Reverse Culture Shock: life after a missions trip
We recently brought a group from Colegio Teologico Misionero (Missionary Theological College) in Connecticut on our first ever short-missions trip to Honduras to work with El Ayudante. We spent much time preparing everyone in areas such as spiritual aspects and cultural differences. We prayed asking God to lead us in every activity and project that was assigned, making sure that as His hands and feet, we would glorify Him in all that we would do.
Once we arrived at El Ayudante, we saw that all the spiritual and cultural prep work was very necessary in working and ministering effectively. We thank God, because we experienced tremendous things the week we were privileged to serve the people of Comayagua. From seeing God’s beauty in the nature and landscape of Comayagua or in the smile of a humble young lady as she did housework, God opened our eyes to many things in our time there.
When our week was up, many on our team felt heartache at having to leave El Ayudante. We felt that our partnership with El Ayudante was just beginning; how could we wait a whole year to return? We hadn’t even arrived at our layover destination yet, when we were already talking about coming back and what we would do next year. Unknowingly to us, a process of depression, reverse culture shock and anxiety awaited us once we arrived back home.
Returning back home was tough. Many, if not all, of the team felt like they didn’t belong back home. It was like seeing the world through a new pair of lenses: many things just didn’t seem right and were out of focus. As team members shared passionately about their experiences, many showed only polite interest and didn’t grasp the depth of our experience. They didn’t understand and couldn’t relate to what we had seen and done.
The team members didn’t understand what they were going through. Just the week prior, they were experiencing God’s love and grace moving though their hearts and spirits as they served people. Now it was the total opposite: feelings of anger and wanting to do more, feeling undeserving of blessings and even ashamed of what material things they possessed. Not knowing what to do with these conflicting emotions, some began to feel depressed and isolated themselves from friends and family.
As we learned of the struggles of our team members, we began to pray and seek God for how to help them. We discovered that the process of coming back from a short-missions trip is one that is not easy for some. Coming back from serving those in extreme poverty and seeing what we as North Americans have at our fingertips was hard to rationalize. Hondurans are so thankful for everything, yet we constantly want more material things and often fail to remember to be grateful for what we have. It doesn’t even occur to us to be thankful for food, overall health and clean water.
After a time of reflection and seeking God’s presence, God led us to a clear path of understanding, where He deposited in our hearts this thought: I have blessed you with a two-fold purpose; (1) to enjoy the riches of His grace (2) and to equip us with the tools and resources to be a living blessing to others. You see being bicultural and bilingual means that we are able to minister the gospel of Jesus Christ in two languages. We are able to share about His mercy, eternal love and abounding grace in two languages. We are able to use what we have been equipped and gifted with in spirit and in knowledge in two languages. As we began to share this truth and message with the rest of the team, they all began to pray and be liberated of the depression and anxiety that had grabbed ahold of them. God has walked them through this process and carried them to other side.
God showed us that instead of being down and out, we should learn to live with great intention and purpose and to seize each day to make a difference whether in our community, church, work or school. Also God looks for us to continue to pray for those we ministered to and with. Just because the trip ended does not mean the battles are over. The ministry and the people still need to be lifted up in prayer. Prayer equips team members and staff to work in the strength of the Spirit of the Lord and His knowledge. Prayer intercedes for those who were ministered to, helping them to grow in the Lord and His truth. God desires us to see His kingdom work in action and to be thankful that His mighty hand is still moving and doing great and powerful things in the most desperate and needy places. Lastly, we need to remember that this almighty, unchanging God is making ways. Even when we can’t comprehend how it could be possible, He makes it possible.
-Pastor Omar & Sheyla Martinez