Just as Peter, James, and John had to come down from the mountain, short term mission trips end. After the Transfiguration, Peter wanted to stay on the mountain. Many people on short term mission trips want to stay. Others are ready to get back to their lives. Familiar food, the comforts of home, friends, etc., all beckon the short term missionary. Going home can make the spiritual high of the mission trip start to fade. So, how can we transition from the Missional high to normal life?
The process begins before departure. Reading, praying, getting to know the teammates, and learning about the project are important. These essential tasks set the foundation for a successful short term mission trip. They include participation by the church. Sometimes, participation takes the form of help in planning, suggestions for projects, fundraising, a special commissioning service, and prayers during the trip. Participation continues after the trip when the congregation invites participants to share a testimony of God’s work on the mission field. Knowing this testimony awaits provides an incentive for participants to process the events and experiences of the mission trip.
One of the reasons participants in short term mission projects consistently have good experiences is the spiritual and mental preparation. They have a good experience because they expect to have a good experience. Setbacks, delays, illness, and other adversities are part of the experience. Participants expect them. When they arrive, the participants can feel like they are, to put it crassly, suffering for Jesus. When adversities do not read their ugly heads, participants thank God for providing such a rich experience.
Putting so much explanation into expectations is not a mind game or, to borrow from Bultmann, demythologization of the spirituality. However, it helps explain how a well-planned short term mission project can go so well. Now, the difficult part is putting that level of effort into making everyday go so well. What if, instead of looking at a week as a call to show God’s love, Christians looked at each day as a similar opportunity?
In his novel Nausea, the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre describes adventures in the normal activities of life. He writes, “This is what I thought: for the most banal even to become an adventure, you must (and this is enough) begin to recount it.” Simply recounting the events, telling the story, sharing the experience of the mission, means that it becomes an adventure–even if everything went well. Likewise, if the daily events of life become a story worth telling, the adventure continues.
What if, instead of getting hyped up for a short term mission project, the project became part of the tapestry of every adventurous day? What if each day became a transformative experience? Personally, I love life, and I love for my life to be an adventure. And, the adventures surround us all the time. The challenge is, like short term mission trips, making each day an opportunity to share God’s love.
What does making each day a missional opportunity look like? Regular devotions, growing through discipleship and reading, seeking spiritual mentors, as well as accepting opportunities to be a spiritual mentor. It means using ones gifts, practicing self-care to avoid burnout, and being more patient, kind, and loving.
The greatest challenge of coming down from a missional high is not coming down at all. It is all about coming back from a mission trip a changed person and letting other people see the change in you. Do not look for them to notice. Look for God to notice. When impressing God is the leading motivator, Christians more fully live into our calling. Too often, people seek accolades for their spiritual endeavors. For example, people like to hear compliments after singing in church or doing something particularly self-sacrificing. Have you ever noticed how many plaques exist in churches?
Can one stay on the spiritual mountaintop forever? Certainly not. Coming off the mount of Transfiguration, Peter would go on to deny Christ, even though he swore that he would not. Likewise, we are not perfect after a mission trip, but the adrenaline shot to our faith journey can help give us strength along the path. Strength drawn from experience lasts longer than an intellectual faith or one formed through inertia.
Is every short term mission strip a life-changing experience? Not necessarily. There are many factors involved in one’s faith journey, and not two paths are alike. The walk with Christ differs from one day to the next, just as different people struggle with different aspects of remaining committed to Christ. For example, some people cannot stop gossiping and others have trouble with commitment. Some devolve to pietism, whereas others become so worldly that their faith journey no longer resembles anything Christian. Each person struggles with different parts of living in the world. The struggles are real and draw humanity away from Christ. Thus, a mission trip is not a perfect antidote to human sinfulness.
The challenge is to take experience and grow from it. Whether the experience is the adventure of a short term mission trip, an engaging and thought-provoking Christian book, or, even, an inspiring sermon–take each experience and let it inform the faith journey.