Displacement and Discomfort are Good!
Nobody likes to be uncomfortable and going to a different place, with a different culture, with people you might not initially understand can be scary. But before you back away from discomfort, remember that it’s a place where we grow and learn to understand others better.
I am not a person who is comfortable speaking in front of groups of more than five people. As a teen, I was not at all comfortable praying in front of other people who were older than me or who I did not know. So, when I went to Mexico with my youth group and we were asked to pray for people in the community that we were partnered with, you can imagine my discomfort. At that moment I was very aware that I did not speak Spanish well, that my group was full of enthusiastic outgoing believers, and that God was tugging at my heart to pray for someone that day.
A couple that asked us to pray for them mentioned that they needed healing because the husband had back issues keeping him from work. My hands, reaching out in their direction, were shaking and wet from sweat. In the silence before anyone spoke my heart was ticking at a rate that seemed ten times faster than usual and I felt like God was urging me to say something. I tried to insist that I could pray for them in my head or when I got back to my room, but God said, “now and aloud.” So, reluctantly, I did, and the Holy Spirit spoke through me.
After this moment, and other moments of growth with God, when people ask me to pray out loud or even speak to an audience of people, I don’t have the same reluctance I used to. This is not because I am completely comfortable speaking in front of others but because, among other reasons, I know that God helps us grow through situations we may fear. In many ways, putting ourselves in situations that initially seem scary or intimidating can lead to growth and greater understanding.
Of course, it’s important to pray and use discernment first, but your short-term mission trip can be a time to embrace the growth in discomfort. Take time to respectfully understand people and cultures that are not like your own, use those mediocre Spanish speaking skills to try to create relationships, and/or boldly and wisely respond to whatever God is calling you to in a given moment.
Be Open to Change and Listen to God
Finally, on par with most of these tips, allow yourself to be vulnerable and to change. In my experience, a gift of being young is we have the space to change perspective as we grow. I have found that it is important to pay attention to the wonders, stories, and injustices that God may expose to me daily. Because many short-term mission trips are so far from home and what we know, new perspectives or frames of understanding become more apparent.
Don’t forget to take the time to reflect on these things as they are happening. Depending on how you best process things, you may have time to decompress the day’s events with a friend from the trip or simply by praying on your own. I wrote in a journal every night before bed which helped me reflect on the ways God was working.
“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.” – Psalm 139:23-24
When we return from short-term missions it’s easy to fall back into our daily lives of school, friends, work, sports, etc., and leave behind the lessons we learned and the relationships we made as important but distant memories. Remember that even after your short-term mission, God’s mission continues. You can implement new perspectives and understanding in the way you live your daily life and sometimes there are options to continue building relationships with the people you met. Like sponsoring a child.
If you went with a group of people, like your youth group, try to stay in contact to decompress and pray together. Be aware that God may be calling you to something more, in your daily life or beyond. My best advice is to be a good listener. Ask God to help you interpret your trip through His eyes and reveal what your next steps may be.