Kate and her husband Jim had been actively involved in their church. Kate was increasingly troubled, because she had noticed her husband’s Bible had been untouched for several months. She knew he was in a spiritual slump. Then one day her husband expressed his interest in going on a short term mission. Initially she couldn’t understand why, but though she had incredible fears and concerns of him going to a foreign country, she wasn’t going to let anything get in the way and hinder what God might want to do in Jim’s life.
Plans were made and Jim left on the trip. While Jim was gone, he called Kate and enthusiastically shared the amazing things God was doing. She realized that this experience had the potential to impact their entire family.
As the day of Jim’s return came nearer, Kate became nervous. She did not know what to expect. Somehow, deep within her, she sensed that she was in a position where her reaction during the upcoming weeks could have a significant impact on the choices Jim would make and the lasting influence of this trip. She began to pray about how she could strategically assist her husband and maximize the impact of this spiritual high point.
Whether it is your spouse or your child on the missions trip, there are some distinct ways you can help make the most of their return.
- Show genuine interest in the stories of what God has done.Show interest in their stories even if it causes you to feel left out. Your loved one may return on a high and talk more than you’ve ever heard them talk. Jealousy seeks to set in. Pray specifically that you will be able to pay close attention and ask questions. As you show that you are interested, your family member will be much more eager to share the experience with you.While ministry appears to be for those who we are ministering to, we often underestimate the way God uses ministry to change our own lives. Short-term projects have the potential to be life-changing in ways we may not even be aware of. Even though you and other members of your family did not go on the trip, encourage your loved one to see that this trip has had an affect on your entire family. Work together and come up with action points that will influence your entire family.I know of a couple who made the decision to spend some of the money that would normally be used for birthday and Christmas gifts in the year following a short-term mission to purchase special gifts for poor children. They then looked for an opportunity to send the gifts overseas. It so happened that they gave those gifts to my husband and me when we were going on a trip to Mexico and we was able to personally deliver them to some very poor children. I was deeply moved by their responses. These children had never seen toys like that.
- Develop practical action points that can impact your entire family. Ask your loved one to share with you any action points he/she made on the trip and how you can pray for them. Ask them to share with you the ways you and your family might be able to help them fulfill those points. God may have begun a work and placed a dream in your loved one’s heart that could have lasting impact. They may have acquired a passion to reach out to a neighbor, a family member or someone at work. God may have given them a deep desire to grow in their faith or possibly to serve in some area of ministry. Encourage that dream. Pray specifically that God would show you how you can be of help in making those dreams become reality. Pray also that you would not hinder even a tiny seed of what God intends to do.
- There may be some action points that seem surprising and even extreme to you. Your loved one will have seen extreme poverty and possibly will have seen God do amazing things. There is a possibility that he/she might want to make radical changes in your family’s lifestyle, or maybe they will suggest that they should go into full-time ministry or not give gifts for Christmas. There may not be anything wrong in these ideas, however, they will seem like they came out of nowhere as you have not been on this journey.When these suggestions are made, be prepared with an action plan. Don’t squelch their dream. Possibly suggest that you could write down those dreams in a notebook and as a family you could pray together over these dreams and see how God unfolds them. In this process, you will be building togetherness as you seek God. Often God plants seeds in hearts on these trips and the nurturing of these seeds produces beautiful fruit – and it is often quite different from what we think it will be. You don’t need to be afraid of these dreams.“Look at the nations and watch – and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe even if you were told” (Habakkuk 1:5). If God wants to do something in your family’s life as a result of this trip, He is able to do that work in and through you beyond whatever you might fathom.
- Surround yourself with prayer for the time both during the trip and immediately following your loved one’s return from the short-term project.Whenever God is at work, the enemy seeks to destroy. Pray fervently in the weeks immediately after your loved one’s home-coming. In some ways, the need for prayer is more intense than it was while they were gone. Do not let down your guard.The tendency is that once the plane has landed and the suitcases are unpacked, the intense need for prayer support lets up. Encourage your friends to pray for your reunion as a family and adjust to day-to-day living so that the enemy would not have a foot-hold.
- Evaluate your expectations. Whenever a member in our family takes steps in ministry, expectations develop as to what we think will happen and how this ministry experience will affect our lives. We are correct in that these experiences do affect our lives, however, our prediction as to how that will happen may not always be accurate.There is a possibility that when you are most expecting a significant change, nothing happens. This can be devastating if you allow it to be. Realize that a changed life is work that God specializes in and that you can continue to pray. You may never know what seeds were planted.Several years ago Tina went on a short–term mission. She struggled most of the time she was on the trip. When she returned she commented, “I went because I thought it would be fun and I didn’t change because I knew everyone expected me to.” This is not common; however, these kinds of things can happen. A relationship with God is very personal and just going on a trip will not cause life-change anymore than sitting in a church pew will deepen one’s relationship with God.
- Give your loved one time to re-adjust to your culture. The culture shock is often more difficult coming home than going to the foreign country. Things are seen through a different set of eyes and the affluence of our culture can be overwhelming. While someone is on a short-term project, they are usually bathed in prayer the entire time and are seeking God in a new way because everything they do is out of their comfort zone so they are forced to completely abandon themselves to Christ. Once home, however, it is very easy to rely on their own skills and abilities. The transition can be a little frustrating. You may even sense an irritable spirit or even outbursts of anger from them as they work through the processing of their emotions. They may be feeling powerless to affect deep change within the culture they have just visited along with their new friends that they have made. Another very real possibility is that they are struggling in a spiritual battle, so increase your prayer for and with them.
- Guard your relationship. If the loved one who has gone on the short-term trip is your spouse, make every effort to guard and protect your marriage. How you receive and help your spouse work through the changes they may go through on the project may have a profound impact on your relationship. It is worth protecting your relationship. Your spouse may have received e-mail addresses of members of the opposite sex while they were gone, encourage them to be careful. This kind of communication may not be appropriate and may put your relationship at risk. Talk about these things with your spouse.
I’m sure you are wondering what happened to Jim and Kate. Jim came home and was elated about what God was doing in his life. He and Kate made a commitment to become more involved financially in ministry. Jim had built a relationship with his interpreter, George, and has now involved his entire family in communicating with and supporting this person who has gone into full-time ministry. In some ways, their lives appear to have gone back to normal, but for Jim, this trip was a burning bush experience and Susan was instrumental in it becoming that way.
There are many others who have gone on trips and have had life changing experiences.
Those who go on short-term trips can be influenced deeply by the response of their family upon their return. I was unaware of the extent of this when my husband went on his first short-term mission without me. We had previously gone together and had both said this was something we would always do as a couple. Then the opportunity came for Cam to go on another trip. I was nearing the end of my pregnancy and knew I could not go. I was surprised at the feelings that were beginning to create havoc within me. I felt alone, I didn’t want him having an experience of this nature without me, and I realized I was not only feeling sorry for myself, I was jealous and afraid of the impact this trip could have on his life.
Then one day I came to the realization that I was pouring cold water on what God was doing in Cam’s life. I began to pray about how I could have a renewed attitude so that I could assist my husband in maximizing the impact of this trip. Since then, he has gone on trips without me and I have gone without him. There is a different dynamic each time. I have come to realize that although I prefer for us to go as a couple, I have a significant responsibility in helping him make the most of his experience when he returns when he goes without me.
I encourage you to share the experience of this short term trip with your loved one by empowering their homecoming and enabling the impact of the trip to be all God intended it to be for your entire family.