5 Ways To ‘Recover’ From A Short-term Mission Team

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).

5 Ways To Recover From a Short-term Mission Team

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.

A Sent People – Part 2: Travel Lightly

This is part two of a 5-part devotional series based on Luke 10:1-12 (See part one) It includes the reading of Scripture, considering its teaching, asking questions of ourselves for reflection, and applying it in practical ways. Enjoy.


Part 2: Travel Lightly

Passage: Luke 10:4

“Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road.”

A Sent People - Part 2_ Travel Lightly

Consider:

Jesus continues talking to those he is sending out. This time he tells them to travel lightly. In fact, it almost sounds like they aren’t to take anything at all. Furthermore, when they see people it seems they are to be rude to them by continuing on to their destination, ignoring any greetings given. But this isn’t quite the case.

Those being sent out into the harvest have what they need. They have the Lord Jesus for protection and all the material needs required. They will be supplied with all they need while out in the harvest, nothing more is needed. What they have in their wallets is sufficient, their bag and shoes are good enough, and those they meet may well hold them up as they head out to the field.

As God calls those to be workers in the harvest it is important to understand the importance of travelling lightly. There is a need to let go of comfort and not to be weighed down by the materialism, consumerism, and security that surrounds us today. Just as it is easier to get through an airport terminal when only having carry-on luggage, so too it is easier for the workers of the harvest to keep things simple and take very little on their journey. They are to leave behind that which binds them, which holds them up, which stops them from moving forward. They are to continue to share the message of the Kingdom to those in their influence.

This not only speaks of the physical and material lightness required in mission but also the openness we have in our weeks and relationships. There is much that holds us up from sharing the message of the Kingdom, nothing more so than weeks filled with activities and appointments. There is something to be said about giving space in our weeks so we can be open to how God is leading and moving in our lives. More directly, the more intentional we are about leaving behind that which binds will mean we are more open to see God move and have the space to respond to His leading. This might mean that we have the freedom to find new ways of building relationships. It may mean we have more energy to be hospitable. It may mean we find ourselves drawn closer to Jesus and his mission because we are open to seeing how he will use us to build the Kingdom.

There will always be people who wish to talk and seek to be helpful for the workers of the Kingdom. Eastern culture is a hospitable culture and a culture that includes many greetings and customs. These can hold the workers up if they are to greet every person they meet along the way. Instead, Jesus encourages them to be so focussed on the harvest that they spend no time worrying about the custom of greetings in their society. They are not to get distracted in these things. Refusing hospitality from their own people is not looked upon fondly, but Jesus directs his workers to get on with the task of sharing the Gospel of the Kingdom and make it a priority.

Rather than being drawn into these meaningless greetings followers of Jesus are to build authentic relationships with people. Over time these greetings become meaningless because they aren’t said with intention, it’s just what people do when they see each other. On the other hand, authentic relationships are to be built, and through these friendships the sharing of the Good News can be told in conversation or seen through actions of hospitality and care.

Ask Yourself:

  • When Jesus sends his workers out into the harvest field he gives them all that they require. Are you trusting that Jesus has equipped you in your ministry right now?
  • Being a harvester requires us to carry little. What do you need to lay aside in order to walk more lightly as a pilgrim of Jesus?
  • There is much to distract us from the mission God has given us. Is there anything distracting you from being in the harvest field right now? What can you do to change that?

Take A Step:

  1. Spend some time in prayer thanking God for the gifts he has given you and the way he continues to equip you.
  2. Write down three things in your life that is holding you up in your relationship with Jesus. Lift them up in prayer and give them over to God.
  3. What is distracting you from being involved in God’s harvest? Talk to someone who can help you be involved in ministry in your neighbourhood more easily.

I’ve Never Been To Aleppo

I’ve never been to Aleppo. 

I’ve been to Damascus.

I’ve been to Palmyra.

I’ve been to Homs.

I’ve been to Bosra.

 I’ve never been to Aleppo. 

psalm-18-6

In 2003, as a fresh faced 20-year-old, I had the opportunity to visit Syria for the first time. With a friend I travelled by taxi from Lebanon, through the mountains that border the two countries, and arrived in Damascus for a one-night stay. It was the sights and smells that did me in.

