The Great Difficulty of Returning Home

It’s possible this letter is written FROM YOU – especially if you’ve just returned from serving others in a community away from home. On the other hand, it’s possible this letter is written TO YOU – especially if you know someone who has just come home from a meaningful missions experience.

Dear Family & Friends,

I need to warn you: I just returned from a meaningful missions experience. I met some people who were very different than me, I served those who have far less than me, and I got to see what life in another context looks like. I left my schedule, my community and my comfort zone to try something new. I did things I didn’t know I could and was stretched in ways I didn’t expect. And it was really amazing… but coming home… well… it’s harder than I thought it would be.

When I first showed up in the community I visited, I didn’t expect that just a short time later I would feel so torn about leaving. There were people who it was hard to say goodbye to, and I wonder if I’ll ever see them again. I know there’s a possibility I won’t… which is sad to think about.

Don’t get me wrong. I was pretty exhausted upon coming home and there sure is something nice about being back – nice in a long-nap-and-warm-shower kind of way. But things are different. I’m noticing things I didn’t see before… like that I have a bed and shower and food in the fridge and a place to come home to. Not everyone I met on my mission trip had those things… but they had other things like warm smiles and creativity and joy that wasn’t reliant on owning stuff. It makes me feel a little guilty – even gross – about owning so much. I might even be considering packing up half my clothes and donating them. We’ll see.

Something else I am noticing back home is – to be a little blunt – you spend money on stupid things… and to be honest, it almost makes me angry because it’s like you don’t understand that your money could be used to get clothes or food or school supplies for kids who don’t have those things and for parents who wish they could buy them. You could be sending money to a service organization to help them love people better or to a struggling church so they could improve their building. It makes me kinda anxious and annoyed and angry that you aren’t thinking more about that.

I’m also thinking about what I should do now that I’m back. There were some needs that I saw that just weren’t being met and some things I didn’t know about before that I want to do something about. Part of me feels like those needs are too big for little me to do something about… and part of me thinks that maybe I could do something. I’m still thinking about it.

I guess I’m also a little nervous that this is just another mountaintop experience. In a few weeks, everyday life will set in again, and I’m worried this experience will fade. It feels like the easy way out – to go back to normal. But part of me really doesn’t want to let my closet fill up with clothes I don’t need or to stop being angry about stupid spending or to stop wanting to do something to help others. Part of me doesn’t want to get comfortable again. But maybe it’s inevitable… I don’t know.

Here’s the hardest thing though: No one really wants to hear about this experience. I mean, people have asked, “How was it?” And then they do a really good job listening… for about 30 seconds. Then they ask what I’m doing next week and no one talks about my missions experience again. But there are a million questions I could answer for hours. Questions like, “Who was one person you will always remember?” or “What did God open your eyes to?” or “What was the hardest thing you did?” Those would probably be good questions to start… but no one asks. No one realizes that this trip was a really big deal to me… maybe even life-changing…

I guess if there’s only one thing you did after reading this letter, it would be to just give me some time. Ask me some questions. Really listen. And I might not open up right away. Sometimes it’s hard to trust that another person really wants to hear what I’m thinking. And I might need some time to find the right words and the energy to share them. But I think talking about it might be good, so keep asking. Maybe by just talking about it I could know more about what I should do next or how I should feel or how my relationship with God fits into all this. Maybe by talking about it, the mission trip could be more than a mountaintop experience and something I bring home with me.

From Me after Missions


Not everybody has the same response to mission trips. For some, the experience will make ripples in their lives, but for others, tidal waves! The experience expressed in the letter above could develop into life-changing waves, but that takes encouragement and support. Take a little time to answer the following for yourself, or better yet, talk about it in a group.

If you just returned from a missions experience…

  • What in this letter rang true for you after your missions experience?
  • What are some healthy ways of responding to missions that you saw in this letter?
  • What are some ways these responses could be unhealthy if handled the wrong way?
  • What are a few healthy things you can do now that your trip is over?
  • Is there anyone you should share this letter or parts of this letter with? Who are those people?
  • It’s important to talk about your experience after the trip. Who can you ask to help you process the trip by asking lots of questions and taking time to listen? Don’t just think of someone, really go ask them!

If you know someone who just returned from a meaningful mission trip or similar experience…

  • Which of these responses do you think is true for them?
  • Do you understand what they might be going through or is it hard for you to understand? What are some reasons for that?
  • What might you be able to learn from their perspectives? How can you see the world and the various experiences of people within it a little differently through the stories of their week?
  • What are some things you could do or change to meet them in the midst of their response? Encourage them to take healthy action in response to their experience and join them in that action.
  • Have you taken time to really listen? If so, keep asking questions and give them opportunities to talk about their experience. If not, set aside time to really listen and ask good follow-up questions. Create space for them to process and share. Seek to understand what they experienced and how they are responding.

Thanks for thinking more deeply about what happens after the mission trip. In the comments below, share what stood out to you from this post and what you will do in response.