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Mission Trip Essentials: Your UN-Packing Guide

I have a confession to make: I’m really bad at unpacking my suitcase. I get home from a trip and just leave it – for days, even weeks! If I need something that’s still packed, I dig through the jumble of dirty laundry, leaky toiletries, and why-did-I-buy-that souvenirs to find it. Then I close my suitcase and ignore the mess all over again.

It’s a terrible habit, I know. Please don’t judge me! One of these days, I’ll be one of those responsible grown-ups whose suitcase is emptied before the jetlag even hits. But if I’m being honest, that day has not yet come.

If you’ve been on a mission trip, you’ve experienced a phenomenon called “re-entry” that happens when you get home. On your mission trip, your day was scheduled full with ministry, worship, and time spent with Jesus. You were surrounded by people who were pursuing God, and it challenged you to pursue him in a greater way yourself. Your eyes were opened to spiritual and physical needs, and you saw new ways that God wanted to use you. Most likely you were refreshed by being away from the normal routine and the thousands of things vying for your attention – from work, friends, and family to social media or a TV show.

Finishing a mission trip is a little bit like riding a rollercoaster. After all the waiting and anticipation, you shriek your way through twists and turns that end so abruptly that you wonder where the time went. You walk away, wobbly-legged, feeling little bit whiplashed and shell-shocked. But it’s on to the next thing, and in no time at all, your mission trip seems distant and surreal. No wonder it’s easy to slip back into the old routine!

My re-entry advice? Unpack your suitcase. Right away.

I know, I know – I just admitted that there’s a suitcase that’s been sitting in my room for weeks. (To all my YWAM roomies, I sincerely apologize!) But before you call me a hypocrite, here’s what I mean.

Unpack Right Away

What changed on your mission trip? Your prayer life? Your hunger for the Word? Maybe for the first time, you boldly – or even semi-boldly – shared your faith with someone else. Maybe you learned to put others before yourself by serving.

Don’t wait. Think of one way that God has helped you grow. Then do it, right away. Whether that means washing someone else’s dishes the first night you get back, or setting your alarm to get up and continue to spend time with Jesus in the morning, pull out the good things you’ve learned and start doing them.

Deal with Dirty Laundry

When we’re away from our norm, God often has our attention in ways we don’t ordinarily give it. And if you’re like me, it’s possible that he used your mission trip to challenge you in a specific way. Were you convicted of something on your trip? Maybe you even made a commitment: “When I get back, this area of my life needs to change.”

Don’t let “dirty laundry” fester.  If you know you need to ask someone’s forgiveness, text them from the airport and let them know you’d like to talk. If there’s a friendship that’s been a negative influence, determine now what boundaries you need to set. Maybe God’s challenged you to have a higher standard of purity with your boyfriend or girlfriend. Don’t wait until you’re on the couch watching a movie! Initiate that conversation right away.

Your Unpacking Guide

Wasn’t it helpful having a packing list for your mission trip? In the same way, your re-entry needs guidance. But I’m not really talking about checklists in this case. Sure, set goals for yourself – that’s a good thing. But if you want the change God has done in your life to last, don’t think you can power through it. You need God’s strength, not your own.

Seek out prayer and accountability from Christians you trust – that’s one of the ways the Holy Spirit guides us. Most of all, hold on to Jesus. He loves you a lot, and he’s pretty good at helping us walk out the life he calls us to live.

From packing lists and cross-cultural pointers to the “heart prep” we all need, check out our pro tips for effective mission trips.