Youth workers live busy lives. As soon as one trip or program ends, the next begins. So it is with mission trips.
As soon as you pull into the church parking lot at the end of your trip, inevitably someone asks, "Where are we going next year?" or "When will next year's trip be?"
While such enthusiasm is always encouraging, be careful not to let it rush you into planning next year's trip before you've taken time to reflect and intentionally celebrate how God moved during this year's mission trip. Here are four great ways to do that:
1) Hold a mission trip BBQ for trip participants and their families. Allow trip participants to reunite and informally hang out knowing their conversations eventually will shift to reminiscing about the trip. While trip participants hang out, meet with their parents. Ask them to share what they've heard about the trip. Share the trip from your perspective, correcting any tales that may have been embellished by students. Answer any questions parents might have.
2) Invite trip participants to write a reflection about their mission trip that details how they encountered God on the trip and / or how they hope their trip will continue to impact their lives in the future. Publish a series of these on your church's website, in it's newsletter, or in your youth ministry's newsletter.
3) Lead a missions focused worship service (either during or in addition to your congregation's regular worship time). Sing worship songs that were a part of your team's mission trip. Share the trip's theme verse as the day's Scripture reading. Invite students to share mission trip reflections during the sermon. Lift up the organization through whom you served, the community you served, and the people you met in prayer.
4) Host an event (a presentation, dinner, etc) for your family of faith to come and celebrate all that God did in and through your team while on the trip. Invite a few students to share the details of the trip – the who, what, where, when, and why. Ask some students to reflect upon the lasting impact the trip has (or is) having on their lives by answering the question, “How do you see your own community differently as a result of your mission experience?” Finally, ask all students to share their answer to the question, “During our mission trip, where did you see God?”
Taking time to celebrate your mission trip with parents and your larger community of faith connects what happened elsewhere to the everyday lives of students. It also gives parents and your faith community an opportunity to partner with you in the trip beyond fundraising.
What's more, so much of faith formation is about articulation. By giving trip participants the opportunity to reflect on and share their experience with others, you force them to stop and put what otherwise might remain an ineffable experience into words. In so doing, you help students to “speak their faith into being”. (Kenda Creasy Dean, Almost Christian).