So you’ve touched down on good ‘ole American soil once again, your head reeling with thoughts of your mission experience, and the scenes of the life you lived abroad – however brief or long – flash in your memory. Maybe you’re relieved to be back in the comfort of your own home, or maybe you are already aching to be back with the people who became your family — either way, you have returned with a story to tell. When we have the gift to travel as a missionary to near or distant communities, it is our responsibility and privilege to carry back with us pieces of the stories we encountered that now reside in the folds of our heart.
As I sit down to write this, it is exactly a year ago today, in March 2018, that I set off for a spring break mission trip to Albania – the first of its kind – with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students. It was my first foreign mission trip, and I was so excited about the opportunity to challenge myself and journey alongside my fellow missionaries in a place that has continually ached for the joy of the Gospel post-communism. When I came back, I was left in awe of the people I encountered, but especially in awe of the ways that the Lord used that time set aside to remind me of His goodness and His faithfulness. I couldn’t put into words all that I experienced, but even in my speechlessness, I wanted to scream from the mountaintops the goodness I had seen and the joy I had received.
It’s only natural to want to share with our friends and family the reasons why we came back a different person – fully alive and bursting at the seams to tell our stories and theirs. But in our social-media-consumed world, sometimes the first inclination when we go on mission is to come back and to post a glamour shot surrounded by minorities from an impoverished community to Instagram with a trite caption featuring a bible verse and cute little saying about how much more was received than what was given. Those kinds of pictures – you know the ones – just reek of bravado. It’s an inauthentic display of a privileged person seeking validation for the good deed they did. “Look at how accepting I am of people different than me. Look at me, I am a good person. Look at me, I am sharing the Gospel and looking good while doing it.”And honestly, that is just the worst. In the end, how much are these kinds of posts really impacting anyone?
Don’t get me wrong. People who post-mission trip pictures like this aren’t automatically inauthentic, and it is not like all people who do this are terrible people who just care about likes or looking good to others. It is good to go on a mission trip, and it is good to share about it. But the way I see it, there is a time and a place and a way to share your mission experience without turning it into a spotlight on your own goodwill. Here are some ways to share your experience in a way that truly builds up the Kingdom…
If you were impacted enough by a mission trip to want to share about it, chances are the Lord worked on your heart. Maybe you can’t even fully articulate or comprehend what happened that week. Maybe you still have so many thoughts and feelings and emotions about what took place but you don’t even know what to do with it. Take it all to the Lord. The good, the beautiful, the hard, the heartbreaking… All of it. He brought you there for a reason. You may never fully know why, but He desires to show you the fruit of your mission, and He desires that you would allow your experiences to bring you closer to Him.
Spend some time with our Lord and talk with Him about everything you lived and encountered on your mission trip. If you took a journal with you, read over it and reflect on what you wrote. If you have certain memories that persist anytime you think of your mission trip, chances are the Lord wants to meet you there. Go back to that moment in prayer, invite the Holy Spirit, and say to the Lord, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”
Discuss and Discern
While it is your responsibility to share the fruits of your mission, you don’t need to share everything about it with everyone you know. As with everything in life (including every story that deserves to be told), there is a time and place to share your mission story and certain parts of your story are more appropriate to share with certain people. Let me explain.
You should feel free to share honestly with anyone you encounter who asks about your experience and who genuinely desires to hear your answer. But consider who you are talking to and how personal your anecdote is. On the (very) long trip back home from Albania, I had plenty of time to reflect on the highs and lows of my trip, and what I considered most important to share with people who asked that very simple yet complicated question: “Oh hey, how was your trip?” I had prepared a little elevator speech – about 30-seconds to a minute long – containing a quick anecdote and something valuable I had learned. This was something I could whip out for people I met in passing, or people I didn’t know so well. Of course, if there was more time and if the person was genuinely interested, I was able to share more and answer their questions more fully.
But still, there is no one better to process experience with than someone who was there and who can relate to what you felt. Discuss your trip and its meaningful moments with your fellow missionaries, or better yet with your mission leader (or any priests or religious that accompanied you on the trip) if possible. They can help you reflect on the meaning in what you feel has been most impactful for you, and can help you discern what the Lord wants to speak to you through your time on the mission.
Share Thoughtfully Online
Now that you have taken some time to reflect on your experience, you are more prepared to share your experience with others in person and on social media. When it comes to social media, what you share probably will look more like that elevator speech I mentioned before – since some of your followers may not know you personally or vice versa. Don’t be afraid to be honest and share the hardship of your mission, the joy you feel, a lesson you’ve learned or a favorite memory from the trip, something that the Lord revealed to you — but it’s all a balance.
You don’t want to reduce your experience to a glamour shot and a trite caption, but you also don’t want to share anything more than what you genuinely feel called to share with the whole world. Some things are meant to be kept between you and Jesus, some things are meant to be shared with certain people in a one-on-one conversation, and even fewer things are meant to be broadcast across your social channels. Invite your followers to reach out to you if they’d like to know more, and that will open up more opportunities for conversation.
Share Intentionally in Person
It’s especially important to share the outcomes of your mission if you fundraised to go. Your family, friends, and mission partners care about you enough to invest their money and time in prayer as sacrifices for your mission – and that is such a blessing! Take the time to follow up with these people, whether that’s through talking over a coffee, giving them a phone call, or shooting them an email with a newsletter or video you’ve made. It’s important that these people in your community understand the tremendous impact that they’ve made and how grateful you are that they joined you on this mission, because without them. Whether they’re family or virtual strangers, they deserve to know how this mission has changed your heart – so don’t be afraid to follow up with them and share your experiences – with photos and videos if you can.
Hold Onto What You’ve Learned
Your mission experience isn’t meant to be filed away and out of sight in a cute little Marie Kondo box somewhere in the closet of your memories. It’s meant to be carried forward into your “real life.” Whether you feel like it or not, this mission trip has been given to you as a tremendous opportunity to be touched by the Lord and to see Him through the lens of a different culture and worldview. I hope that no matter where you go on mission this year, you are able to be fully present to the people you were sent to serve and that the Holy Spirit would reveal to you the ways you are meant to incorporate the fruits of this mission into your everyday life.