5 Tips for Dealing with Re-Entry & Why Debriefing is So Important

After Your Mission Trip

When you think about short-term mission trips, what do you think of? Long airplane rides, navigating your way through a foreign country, the excitement of meeting new people, experiencing a new culture and trying new foods, or maybe lots of bugs. But, do you think about what happens when it’s time to come home?

5 Minute Read

By Katie Fisher

Short-term mission trips have a way of jarring us out of everything familiar and placing us in situations that push us to lean into God in a new way. We see, taste and experience new situations that can broaden our perspectives, challenge our view of the world, and show us a new depth of God we didn’t know before. With all these exciting new memories from our time overseas, it’s tempting to believe that our trip ends when the plane lands.

At OMF, we hope nothing could be further from the truth.

Coming Home Is Part of the Journey

Navigating the season of re-entry can be as rich as the time you spent overseas because it’s a continuation of your faith journey.

It’s an opportunity to reflect on what God has done with your time on the field and to ask how He wants you to move forward with the things you have learned. However, just like in any other season of growing, re-entry can be a very difficult time.

Coming home from a short-term mission trip is not like coming home from work every day or even like coming home from a vacation. The reality is, you’re a different person than the one who left.

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Three Responses to Returning Home

While you might recognize some significant moments of impact from your time overseas, you might not fully be aware of the transformation you have experienced. On top of that, friends and family might not be expecting the changes they see in you.

Navigating these new dynamics when re-entering your home culture can cause you to respond in a few ways:

The Assimilator

No matter how wonderful or traumatic your trip was, all you can think about when that plane lands are all the things you missed out on and how quickly you can hang out with your friends again. When asked about how your trip went, you might share a story or two, but can’t connect how your short-term trip has anything to do with your life now.

The passion and connection you once felt for the friendships you made on your trip now feel like any other distant memory. The urgency to pray for the things you saw slowly fades away. Your mind is preoccupied with your “real life” now that you’re back. Six months from now, there is no evidence in your life of your overseas experience.

The Alienator

You come back home and it no longer feels like home. You fell in love with the culture and developed a deep sense of connection with the people while you were overseas and suddenly you don’t feel like you belong at home.

The people around you, even your closest friends, can’t imagine what you felt and experienced. On top of that, you are appalled they could so easily spend $20 on one meal while the people you just spent the entire summer with were living on less than $2 a day.

At church, you begin to question whether they really love Jesus because their worship is so unpassionate and their lives seem so lukewarm. Unable to handle the realities you see at home, you begin to pull away from the communities you once were a part of and isolate yourself.

The Integrator

You expect to feel some tension coming home from all the changes you’ve gone through, but you trust that God is using that tension to grow you and those around you in a new way. You realize you need to rely on God at home just as much as you did when you were completely out of your comfort zone, struggling just to order food in another language.

When people ask how your trip was, you are not only excited to share about how you saw God pursue the hearts of people across the world, but you see the question as an opportunity to mobilize others for God’s kingdom. Expecting that life at home will be busy – making it easy to forget the convictions God placed on your heart ­– you make intentional changes in your life to keep the needs of the unreached a passion and priority.

5 Tips for a Smooth Re-entry

Most people will likely experience all three of these at some point of their re-entry journey, but we want to see integration happen as a result of a short-term missions experience. Here are five tips for a smooth re-entry.

1) Be aware. Being aware of how you are feeling and responding to your re-entry can go a long way. Defining how you are responding can inform you on how to pray and how to invite others into your journey.

2) Remember, good endings start with good beginnings. Before you even get on the plane, ask at least one person to intentionally walk with you in the process of re-entry. Give them permission to ask you hard questions and keep you accountable to what God is teaching you.

3) Make time to debrief. Often, the temptation might be to use up all your vacation time or summer break overseas in order to spend as much time serving on the field as possible. But your short-term trip isn’t primarily about what you were doing, but rather what God is doing. Schedule in space for debriefing to look back and see more fully what God did and continues to do in and through your life. Also, realize that debriefing and processing your experience might take place in several conversations over the course of a few months.

4) Re-read your journey. Spend time reading the reflections you wrote from your time on the field and ask God to remind you what he was teaching you.

5) Spend time thinking about how to answer the question, “how was your trip?” in a way that invites more conversation. Sharing your experience can be a great opportunity to mobilize and share about what God is doing around the world.

Re-entry is a rich and beautiful season that God is delighted to use in your journey of following him. We encourage you not to walk this journey alone but invite others into the story that God has written. Click here to learn how to successfully return from your short-term mission trip.

Author Bio

Katie currently works as the Serve Asia Follow-up Coordinator at OMF where she has a passion to see short-term mission trips serve as a transformational experience in one’s discipleship journey. When she’s not working, she likes to dream up different creative cake designs or sneak away to the mountains for a good hike.

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