by Tony Akers
You’re getting ready to go to the church to pick up your child who has been away on a mission trip. You’re thinking of the incredible experience he must have had, or the debriefing session that you’ll get in the car from her on the way home. But one of the first things you need to know is that your child will probably not want to come home! He has been in a new setting with a new schedule and has been with friends who have more than likely experienced God in a powerful way. She is coming off a mountaintop experience and coming down a mountain is as difficult as the climb! Here are some things to consider as your son or daughter transitions back to life at home.
You’ve probably invested a lot of money to get him on the trip. You may have shifted an out of town family vacation to send him. Yes, it is your right to know what happened, but that will come in time. Be patient and allow him to choose when he shares the highlights of the trip.
Even under the best circumstances kids tend not to get enough sleep on retreats and trip. She may be cranky, which is another reason to let her decide when to share about the trip!
Most camp food isn’t great and most likely your kids have been eating fast food on the way home. They will be in need of some home-cooked comfort food. Having their favorite meal on the table will go a long way toward transitioning them and opening communication about the trip.
Watch Your Words
If your child is cranky please don’t say something like, “Evidently you didn’t learn anything on this trip!” Saying something like that communicates to your son or daughter that the life they experienced on the trip only exists on trips, not in the family home.
I know, I know, he packed the night before the trip and left his room a mess. He doesn’t deserve for you to clean his room, which is why doing it communicates how much you care. Your son or daughter will be grateful for this special welcome-home gift.
Your son or daughter may come home and announce, “I’m going to be a pastor!” If they do, don’t freak out and don’t demean their decisions. Most youth responding to a call to ministry see being a pastor or a missionary as their only option. In time and with your encouragement they can come to see that there are many vocational calls to ministry. In essence they are communicating that they are considering God’s role in their career choices. This is a great and very Christian thing to do! Deciding to serve in ministry is not like announcing you have a terminal disease. There are worse things that your children could commit to be and they certainly aren’t “too good” to serve in the ministry, either!
I have seen a lot of apathy as youth come home from mission trips. The apathy I am referring to is apathy toward the things that were “normal” and seemingly important to them before they left. In many cases youth have been exposed to poverty, true Christian community, hunger, or injustice. They may come home with different values gained on their trip. They may be more politically/socially/spiritually aware at a level they haven’t been before. Let’s hope so! They may clean out their closets and give everything to the poor. They may not watch T.V. They may decide that they need to become actively involved in local politics to bring about change in their communities! Again, don’t quickly force them back into routines to get “back to normal.” Give space and time for the Holy Spirit to work out what has been worked in.
Following these tips won’t guarantee easy entry back into life at home, but they will help you prepare for what you may experience. If you follow through on some or all of these suggestions, you will find your son or daughter opening up about life-changing decisions made on the trip in the unlikeliest of times and places. When that happens instead of becoming an antagonist, you become a partner with God in shaping your son or daughter into the image of Christ.
Tony Akers has a Master’s degree in Christian Education/Youth Ministry from Asbury Theological Seminary and recently entered his ninth year serving as the Minister to Youth and their Families at Trinity United Methodist Church in Huntsville, Ala. He also serves as a CYMT coach to the Northern Alabama area. He is privileged to be married to Debbi and dad to Madison, Samuel, and Hannah Grace. When not doing youth ministry, Tony can be found at a soccer game, on the river, or reading.