I was one of very few Westerners. I ate amazing chicken kebabs with garlic mayonnaise and hot chips. I drank beer at a seedy bar that supplied weird nuts on the side. I visited a hammam, a men’s bath and massage centre, and came out the cleanest I’d ever been. I took in the sights of a city that had been around for over 3000 years. I sat in the Umayyad Mosque and attempted to see the “head of John The Baptist”. I stood inside the mausoleum of Saladin. I walked the Al-Hamadiyah Souk, with its storefronts lined with gold and the shopkeepers trying to convince me to buy special silk garments their grandmothers made. I wandered the Old City taking in the history and culture. I paid a visit to the National Museum, full of artefacts from millennia ago. I made my way down the Street called Straight, where Saul turned Paul walked 2000 years ago. I visited Ananias’s House and sat in those two dark rooms thinking about the many followers of the Way who’d been through.

When I visited Damascus I feel in love with the place.

A city that was, and still is, my favourite city in the world.

But I’ve never been to Aleppo. 

In 2006 I took a road trip with another friend of mine. We crossed the border into Syria and after a few days in Damascus we took the local bus to Palmyra, in the middle of the Syrian desert. We explored the ruins and met the bedouin locals.

But I’ve never been to Aleppo. 

On that same trip we visited Homs. We had a brief look around a city that was off the tourist trail. We had our haircuts and made some friends. We took a taxi to a local castle and nearly got beaten up by the driver.

But I’ve never been to Aleppo. 

When my parents came to visit us in Lebanon I took them across the border once again. We took a mini-van to Bosra. The rain came through the rusted out roof, and water was collected in a snap-lock bag. We climbed all over the Roman Amphitheatre and took some funny photos near various Roman ruins.

But I’ve never been to Aleppo. 

#prayforaleppo

O, LITTLE TOWN OF ALEPPO
How scared we see thee lie,
Above thy ancient, ruined streets
Unholy stars collide.
Yet in some backstreet shelter
A newborn infant cries,
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in Thee tonight

For Christ is born of Mary
And Herod smells the blood
Still Rachel weeps, but angels keep
Their bitter watch of love
O morning stars together
Proclaim the holy birth,
Let weeping cease, and foolish peace
Be born again in us.

How silently, how violently
The wondrous gift is slain
A mother cries and though he dies
Her son shall rise again.
Perceive his broken body
Conceive his future form
And as you grieve, yet still believe
The birth of Isa dawns.

Pete Greig

Travelling With An 18 Month Old

Never travel with an 18-month old. If you’re contemplating it, stop contemplating. If you’re thinking about it, stop thinking about it. If you’re considering it, stop considering it.

I shouldn’t be so harsh. Our daughter travelled very well, even though she was completely smashed when we got there.

We recently travelled from Australia to Europe. Door to door the trip took over 30 hours, with brief stopovers in Singapore and Dubai. It’s a killer of a flight when you’re on your own, let alone with an 18-month old.

Now that I’ve recovered from the experience I thought I’d write a few comments about what I’ve learnt.

1. Kids Can Put Up With A Lot
Little Miss didn’t sleep on the first 8 hour leg, but fell asleep in the airport as we waited to board the next section of our journey. The sleep lasted 40 minutes in one of those baby wearing contraptions. On the second flight she managed to fall asleep from around 90 minutes and then she dozed a third time while waiting to board our third flight, after a four hour stopover.
Sleep’s important for any kid, any adult in fact. But seeing Little Miss have to deal with so little sleep for so long made me feel bad for her. I felt bad for putting her though it all. Yet, she survived and made it through and has since got back to her best. While this is simply one aspect of the what she had to put up with during the course of the journey it is the main one. She can certainly put up with a lot.

2. Airline’s Don’t Offer Enough Food For Infants
Because Little Miss is less than two years old she is classed as an infant and doesn’t get her own seat. Anyone who’s had an 18-month old will realise that this is just a silly classification. 18-month olds eat the house down, in a relative way, and Little Miss could down an adult meal if she tried. This being said we were never offered any food for her on the journey, not even an infant meal. I’m not going to name the airline but I think that’s pretty poor form. Poor poor poor. If you’ve decided to the reject the advice in the first paragraph of this post then I suggest you pack your own food, and a lot of it.

3. iPads Are Gold
Load it up with the good stuff – In The Night Garden, Peppa Pig etc – and let it roll. We don’t usually let Little Miss play with them but on this type of journey you have to let some things go. She sat quietly and well for at least 15 minutes because of these things, they’re a lifesaver.

4. Don’t Expect Any Sleep
When she doesn’t sleep we don’t sleep. Enough said.

5. Minimise Your Luggage
When you’ve got no time to yourself then there’s no point in having much carry-on luggage. About 90% of our carry-on was loaded up with toys, amusements and food for Little Miss. The more room for these things will means less for yourself, which you don’t need anyway.

What about you? How have you found travelling with an “infant”?