Mission Trip Hangover and Making the Most of My Experiences

“Don’t waste your hangover.” This is what I hear John Piper proverbially whispering in my ear.

Mission trips, no matter where they are, have a way of doing a number on us. Four is the magic number according Prepare My Mission. Upon re-entry to the world we know so well and abandoned for a short time of ministry, we can experience exhaustion, depression, frustration, and resolution. Our perspectives are altered while away and things look quite different when we return.

It’s natural.

One of my mentors (if he doesn’t mind me calling him that) described it as a time when we can mistakenly make “emotional decisions,” but also the time in which the Holy Spirit “can speak to you about what God wants you to do.” His advice: utilize wise counsel.

Here’s the thing. With a new perspective at home, I can get easily frustrated with my family and friends who do not ooh and ahh at the stories I tell. Equally, I can get depressed at being back to “normal” life and “secular” work. I can also make hasty and unwise decisions out of my emotional instability that might have tremendous effects on my family. Or even worse, I can work my way back into the normalcy of life, carrying nothing from my trip into it. This, my friends, would be a waste.

How can I take all the good that I experienced, all the drive and passion that fueled me, all the eagerness and urgency that I carried, and infuse it into my life today to ensure the momentum continues? How can I fight mission trip hangover to the glory of God?

A Tiny Cup of Coffee

Before the trip ever began, I was praying that the Lord would meet me there. I wanted to be stripped away from the normalcy of my life and encounter God in a way that would rock my world and leave me different. I hoped to leave as Jacob did after wrestling with God (Gen. 32:22-32). Months prior to the trip, I made known to others that I believe God is calling me to the ministry. This trip was one of many that would serve as a testing ground for me to touch the waters of ministry and see if God would have me jump in. (I even prepared my family to move to London if God desired.)

My prayer was Psalm 73:28:

“For me, it is good to be near God.”

I wanted to be near Him, feel Him, hear His heartbeat for the world. I wanted to break in every way and fall to the feet of the cross with new resolve and clarity of calling. I went into this trip prayerfully anticipating something big to happen in me. I was hoping to be like Moses when He came down from the mountain—face beaming with shekinah.

But God — the famous words of Scripture — had other plans.

A humorous story will set the stage. It was my first experience in London … coffee. My good friend and pastor, who will soon leave for London, described the coffee in London as liquid manna from heaven. There was nothing that compared to it, not even the world’s strongest coffee (my favorite). It was something brewed by the angels and gently delivered to the capital of England.

Needless to say, I had to have some.

Two of the other mission trippers ordered their Flat White before me. Its meager size made me laugh and scoff at them. I felt like Crocodile Dundee, “That’s not a coffee.” I ordered my shot of espresso to rub it in their noses. “This is a coffee!” But, to my surprise, my cup (if you can call it that) was one-third the size of theirs.

I was beside myself. It looked nothing like what I expected. (In Texas everything is big, even our coffee.) I was handed something that looked like it belonged in my daughter’s tea set. It was only a gulp at best. It required one finger to lift it to my lips. Until this moment, I had only heard of a cup of tea, but now I can see its weight in coffee. The joke was on me.

I tell you the story because it sets the stage for the entire trip. I was expecting something big. But God did something small. And for good reasons. An article from Prepare My Mission helped me see it more clearly. It asks seven questions for all people experiencing mission trip hangover like I did. And, if answered honestly and deeply, it will help you make good use of your hangover. Here are the questions and my answers.

1) What did I learn about myself during the trip?

I need something bigger than my work and myself to do. Or, maybe I need to think bigger about the things that I do now (leading a family, serving the church, creatively working).

2) What did I learn about God during the trip?

Sometimes, God gets big things done with little pieces. He does more than I think. As He revitalizes a church, He also revitalizes the workers of the church and the people like us who serve the church. He works in the hearts of the church who sends the people and the recipients who receive the flyers. His work is big, and He is doing seemingly little things with everyone involved.

3) What changed in me during the trip?

I went on the trip with the intention of meeting with God in a profound way. I have felt the pull to the ministry and went on the trip to test the water and see if London was where God would have me take my family. But God met me in a subtle, nonchalant way. He was with me the entire time, stirring gently in my soul. It was nothing like I expected. I was not challenged as I expected. I wanted to walk away with a limp, but I didn’t. I walked away with a vision of how to see the world around me. The family I lead is my mission field. The neighborhood I live in is my mission field. My work is bigger than I once saw. I need to see afresh.

4) What prompted the change?

I suppose the “sameness” of the mission field. Although London has its differences from America, it has many of the same things. It was not a severe culture shock as some other trips might be (like to Africa or Asia). Rather, it was much like America. Maybe this is meant to show me that I am not as far from a mission field as I might think when I move about in a Houston suburb. Maybe it is the “sameness” that has prompted my new perspective.

5) What can I do now to nurture the change so that it sticks with me?

I made a connection in London with a ministry and the people of that ministry. I had a mission experience that had tastes, smells, sights, and more. I can do my best to rekindle those memories at home by staying in contact with the ministry and what God is doing with specific people. I can also refresh myself with the photos and stories. One thing I will do with my family is have an Ice Cream Waffle dessert. At the pinnacle of a day’s work in London, I sat down to enjoy a special delight that I can recreate with my family and share the stories of my trip. They will love it.

6) What have I learned about God’s purpose for my life?

God wants me, as He wants all His people, to be mission-minded in every place. The mission field is the field that my feet presently stand on. When I am home, my mission is home. When I am at the grocery store, my mission is there. When I am at work, my mission is with others. God has providentially put me in a place–here and now–to carry the kingdom light to the darkness and reignite it daily where it is dwindling.

7) What steps can I take over the next month to shift my life to align with what I’ve learned about God’s purpose for me?

I’ve taken the opportunity to reach out to the leaders of the churches in London and have asked to be put on a mailing list. I can know what God is doing and how I can pray specifically for their help. This will surely rekindle my life while here at home. I am resolved to throw myself into as many church functions as possible that might stir my affections for the lost and get me into the “mission field” that I call home. This is my London for now. I am resolved to serve it to the glory of God.

Ask yourself these questions when you return home from a mission trip. Maybe they will help you use your mission trip hangover for God’s glory. Don’t waste your trip. Don’t waste the sensations you experienced or the passions you appreciated. Resolve to make all of life your mission trip—here, now. Live on mission.

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