Re-entry: When short-termers come home

Day 11, July 27. Budapest, Hungary.

Yesterday, Croatia. Today, Hungary. Tomorrow, Baltimore, MD. Home, how sweet the sound!

Re-entry for those returning from short-term missions trips is always a delicate, and seldom-discussed, matter. There is a 10-stage process one goes through that looks something like this –

Stage 1: I am so-o-o-o excited to be leaving America where everybody is so shallow and self-centered. I can’t wait to see how God will use me. God has been preparing me for this very moment. I want to go change the world!

Stage 2: Arrived at my destination country. Everything is new and exciting. I love these people, their food, the scenery, the markets. There are so many needs! I have so much to offer. Let’s get busy helping these people!

Stage 3: Wow! These people are really poor and dirty and smell and I can’t understand a word they say. I probably won’t be changing the world here but, oh well, I can still hug orphans and help with construction of the church building.

Stage 4: Man, this is hard work. I don’t want to use the word “homesick” so I’ll tell everybody I want to go home so I can tell people how God has been using me…right after I do some sight-seeing and sample the local cuisine.

Stage 5: I can’t wait to get back home to take a shower, sleep in my own bed, and eat decent food…oops…I mean…I can’t wait to get back home and share with my church and friends all of the wonderful things God did through me during this time. I can’t wait for all of my friends to see how big a heart I have for the world!

Stage 6: Man, will this trip never end?

Stage 7: Yes, we get to go home today!

Stage 8: Home! Wow, Americans are so materialistic and shallow. How can they be so preoccupied with TV, movies, music, and the internet? If they saw what I saw on this trip, they would be all about telling people about Jesus.

Stage 9: (standing before the youth group or the congregation) What an awesome trip! God used me mightily and taught me so much! My heart was broken by the needs of people in other parts of the world. I can’t wait to go back. I made such great friends and shared the Gospel with a ton of people. Thanks to everyone who sacrificed to help me take this strategic trip for the advance of the Kingdom!

Stage 10: (a week or two later – on the phone with a friend) Hey, want to go shopping with me and catch “The Dark Knight Rises” after I finish catching up on Facebook? Gap has some cool new shoes on sale and I want to grab something to eat at Chik-Fil-A

There may be a little hyperbole in my 10 stages, but not too much. Anyone out there identify with any of this? Most of those who read these updates have been on a missions trip or two and know the range of emotions and ideas that swirl around a missions trip.

I have learned to be a little realistic about what I can accomplish and what can happen in my heart on a missions trip. I leave home knowing I am basically selfish and dislike dirt. I struggle with cross-cultural issues. But I know that I will return home and everything will look different and I will tend be more cynical about American Christianity and culture than when I left. I know that people will want to know how I turned the world upside down in less than 2 weeks. I know that I will be tempted to lie about…I mean…exaggerate…um…embellish what really happened so that my supporters will be encouraged with how their donations made a difference and they will be eager to fund my next trip.

In many ways, only the passage of time can clarify exactly what was accomplished on a given trip. I always return home with the confidence that I know God’s world far better than when I left. That’s good. I have met new people, deepened old friendships, have more to share with others about God’s world, and can be a better missions mobilizer because I went.

Are others better off because I went? I never know for sure, but I am not the kind of pragmatist who always needs tangible proof that what I am doing is actually worthwhile and working. A lesson of missions history is that those who served God best usually never knew during their lifetime just how significant their labors were. So let’s keep on doing well, knowing that our labors are not in vain in the Lord!


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