- Reflect – Take time to reflect on your experience, the people you met, the lessons you learned, the insights God granted, and how you are changed as a result. Too much of our lives is spent racing from event to event and we seldom take the time to reflect on what God is teaching us. If you kept a journal, took pictures, or received notes from people related to the trip, spend some time reviewing them. Ask yourself what God taught you about Himself, His Word, His promises, and His people. Notice all the ways that He provided all you needed and protected you and the team. Ask yourself how you can be better prepared for the next mission trip the Lord allows you to take, or how you can better prepare others to go.
- Follow up – After reflecting on your trip send a note of thanks and encouragement to those the Lord impresses upon your heart. If someone stands out in your memory as one who helped you along the way, take the time to thank them, letting them know that their “cup of cold water” has not been forgotten, and that you gave thanks for them today. Most importantly, try to recall whether you promised something to someone you met along the way. Team members often tell national believers that they will send an email, friend them on Facebook, or send a copy of a picture, but these promises are quickly forgotten in the excitement of the trip. Sadly, the nationals do not take the promises so lightly. After waiting in vain for the promised follow-up, they wonder what else that the team told them is not true. Take a few minutes and follow up. I remember telling the homeowner of a humble adobe house church in the Peruvian Andes that we would be back the next year. When went back and I knocked on the door, she opened it with a startled look and wonderingly said, “You DID come back!” It makes a difference. Take the time to follow up.
- Plan – If you noticed on your trip that a better evangelism or discipleship method is needed, begin research to locate better materials. If your team lacked wisdom culturally or missiologically, seek counsel from someone who knows the area and has experience. Sometimes we see the need for Bibles or devices with recorded audio Scriptures. Planning the next steps will help you get needed items donated or provided way before time to pack for the next trip. If you will need to raise support for your next trip, consider opening a savings account to deposit money over the next months as God provides. Begin casting vision to others who could join your support team. And plan your vacation time to make sure that you will be able to go.
- Pray – Pray that God would continue to teach you through the experience, that He would do the same for the other team members, and that He would bless the national church where you worked. Some say that the best thing about prayer-walking trips is that you can pray on-site with insight. You have that as a result of your trip. Lay it all before the Lord and walk through each day mentioning each place, person, need, and opportunity. Pray for the country, its government, peace for the church, blessing for the members, and for specific needs you learned about while there.
- Continue – Don’t stop the fellowship with those you went with if at all possible. It is amazing how God knits hearts together on mission trips. You can feel closer to fellow team members after one week of international travel and ministry than to people you have gone to church with for years. Get together occasionally to pray for the ministry site, to share food made from recipes of that country, to remember the experience, and to plan future ministry. Don’t waste that miracle of fellowship that God has given.
- Read – As a result of your new and expanded worldview, you should be reading your Bible and the newspaper with different eyes. Someone said that God cannot lead you based on information you don’t have. Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” The missions education you received on that trip should expand and enhance the way you understand the Bible and global events. Let your life’s experiences color your continuing journey Home.
- Build – I love having former missionaries in my classrooms. Many times newer students aren’t really sure what they need to learn. Some think they pretty much know it all, or at least all they need to know. Those who have been on the field come to classroom with a keen awareness of what they need to learn. They build on the experiences gained on the field with all the education they can get. Now that you have been to the field, read or re-read missionary biographies and stories related to that area or ministry. Let your mind soak in their lives and imagine yourself walking in their steps. Use your experience in the places where they lived to help you apply to your own life the lessons God taught them.
- Recruit – One of the great blessings for missionaries who work with short-term teams is that those returning church members can help them recruit career missionaries, more team members, and both prayer and financial supporters for their ministries. You can be an advocate for the missionaries you met. While they must remain to do the work God called them to do, you can be their boots on the ground back home to promote and recruit.
Being a good steward of the blessings God gives us includes that we reflect on and treasure them. The wise steward will ponder the steps taken on paths he’s traveled and consider how he could have done better, purposing in his heart to learn from all of this and be more prepared the next time. Someone asked me recently whether short-term mission trips were worth the time and expense, and whether they resulted in more good than harm. I responded that the difference depends on pre-trip orientation, good on-field team leadership, and debriefing afterwards. These eight steps are essential parts of the debriefing that can help us redeem the days and make us wise stewards of grace gifts like participation on a mission trips. The resulting wisdom can be invested in future ministry for global good and God’s glory.