This week marks the end of the “spring break season.” Many people have gone on mission trips during spring break and are returning home. Are you one of them? Or maybe you went over Christmas break or maybe even last summer? Have you been home from your mission trip for a while now, but still haven't figured out how to talk about your experience? You may not even know where to start--especially if this was your first trip. You want to explain how amazing and even miraculous your experience was but just can't do it justice. What was supposed to be you telling someone about how God is working around the world and in your life turns out to be a jumbled string of stories about seeing a lion, hoping to see a tiger, and breaking down on the side of the road that leaves your friends confused about what you did. Maybe worse yet, you are left feeling isolated and not understood.
Talking about a mission trip with someone who wasn't with you can be a very difficult thing. The experiences are literally indescribable. How do we talk about such an extraordinary experience? I certainly don't own the answers to these questions, but let me give you some advice and some ways that have worked for me:
- You do have to talk about it--but not too much! Don't incessantly talk about your trip, but don't act like it didn't happen. Not dealing with the hard questions that the experience brought up can lead to stagnation at the least and crippling depression at worst.
- Don't bore people with details. Instead of recounting your trip for people by giving them the hour by hour schedule, pick a few stories to tell. Choose 2-4 stories about significant events or people that explain your trip in a snapshot. These stories can and should describe living conditions, the spiritual atmosphere of the country, and anything that God revealed to you or taught you.
- Have an impression answer. There are going to be people who ask about your trip but are doing it out of obligation more than true curiosity. Have a 15 second answer ready about something that left a big impression on you. For example, you may say something like, "I didn’t realize the unemployment rate was over 70% where we served. They already knew money wasn’t the answer to their problems so when we brought clothes for the children and shared the hope of Jesus Christ, they received it with great eagerness. Much different than what I’ve experienced here in America.” This might just be the hook that draws people into wanting to know more.
- Choose a few people close to you to lean on. This could be a spouse, a friend, or a Bible study group but it needs to be someone with whom you can be vulnerable and transparent. Even though you can't tell all the stories and every little detail to everyone, you need to be able to tell someone. It is simply part of processing your experience.
- Report back to your prayer and financial supporters. These people were and are heavily invested in your experience. When you report back, ask them to continue to pray for you in a few specific ways.
Telling your story can be a powerful thing for you and for others. It can be healing and liberating for you. But it can also help spread your new vision and involve others in what God is doing. For more on coming home from a trip, what to expect, and how to share your experience—especially in a church service—I recommend The Next Mile curriculum. Telling your story is not easy but it is key to continuing on the path that God has put you.
Questions for the author? Need help with debriefing and reentry? Contact Tory at firstname.lastname@example.org or 520-404-0841.