5 Actions After Your Mission Trip

August 19, 2015 — 10 Comments

On my recent flight back from Haiti, the plane was full of short-term trippers. It was the matching t-shirts and sunburned skin that gave them away (no judgement from me… my skin color matched theirs, and I’ve worn my share of matching t-shirts).

I wasn’t trying to be nosy, but I overheard one enthusiastic high school-er comment, “I’ll never be the same.” And I sincerely hope she’s right.

Long-term impact of short-term trips

Like few other experiences, short-term trips have the potential to help us see our own materialism, grow in our appreciation for other cultures, form paradigm-shifting friendships, and experience the Gospel outside of our cultural blinders.

As ease of travel, income, and global awareness have increased, the number of short-term trip participants in the U.S. has increased from 540 trippers in 1965 to an estimated 1.5 million annually today. And unlike some who are calling for an end to short-term trips, I think the radical jump in those who’ve had these experiences has much positive potential. In fact, I’d be thrilled if, as a modest goal, the number of short-term service trippers matched the number of Americans who go on cruises every year (currently over 20 million).

For short-term service trips to make a lasting impact on our lives, though, it’s crucial for us to ensure we go with greater humility, we serve in a way that doesn’t perpetuate paternalism or dependency, we listen and support local leaders who continue to serve after we leave, and we give thought and attention to our experience after we return. Ironically, what happens after a trip typically receives the least thought and attention, yet it’s an essential part of every experience.

Here are five suggestions for ways to ensure that your short-term trip makes a long-term impact:

 1.       Love your neighborsthe ones next door.
Sometimes, it’s easy to love people who are far away or to give generously and selflessly to others on a short-term basis, while missing the need and hurt that surround us every day. While a week-long service trip in another part of the world can absolutely make a difference, we can often have an even greater impact on those we see every day—our family members, friends, and neighbors. Love your neighbor.

2.       Suspend judgment of others.
I consider myself a pretty peaceful person, but when I returned from Cambodia on my first longer-term cross-cultural experience, I almost erupted in a grocery store. Having just spent time living with those in poverty, I entered the store and was overwhelmed by the excess of America. I hit my breaking point in the cereal aisle, where I saw a child complaining about wanting a different kind of cereal than her mom was unwilling to buy. People were starving. And she was a selfish, wealthy, and entitled spoiled brat.

In my self-righteousness, I forgot that not everyone had seen what I saw, felt what I felt, experienced what I was privileged to experience with my Cambodian neighbors. As Christ said, “Take the plank out of your own eye”—before judging people in the cereal aisle.

3.       Look for ways to stay connected.
There are many downsides to social media—but one of its greatest advantages is offering an incredibly easy way of staying in touch with people far away. When you return from a trip, become Facebook friends with the people you met on your trip. Share photos and messages about your time and nurture those new relationships. And make sure your friends globally would be proud of the way you are talking about their country, their friends, and your experience with them. Enter into long-term relationship, and continue to learn through the gift of global friendships.

4.       Simply fast.
As much as we promise “we’ll never be the same,” the reality is that we will quickly forget the experience unless it’s combined with habits to help us remember. An uncomplicated but powerful way is to start fasting, committing to a complete fast or to eating a simple meal like rice and beans one day a week. Globally and historically, we are living in unparalleled opulence; we must be intentional about remembering just how much we’ve been given.

5.       Share, pray, and give before you go again.
It sounds modest, but after a trip, invite friends over for a night of sharing about your time, commit to praying daily for those you met, and grow into greater generosity. Don’t allow yourself to go on another short-term trip, if you haven’t spent your time and your money supporting the people and causes you experienced. Become a friend and ambassador to the people and projects which stir your heart and move you to action.

Want more resources on short-term trips? Here are four excellent resources I recommend:

What else do you do to make sure that your international service experiences make a lasting impact?



10 responses to 5 Actions After Your Mission Trip

  1. Peter – 1.5 million people going on a short term mission trip at an average cost of $2,000 comes to $3,000,000,000 being spent on short term trips annually. Do you really think this is good stewardship? The ROI on this is terrible. Too many “vacationarries.” Just think about the funds wasted in 10 years of short term trips….$30,000,000,000.

    • Peter I can see how someone might see things like you mention. I have a couple of questions for you Have you ever been on a short term trip and second who is a trip really for is it for you or the people you see during the trip. In my experience even many of those who may take a trip for the wrong reason usually has a experience with God that changes their life forever. If it only changes one life for the Lord its worth all the money in the world If we look at return of Investment its Jesus who is being short changed because we don’t follow Christ the way he commands and we call ourselves believers

    • Hi Bob. Thank you for your comment. I don’t think anyone could make an argument that this is the most strategic use of resources. However, a lot of it depends on what you’re comparing the 2K to. Compared to a cruise or a year of ice cream or the amount spent on pets (the amount spent on short-term service trips is a mere fraction of any of these options), it has a great return, especially if people are returning to love their neighbors, advocate/give/pray more, and live differently,

    • Bob These were exactly my thoughts before I started going on mission trips both local and global. I think the best response to my participation in these is from my wife. “They changed you…you have to go again!” I have found as well that the cost to go on these is far less than if I were going on vacation. Of my over 25+ I have never been to a spot where traditionally people would say is a vacation spot. I have found that my investment in His kingdom has encouraged me, the team and folks I have learned to love around the world. Importantly, God has opened many doors and ways for me to be able to participate. Before retirement I have traveling literally around the world…but he always got my schedule to allow for a trip. I call it my “personal revival”. I hope you’ll give it a try. Start with a day or two helping people after a Tornado or whatever. God said, “Go into all the world”. I did and am.

  2. Love this brother! Thanks for all that you and HOPE continue to do to inspire me and so many others to seek God first and love others well.

  3. Peter,
    Thank you so much for this timely post. A group from our church just returned from Kenya and we are struggling with re-entry. So, your tips are helpful. One thing my husband and I are doing is committing to read books about Kenya and Africa, and watch movies and/or documentaries set in Africa, to further inform ourselves and keep our experiences fresh. I’ve been reluctant to talk about our experience because it’s so hard to encapsulate it in a short answer. I’ve sought people who are further along in their heart for Africa so we can talk about what this part of the process was like. Thanks again!

    • Lisa – that’s really encouraging to hear about your desire to keep learning after you’ve returned. Thank you!

  4. Great article Peter but I am saddened by the response from Bob concerned more about the “ROI” than the power of the Holy Spirit. I participated on a Arizona/Mexico missions trip in 1987 with my youth group and not only gave my life to Christ but was called to be a missionary on that same trip. I returned to the exact same locations to serve full time in 1998 and have never left. In this time I have seen thousands also give their lives to Christ and several enter the ministry full-time including one from a unreached people group. I have seen God do a work so I credible it amazes me every day. All glory to him alone. Tell me the “ROI” on that and countless others that do come back from short term missions completely changed forever. When we start thinking of everything as being about money we limit the power of God and incredible things he is doing around the world.

    • Rob – what a great example of how a short term trip resulted in long term impact! Love hearing your story.

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