Preparing Parents for Their Students Return Home from the Mission Trip

by James Davenport, Discipleship Coordinator

Life after a mission trip is often difficult for students.

After spending over 150 hours in an intensely-packed, life-changing experience with their peers, students return home to a family – to parents – who have not shared with them in this life-changing experience.

And while we pray for our students on mission trips to encounter God and be challenged in their faith, mission trips can often present our students a formidable difficulty in expressing and sharing these life-changing moments to their family and friends at home. The pathway forward for students to learn and discover their new way of living amidst the patterns of old habitats can prove to be complicated and problematic.

Yet the truth is, studies consistently reveal parents remain the greatest influencer on a teenagers life, meaning parents will far outweigh the influence of any youth worker. If we want to see dynamic and sustaining life change in our students, than we need to prepare our parents when their students return home: on the importance of making time to listen to their students’ stories, on the need to engage their students through meaningful questions, and on the impact their follow through conversations will have upon their students.

Here are a few ideas to help prepare and coach your parents on how to engage their students returning home from their mission trip:

Ask open-ended yet specific questions:

Articulating a life-changing trip into a few sentences is overwhelming. Asking broad or nonspecific questions will paralyze your teen and will hinder the depth to what is shared, ultimately giving the impressions you are uninterested about an experience that has been so life-changing for them. Try asking open-ended yet specific questions, such as:

  • What did you learn from the people in the community?
  • Tell me about the ministry/worksite you served at.
  • What were three things you did on this trip that you had never done before?
  • Who is one person you met that you will not forget?

Always look for ways to ask meaningful follow-up question:

As your student shares stories from their mission trip, whether it be about the work project they completed, the homeowner they met, the evening program they experienced, or the new friendships they made with peers, always – always – always look for a way to ask the more meaningful follow-up question. This will give your student opportunities to verbalize the deeper work God has been and is doing in their hearts, such as:

  • How did that make you feel?
  • What did you learn from that
  • What did that motivate you to do?

Allow the student to discover their next step:

Instead of asking, “what’s next”, which often places upon any teen this unwanted and self-imposed burden for fulfilling a commitment they may not be ready to make, ask questions that imply what’s next, without saying, “what’s next” – such as:

  • What did God teach you about Himself?
  • What did you learn about yourself on the trip?
  • How did/is God changing your view of the world?
  • What is God teaching you as you get back into your routine here?
  • How do you want to remember this experience going forward?
  • How can I be praying for you? How can I be praying for the ministry/homeowner that you met in the community you served?
  • What ideas do you have for how our family can serve together in our own community?

Agree to patiently wait out the time needed for processing and reflection:   

Students will return home with some fairly crazy mission trip stories, especially if the trip involved a 10 hour van ride! And many of us will have that tendency to rush through those stories so that we can hear the stories of what God is stirring in their hearts. But we must remember that it simply takes time to properly process and reflect on all that God has allowed them to see and do on their mission trip. Where we may think we are helping, we may actually be interfering. Extend grace, offer more time, be patient, lower expectations, and proactively set up future times to communicate more deeply about the trip. Understand that students will continue processing days and weeks after their return home and what a student needs most is a parent who will patiently walk with them in the days and weeks following to continue listening and engaging their hearts as they navigate that often difficult pathway forward in their faith.