Coming home is always so anticlimactic. Most teams spend months preparing for two intensive weeks in a foreign country bonding with team members they barely knew. Then they go home to their normal and overly busy life in which they rarely see their former team members.
If you have been involved in short-term mission trips for any length of time, the story is all too familiar. A team comes home excited to share their story and influence their community, but they lose their connection and thus their energy. We all know that we should be doing something for follow-through with our team, but what works?
Follow-through meetings don’t have to last forever, and don’t have to be complicated. I recommend pre-planning the dates for three follow through meetings. Set these up ahead of time so people realize they are important, and will schedule them well ahead of their calendar filling up. Each of these meetings should have a theme, and be planned with the intent of moving the team along a process from debriefing to next steps.
Here are the three meetings I suggest:
1. Celebration. Schedule this meeting to happen within a week to 10 days of returning home. This can be a pizza party, an ice-cream social, a potluck, or whatever you want. Have everyone bring their pictures, a CD with pictures, or something else by which to remember the trip. Simply sit around telling stories, laughing, and reminiscing. You need this time to connect and remember. You don’t need to get overly spiritual —this meeting is simply to celebrate the trip and connect.
2. Reflection. This is the meeting where you will get reflective and misty-eyed. We want people to not just remember the stories, but to re-experience the impact. And with the perspective that time and distance gives, to be able to see what God was communicating to them. Here’s the thing though: you can’t simply sit in a circle and expect everyone to share. You need some sort of activity to prompt reflective though. If you need help planning a meeting like this, contact me using the information at the bottom of the article.
3. Planning Next Steps. As an individual and as a team, what are the next steps? “How, then, shall I now live?” should be the theme of this question. Sometimes we consider this too quickly. It is important to have celebrated the trip and deeply reflected before considering what’s next. Hopefully this meeting will lead to next steps for the individual as well as next steps that will help the team impact their community in light of their experience. Again, you can’t expect to sit in a circle and brainstorm to a resolution. Contact me for ideas of how to creatively manage this meeting.
Finishing well can be hard in our fast-paced, high energy world. Our society is quick to move on to the next big thing before the current big thing is resolved and our lives often reflect it. Make sure you finish your short-term mission experience well, for this is how we will see life-long change in our participants.
Questions for the author? Need help planning these meetings? You can contact Tory at 520-404-0841 or firstname.lastname@example.org.