Mission trips can be some of the most amazing and transformative experiences of your life. The opportunity to meet, get to know, and join the community of people who live far away and very differently from yourself is profound, as is the feeling of doing something truly useful every single day. When you're out on your mission trip for days, weeks, or even a few months at a time, you become accustomed to waking up in your new home, spending time with your new community, and dedicating every day to your mission. Needless to say, it's a little hard to leave it all behind.
Whether or not your mission trip has been 100% successful with no surprising allergic reactions, injuries, or important supplies forgotten somewhere, coming home can be the most difficult part of the trip for everyone who went, but it doesn't always hit you right away. Packing up, hugging everyone goodbye, and jumping back on a plane to head home is exciting and most missionaries will be eager to get home. The hard part comes when it's time to reassimilate into the 'normal' lifestyle you left behind before the mission trip. It can be hard to accept going back to work or school instead of building houses, digging wells, or running a clinic with the people you grew to love on your mission. It can be even harder to listen to friends and family talk about things that don't really seem to matter anymore in comparison to the troubles and interesting lifestyles you've just left behind.
As a mission trip leader, you can both be aware of the post-mission blues and think of helpful and truly Christian ways to help your group readjust to their normal lives back in suburbia.
1) Have a Talk on the Way Home
If you've seen the post-mission-trip blues before, it's perfectly okay to warn your fellow missionaries about what to expect when they get home. Gather everyone while you're waiting in the airport, or on the flight home if you're sitting close enough together, and talk about what it will be like to return to normal life. Even if first-timers are skeptical, cover how they might go through their own stages of grief as they realize how much they miss the people they left behind and how difficult it might be to adjust from doing good works every day to going back to normal work and school. Finally, make sure they understand that while their loved ones at home may have a hard time understanding, it's important to share and reconnect. Reassure your team that if they have any problems, you'll be available to talk about it.
2) Stay in Touch
The second step to positive post-mission recovery is to ensure that the new friendships made with those you worked with on the trip don't fade into obscurity. Collect everyone's contact information before you leave, in whatever form it's available. Depending on where and with whom you spent your mission, these could be cell phone numbers and email addresses, home addresses for letter writing, or just a list of names and the number for the village's one post box. No matter what it takes, make sure you, your team, and your new friends can all keep in touch.
3) Continue Meeting as a Group
In many cases, people who come together to go on a mission trip may not know each other very well beforehand but grow quite close over the course of the trip. Because these bonds were formed in a strange environment, it's all too easy to let them slip when you get home and back to the usual routine. However, the group you mission with is also the best support group you can have for the post-mission blues. They know what you went through, the people you're missing, and the activities you'd rather be doing instead of the seemingly monotonous busy work of life back home.
Make sure the group continues to meet at least once a week in a shared Sunday class, bible study, or just an evening get-together. This is also the perfect time to break out that contact information and encourage everyone to become long-term pen-pals with their new friends far away.
4) Tell Your Stories
When you can't seem to shake an experience, good or bad, sometimes the best way to deal with the situation is to tell your story. When you return home, consider scheduling an opportunity during service or a church gathering for your team to step forward and tell their favorite stories from the mission. You should also encourage your fellow missionaries to tell their stories to friends and family at home to help build understanding and encourage others to join the next mission trip.
5) Send Care Packages
Helping people is a wonderful experience and once you start, it's very hard to stop. Especially when you care personally about the people involved. While you may not be able to make it back to the group of people you got to know while out on your mission, you can send them a lot more than letters. Boxes of supplies, medicines, entertainment, and toys for the kids are all welcome along with anything else you know their community needs because you spend so much time with them.
6) Volunteer Together
One of the major problems coming back from a mission trip is the feeling of uselessness. Who cares about math class or endless office work when you could be out there helping people in need? Doing good works all day long is hard to quit, so why try? Instead of trying to leave charity behind and completely adapt back to normal life, organize charitable works right in your home city and invite along the whole group plus whoever has heard their stories and is moved to join you as well.
7) Plan the Next Trip
Finally, the best way to ease the feeling of missing your new friends and wondering how they're doing is to make plans to see them again. Planning a perfect mission trip takes time and there's no harm in starting your plans almost immediately after returning home. Working on these plans will help everyone shake the blues of leaving behind the mission trip that just ended and it's a great way to spend time thinking about how to help people.
The end of a mission trip doesn't have to be the end of teamwork and charitable projects. If you want to help your fellow missionaries shake the post-mission blues and stay connected, bring the good works home with you! When everyone is busy telling their story, spreading the word about how wonderful mission trips are, and organizing similar helpful projects in their own neighborhoods, there won't be any time to get sad.