Now that You’re Home: Building on a Short-Term Mission Trip
As the world has slowly opened back up to travel and gatherings in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, many churches and ministries have resumed short-term mission activities.
Doing short-term missions well in ways that center the leadership, experience, and plans of those engaged in long-term work in a community is possible, but it often takes a lot of re-learning from those leading and participating in trips. The habits and expectations we may have absorbed from sending-team-centered approaches we’ve seen in the past don’t often set us up for effective, sustainable work.
What Will You Do Next?
But even if we’ve worked hard to maintain an asset-based perspective on the communities we visited and looked for opportunities to learn and fellowship with brothers and sisters invested long-term in those communities during the trip, what we do when we come home is an important part of healthy short-term ministry.
In your travels, you may have encountered both the pain of material poverty and the beauty of Christ’s reconciling work in a new way. But you know that the excitement of this trip is going to be short-lived. Change happens when we prayerfully and purposely convert our experiences into a deep joy about the Kingdom of God and the privilege it is to be part of his work in the world.
Pitfalls to Avoid
Before we can build on this experience, it’s important to avoid some common pitfalls of returning teams.
- Don’t make this a one-time emotional high. “I went. I saw these different things. I came back. I talked to my friends. I talked to my family. I did my two minute trip report in front of the church and now back to life as if it never happened.” For many people who go on trips, even though they intend this to have a bigger lifelong impact, they don’t do the work required to translate this experience into something that contributes more to the Kingdom of God.
- Don’t be a know-it-all. It’s just as important to take a humble posture and learn when you get home as it was on your trip. Be careful not to over-do your desire to teach the people back home—your family, your friends, your church members, all your relationships. Be willing to wait for the teachable moment for God to create those opportunities where it makes sense for you to speak into their lives.
- Don’t become a short-term team “superfan.” Don’t go on trip after trip after trip just to keep learning. Hopefully you’ve learned a lot on this trip and hopefully that’s enough to translate into long term action. Maybe there’s a time down the road for another experience. Maybe you’ll go back on a trip, but not so much as a participant but as a leader to help others discover some things you discovered, but don’t start seeing short-term mission trips as a core part of your ongoing experience as a follower of Christ.
Building for Transformation
So what are some ways to avoid these pitfalls and really engage over the long haul?
- Commit your time. Time is, in many ways, our most valuable resource. How you steward your time will impact the extent to which your trip leads to long-term engagement. Agree on a schedule for follow-up conversations with your team and your hosts, and stick with it! Be intentional to sustain the relationships you’ve built.
- Commit to prayer. You now know people and know places like you’ve never known before. You can intercede like you weren’t able to before in a very personable and practical way. Part of what you do for the rest of your life may be that intercession. But as you’re praying for others, also be praying for yourself. Be praying as it says in Psalm 139, “Search me O Lord, and know my heart. Test me and know my thoughts and see if there be any hurtful way within me and lead me in your everlasting way,” asking God to lead you in His heart for the poor and your role in that.
- Commit financial support. Giving generously to support the ministry organization you visited is a huge way to continue your involvement with them. Every church or organization craves steady gift partners—people who give a little or a lot, but on a faithful basis.Maybe you have to start small, but just be consistent.
- Advocate for the ministry you visited. Tell your church, your family, and your friends about the organization—what they do, what you saw, what you like—and give them tangible ways to engage. Take care to learn enough about the organization and the entrance points to giving and supporting them, and then pass that on to others. You may want to even do some specialized fundraising for an organization.
With these simple steps, it may be that this short-term mission trip, this experience that you’ve had, is a key part of setting your church on the path of trying to have a partnership with that particular ministry or enhancing an existing partnership. Make sure that you’re aware of where your leadership wants to go and be supportive of playing your part and helping them form effective partnerships with organizations.