One of the biggest challenges for married short-term mission participants is knowing how to share their experience with a spouse that didn’t go on the trip. Your spouse is your best friend, the one who knows you the most intimately yet he or she was left out of one of the most life-changing experiences you have ever had. I’m not a marriage counselor, but I have been on numerous short-term mission trips; some of which I handled well and some not so well. My wife just returned from a two week trip herself and luckily we learned some lessons from the past. Hopefully our experience can help you.
Here’s my advice to returning short-term missionaries:
- First, avoid making quick, rash decisions. Remember that your spouse did not share your experience and may not have your same convictions yet. For your health, some things may have to change right away but try to spend the first week or two simply sharing your experience. For example, my wife just dropped a class in order to have more time for God and for our family. She was ready to quit school altogether to follow God, but that seemed a bit rash. So, instead, we decided to wait and see what God was doing and what next semester would bring.
- Listen to your spouse. Your spouse’s life continued even while you were gone. This was my first time staying home, and I was amazed at how much I had to tell my wife! Be sure you show the same care and interest in his/her life as you want them to show you.
- The first four days are critical. I know we all come home to busy lives, but if you don’t start sharing about your trip in the first four days it will likely get passed over permanently. This happened when I came home from Haiti last year. We were so busy, I never got to really share with Judy. The result was an emotional disconnect and feelings of loneliness in dealing with life.
- Show your spouse pictures, tell stories, and tell him/her about what God is changing in you. Just take some time telling your spouse about how God changed you or what He said to you instead of starting in on what needs to change.
- Pay attention to your spouse’s response. Watch to see if what you are saying resonates in him/her. Look for areas to invite your spouse to join you in your life-change so you can be on mission together.
If you are married to someone who just went on a short-term mission trip, you need to realize it is your responsibility to love and care for your spouse when he/she comes home. Here are some suggestions and questions for you to use:
- Read points three and four above. Ask your spouse about the trip and look at his/her pictures. You might be the only one who will sit and look at pictures and listen to stories for hours. It is good for you to hear them and it is good for your spouse to share them too!
- Realize this: living by faith and following Jesus often affects those closest to us. Your spouse will come back changed and that means you have to be open to God changing you too. You can either blindly follow your spouse or, on the other end of the spectrum, refuse to change. Instead, seek God’s will for your lives together.
- Here are some good questions to ask your spouse:
- What one person impacted you the most?
- What was your favorite memory? (I explain it as a snapshot—the moment frozen in time you’ll remember)
- What is one thing God taught you about Himself? About yourself?
- What one thing exceeded your expectations? What one thing fell short of your expectations?
- What did God enable you to do that you didn’t think you could do?
- What did you admire most about the host culture? How can we be like that?
- What do you miss most from the trip? Why?
- What has been most difficult about coming home? Why?
- Who has disappointed you since coming back? In what way(s)?
- What new values or priorities are you bringing home with you?
- What is God asking of you now that wasn’t there before the trip?
- What are you confused about or frustrated by?
- Share about a difficult moment from the trip which you are now thankful for.
- What one word describes the trip for you?
I hope that some of these ideas are helpful. I certainly don’t have the corner on the market. If you have ideas about how to share your experience with your family, please post a comment! You can also see what The Next Mile says about this subject, including sharing with your children, by clicking here. If you would like to discuss any of these issues with me personally, feel free to call me at 520-404-0841 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.