Be patient with yourself and others as you go through this process.
2. Keep your sense of humor and remember to laugh!
3. Remind yourself to be THANKFUL for the opportunity God gave you and the things you experienced and learned.
4. Realize the difference between readjusting totally to “the way things were” and incorporating new values based on all that you experienced.
5. Develop community with people who have been overseas with whom you can discuss (and if they are Christians, pray for) the transition you are experiencing AND the needs of the world. Encourage each other in thinking globally!
6. Seek out friendships with people from the region where you served – international students,refugees, businessmen, etc. Make the nations part of your life at home!
7. Be prepared for the people who ask “How was your trip?” but really don’t want to hear more than a superficial “It was great!” response. Recognize that not everyone will be interested in all the details that you think they should care about. Pray through ways that you can share who God is and His heart for the nations even in your short answers. And seek out the people who want to listen to more details too!
8. Take initiative to figure out how to serve your local church and community. Analyze their ministries, your gifts, and then seek out opportunities (or help create opportunities) that integrate what you have learned overseas with the priorities of your church.
9. Recognize that your friends and family may be under a great deal of stress themselves. Be prepared to counsel, comfort, pray for and bless them, as much as to receive their counsel and care.
10. Remember that God is calling you to Himself here, just as He did there. Seek Him and make the most of every opportunity you are given here, just as you sought to do there.

Personal Debriefing Questions
Here are some questions to help you as you process all that you experienced and all that God did during your time on the field. These questions can be used individually as you journal and reflect or you can get together with a friend or small group and talk through these together.
Spend some time praising God for His faithfulness in both the challenging and exciting times and praying for those who are still there.

1. Write down as many thoughts as possible about the trip. Include pre-trip preparation and training, concerns and fears before you went, and observations and feelings about your experience on the field.

2. Pick 3 items from number 1 that were key to your experience. Describe them in more detail and tell why they were key experiences, thoughts, or feelings.

3. Write down 5 things you really liked about the culture.

4. Write down 5 things you really did not like about the culture.

5. Answer the following questions:
• Through this experience, what has God said to me about my life in the USA?
• Through this experience, what has God said to me about my walk with Him?
• Through this experience, what has God said to me about His heart for the world?
• Through this experience, what has God said to me about the work in the place I served?

6. How have you changed in . . .
• your attitudes about other cultures?
• your attitudes about the USA?
• your attitudes about yourself?
• your understanding of God?
• your plans for the future?

7. List 3 ways that you can communicate these changes to your family and friends who did not serve with you.

8. In light of this mission experience, what are some ways that you want to change?
(Ex: I want to be less time conscious and more people conscious.)

9. List 3 ways you can begin to make these changes.

10. How do you plan to continue your involvement with the work in the place you served? Write an action plan to carry out these ideas.

11. Write short thank you notes to . . .
• your field supervisor(s)
• your home church/whoever supported you with finances and
• your family

12. List 2 things that you would do again or keep as part of the project.

13. List 2 things that you would change about the experience and tell why.

14. Write down 2 things you would recommend that other people do to prepare to serve in the area in which you served.

15. Write down an outline for 2 or 3 stories and learn to tell each story in 2-3 minutes. You might want to practice with someone to make sure the story is interesting and brief.
For ideas about how to tell your story, see “How to Tell Your Story” – on thetask.org.

Questions 16 – 20 deal with issues of re-entry stress (also called reverse culture shock).
16. From your overseas experience, do you feel you will have tendency to be critical of your home church when you return to the USA? If so, why? How can you work through these feelings in a godly way?

17. From your overseas experience, do you have feelings of superiority over those who stayed behind (who you may be tempted to view as “less spiritual”)? If so, why do you believe that going overseas is superior to staying in the USA to minister? How do you plan to work through these feelings in a godly way?

18. From your overseas experience, do you feel angry at Americans for . . .
• wastefulness
• apathy toward other cultures
• driving “too fast”
• not being truly interested in God’s heart for the nations
• other (please explain)

19. Who can give you godly and wise advice about working through your feelings?

20. How do you plan to work through these feelings in a godly way to strengthen your relationship with God, your family and friends, and your ministry

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Women’s Ministry Training

For several months, I have had the vision to create and teach a class which teaches women to minister to women. Actually, I think it started around May of last year. I went on a mission trip to the Dominican with a group of women from our church and one of the comments that I heard afterward was, “I wish we would have had some training about how to minister.” I thought they did an amazing job and that the Holy Spirit truly used them as they ministered, but they longed for confidence in ministry.
So, I started praying and envisioning a training of some sort where women could gain confidence and knowledge about how to minister to other women. I started praying and studying and researching resources. God has been faithful and has given me an outline for the class and an amazing amount of information to share with women who are called to minister to other women. I am so excited about the class!!
Well, it was scheduled to start tonight at Rock River Christian College in Beloit, WI, but we didn’t meet the minimum number of students so it was cancelled. I really think that was of God, also, because now we can offer it here at the church and I can have a practice run before teaching it at the college level.
So, starting on the first Monday in February, New Life will be hosting a Women’s Ministry Training class from 6:30 to 8:30PM. This class will help women in formal women’s ministry & leadership at our/their church, but it is truly aimed at helping women gain confidence and knowledge to minister to any woman who God puts in their path. I want women to be able to pull wisdom from the Bible to minister in any situation that they are placed in.
I am excited about the class for many reasons, but the main one is to empower and equip women to minister in the way God is calling them!! Please be in prayer about joining this class if you would like to know more about Women’s Ministry.