What not to say to people going on missions trips

 returning from a mission trip

Summer missions trip season is coming to a close, and if you’re living here Nashville, the buckle of the Bible Belt, you likely know someone who has recently returned from a short-term trip. There are a number of questions that are typically asked upon returning from these types of trips. Some common ones include:

“How was it?” To which the only response can really be some derivative of “good!”

“What was your favorite part?” Prepare to hear the person talk for an hour.

“Did you eat anything weird?” A fair and fun question.

And my personal favorite, “Did it change your life?”

The last sentiment is usually expressed at multiple points throughout the entire missions trip endeavor, and it’s the toughest question of all.

Once upon a time, I went to Cambodia to work at an orphanage for two and a half months. I went into the trip having been told at least a dozen times that the trip would change my life. I got on the plane with the expectation that I would be a different person by the time I boarded my return flight. I’m not sure what I expected to be different. I don’t know if I thought I would have the sudden urge to drop out of school or adopt a baby or shave my head, or if I would feel empowered to become the next William Wilberforce or Mother Teresa or Bono.

When I got back, I knew the trip had impacted me, but I didn’t know how. I had a lot to process through. I had to re-acclimate to my American lifestyle and figure out how that fit into the reality of poverty that I had lived and breathed for 10 weeks. I wanted my life to be changed by this trip, but I wasn’t sure just what that meant yet.

I was asked repeatedly upon my return if the trip had changed my life, and I said yes over and over, hoping that if I said it enough times I would know what to change. Hoping I would understand what my life was supposed to look like from here on out.

But as the buzz wore off and people stopped asking me questions, I started up my old routines and began my life again. The question began haunting me: was it truly a life-changing experience? Because aside from a few pictures of kiddos added to my desk, my life looks pretty much the same now as it did before I left.

It’s been a few years since that trip, and I’ve taken a couple others since in which I’ve wrestled with the same thing upon my return. And here’s what I came to conclude about this “life-changing” question: When we place a lot of emphasis on certain experiences, we fail to recognize the impact of our seemingly mundane day-to-day experiences. We forget that the people with whom we choose to surround ourselves, the books we read, the news stations we watch, the city in which we live, and the activities with which we fill our free time typically have far more impact on us than these alleged “life-changing experiences.”

Whether your life-changing experience was an encounter on a missions trip, a phrase coined by your favorite author or preacher, or a breathtaking view, I encourage you to ask yourself: What in my life is actually different because of that experience?

This is not intended to minimize significant, short-lived experiences. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. It’s meant to bring to light those moments that we claim have changed our lives, because I think those moments are indicative of the people we wish to become.

If we want that encounter at the homeless shelter to change our lives, how are we going to live differently in light of it? What about that sermon that rocked your world or the book you recommend to everyone who will listen? How does it change how we vote, to whom we write our checks, and how we spend our free time?

Each day is a testament to what we claim to believe, care about, and love. What will we allow to truly affect our day-to-day life? The impact we make in the world is a direct reflection of that which truly is important to us.

So today, let’s reflect on the moments that we want to have a direct impact on our lives, and then figure out how to put those changes into motion. Let’s take an honest look at our lives and ask what we will allow to change

And the next time someone you know is about to leave on an overseas adventure, read a really great book, or participate in some super cool mind-blowing experience, instead of telling them their life will be changed, maybe try advising them to let the experience change them.


Written by Heather Warfield

Heather is an optimist, coffee lover, and guacamole enthusiast from Michigan who currently plants her feet in the sweet, sweet south. Her favorite things include, but are not limited to: lakes, trees, sunshine, good talks, fair trade chocolate, new experiences, and people who think she’s funny.