When leaving the gym I often observe people immediately drinking their protein shakes. I’m not entirely convinced of their usefulness for an average fitness plodder like myself. However, I can understand the need for these recovery shakes to be consumed by those involved in elite sport. You see, recovery is viewed as an important part of any athletes training regime. It’s not just about preparation and training. Nor is it simply about what happens on the day of competition. Included in a holistic approach to the athlete’s growth and health is recovery.
This is the same when it comes to short-term mission teams (an in reality most ministry programs and events).
It can often be the case that recovery from these short-term experiences is severely lacking. Much time is spent in preparation and on the trip itself. However, when it comes to debrief and recovery many find themselves left alone to work out how to process such an experience.
But recovery is so essential in these situations. Whether it is a cross-cultural short-term team, or whether it is in a place where we feel more comfortable, recovery and debrief are vital in helping us process what we’ve experienced and learnt during the adventure.
These type of trips and teams are particularly intense for a short period of time, often with people we don’t know so well, and doing tasks and activities out of our comfort zone. With it comes culture, relational, and emotional shock because of what we see, hear, smell, and taste. Therefore, it is important to ‘recover’ and reflect from these things.
Using the word ‘recover’ in this way is not to suggest negativity, but it is about reflecting on the experience. It is about making decisions and gaining clarity and perspective on what we learnt during our time away.
What recovering is not is making sure we are the same person upon our return. No, we hope to be changed, we hope we provided some change to others ourselves. And this is good. The point of recovery is not to regress back to the way things were, but point forward and apply the impact of our experience into our lives.
I’m a big believer in these short-term teams and also reflecting on these experiences. I believe anyone should go on one of these types of teams in their lifetime. They will widen our view of the world and provide tangible experiences of people and cultures that are different from us. But coming back into our own culture, with all its regular activities and people and responsibilities brings with it some difficulty. It can be a shock, it can be lonely, it can be disappointing, compared to the excitement and conversations going on in the trip. And so once it’s all over here are five things we can do to help us recover from such an experience.
First, we can pray.
This seems obvious. But how often do we actually do it?
Praying gives us the opportunity to raise up our praises and gratitude for what God has given us, particularly the experiences we have had on a short-term mission trip. We can lift up those who we have met, the activities we were involved in, and the conversations that struck us. Our prayer lives are often enhanced because of these trips because they give us greater perspective. We can thank God for that.
But in prayer we can also lift up our questions, our struggles, and our joys. Prayer is an excellent start when seeking to recover from such a trip.
Second, we can spend time by ourselves reflecting on significant questions.
Every time I have led a team I have always provided questions for each individual participant to complete once they are back home. Questions can make us think more deeply, and are helpful in making us think through our experience. There will have been joys and challenges, and we need the ability to name them. While conversations are helpful, time set apart for ourselves to think and process what we’ve done upon our return can helpful. I’d recommend doing this after 6-weeks, the 3-months, 6-months, and 12 months from your return.
Some questions you might like to consider are:
- What did I learn about myself during my time away?
- What did I learn about God and what it means to follow him as a disciple of Christ?
- What did I learn about the people, the church, and the Christian community in the places I visited?
- What did I learn about how culture impacts the way people live and understand the world?
- How has my faith been impacted because of this experience? Have I learnt more about my own Christian calling through this trip?
What other questions might you add?
Third, we can spend time with the people we went with.
A meeting 4-6 weeks after the end of the trip is helpful to rekindle thought and relationship with those who went on the trip. If your group is from different geographical areas, then a video chat session would be another way to do this.
The reason for a team gathering soon after returning is because it helps us share stories. It provides an opportunity to share what has made a lasting impact. And it helps to know you’re not the only one going through the same challenges and struggles in coming home.
You generally form a strong bond with the people you go away with. Sometimes it doesn’t go well, and that means there might be other ways debrief and recovery needs to occur. But, most of the time, meeting up and telling the stories of the trip; what it’s like to be home and the hopes for the future, will be an encouraging way to wrap up the team experience.
Fourth, we can make sure we tell the stories with others.
It is in the ability to tell the story of what has gone on during your time away that helps you become clearer in what you learnt, what God seems to be saying to you, and what the impact of the trip had upon you.
If you have gone with a team through your church then the opportunity to talk about your experience in a service, in a small group, or with a circle of friends is perfect. This helps you share what you’ve been up to, but also encourages others around you. Sometimes the reactions we receive from others is somewhat of a surprise, but it is important to remember that they can’t visualise or understand many of the things you went through. This is why sharing the stories is important, for you and for others.
I remember coming back from one short-term team, having spent a few weeks overseas with people I didn’t know too well. I had to talk it out with my colleagues and my wife, just to recover from what I’d experienced while away. Funnily enough, it wasn’t the cultural aspects, nor the project we were involved in, that caused the most anxiety. It was the team members I was with, and how they responded to various situations they were put in!
Sharing the stories and talking it out with safe friends and people is important in re-adjusting to ‘normal’ life.
Fifth, we can set some goals for the future.
As you have worked through these things it is also worth writing down things you’d like to accomplish off the back of this trip.
If we don’t set goals from the trip then it will just become another exciting experience that we’ve been on, perhaps a bit of travel to remember sometime in the future. Yet, if we believe God is working in us and through us, to grow us to be more like him and in his Christlike character, then it is worth pondering what life might look like having had this experience.
These goals don’t have to be world dominating. They could be three simple changes you’d like to make in your own life or faith. It could be one particular resolution you’d like to make because of what you’ve seen and heard. These goals could be anything from giving money to the projects you were involved in, praying for the place you visited, or become more involved in your church’s mission team. The goals and resolutions can be endless. However, sometimes it is better to set goals which are achievable. A goal that is personal, a goal that is faith-orientated, and a goal that is for the service of others.
With these in mind we can have confidence that this experience will last a lifetime.