Renewing the Mountaintop Experience
In this article from the spring 2018 edition of Today's Christian Doctor, Bryant Stoudt shares seven ideas that you can use to apply what you learned on a mission trip in your busy, everyday life.
by Bryan Stoudt
For our team, it had been—quite literally—a mountaintop experience.
We had enjoyed a week of healthcare missions together on a mountain in Central America. God had welcomed 137 new believers into His family and provided healing for countless others through our humble efforts.
But as I stared out the window on the plane ride home, I began feeling uneasy. How could we—how could I— take what God invested in us during our trip and continue to live that out back home? How could we apply it in our busy and broken everyday lives where we so often just survive?
And then I realized dozens, if not hundreds, of others returning from short-term mission trips might be asking these same questions themselves upon their return to the U.S. after serving in under-developed nations. If you’ve been on a trip with CMDA’s Global Health Outreach (GHO) or Medical Education International (MEI), perhaps you have experienced this same uneasy feeling, a feeling that expands exponentially after you return to the hustle and bustle of life, practice, school, family, church and other responsibilities.
There’s no easy answer, but here are seven ideas that have been helpful to other healthcare students and professionals, and me, after returning from a short-term trip.
1. EXPECT SOME SETBACKS AND FAILURES
Short-term trips take us out of our comfort zones, and while we are there outside the norm, we often experience a spiritual growth spurt. We learn new ways to rely on God and engage with people. But when we return, as fallen sinners it’s natural to slide back into patterns of self-reliance or simply become overwhelmed with everything going on around us.
Recognizing and turning from unhealthy pre-trip patterns is a sign of God’s grace, but we need to have reasonable expectations for ourselves when we return. If we don’t, we may despair and fall back into doing nothing at all once we fail to integrate our new spiritual lessons into everyday life.
2. PRAYERFULLY REFLECT ON WHAT YOU LEARNED
Think through some specific things God showed you about Himself, your host or home culture and yourself. Perhaps you observed a particular injustice or hardship that grieved you. One of our pharmacy students, for example, was in tears as we visited communities without safe drinking water and access to basic healthcare. She allowed her heart to be broken by the pain she saw, and she’s now letting that brokenness shape her journey as she continues in her training.
After returning from a GHO trip to South America, Dr. Matt Montgomery reflected on his time away: “I learned it’s not only possible but necessary and appropriate to share the hope of Christ with our patients. And not just abroad, but at home, too.”
Similarly, Dr. Eugene Wang discovered that “my main job, whether I’m in Ghana, the Dominican Republic or the U.S., isn’t necessarily just treating the sick and broken, but rather to be a conduit of God’s love and truth through the practice of medicine.”
If we ask God to give us understanding in everything, He will, as it says in 2 Timothy 2:7. So pray, raise awareness and continually have honest conversations with the Lord about what you’ve experienced and learned.
After Jesus sent out a large short-term team (72 people), they returned with joy and told Him enthusiastically how even the demons obeyed them in His name (Luke 10:1- 17). Other trips in Scripture did not go as well, like Moses’ interactions with the Israelites in the desert in Numbers 11:10-23. But awesome or awful, God wants to relate to us about the short-term trips we take. After all, through them we are further conformed into the image of Christ.
3. SET A GOAL OR APPLICATION BASED ON WHAT YOU LEARN
Setting a goal is one way to “…not [only] love in word or talk but [also] in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18, ESV). For example, I know I need to work on my Spanish. I also know that simply continuing with free online apps isn’t enough. I need to diligently seek direction from God in order to figure out what it means to pursue that practically and wisely. (To do this, using the SMART goal format from Michael Hyatt may be helpful. For more information, visit michaelhyatt.com/goal-setting.html.)
Numerous healthcare professionals make changes to the way they practice after returning from short-term trips. Dr. Steve Bumgarner, an orthodontist, is always struck by “how much we all need the mercy of God, who has chosen to rescue me in my dire situation enveloped by pride, position and affluence. This helps me to lead well, be humble and put Christ and others first. Because of this, we have modified our practice to really focus on honoring God by starting our day with an optional devotion for employees, playing Christian XM radio throughout the office, starting a Smiles for a Lifetime scholarship for treatment to those who can’t afford it, and trying to treat everyone who enters our office with respect, dignity and excellent care.”
As he processed his trip, medical student Mike Gerges could hardly contain his excitement: “This was the best week of my life! Every day I felt like I was living with meaning and purpose.” Although the potential “takeaways” from what he experienced may be less obvious, Mike is praying about what it looks like to live intentionally for Christ even amidst the daily pressures of exams and preparing for boards.
More simply, Dr. Hannah Chow shared, “I’ve learned to be bolder in sharing my faith with patients, family and friends alike.”
4. TAKE AN INTEREST IN OTHERS RATHER THAN FOCUSING ON YOURSELF
After returning from a trip, you’re naturally excited and want to tell others about everything you experienced. And there’s certainly a place to tell others about God’s awesome works, like it says in Psalm 105:2, “Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous words!” (ESV). But also be willing to “…not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4, NASB). A friend of mine, for instance, said he often waits a day or two after a trip before sharing much with his wife because she’s exhausted from holding down the fort in his absence.
When people first see you after your return, assume they’re going to ask how your trip went. Some will ask to be polite, while others will genuinely want to know more. To serve others and honor God for what He did, sketch out a few good responses to this question that are appropriate to your various likely “audiences” before you return.
5. PRAY FOR YOUR HOST COUNTRY, PARTNERS AND TEAMMATES
God invites us to continue deepening the trust in Him we cultivated on the field through growth in prayer at home. And through our prayers, God is “…able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20, ESV).
Praying for the people and country you visited is also a great way to get your entire family involved. In addition to what you observe personally during your time in-country, there are free online resources like Operation World (operationworld.org) and The Joshua Project (joshuaproject.net). After returning from my trip to Central America, for example, I printed out top prayer needs for our host country from Operation World, and we prayed through those over dinner.
6. STAND IN AWE OF GOD AND HIS HEART FOR THE NATIONS
Ultimately, our short-term trips are all about God. Although “all the nations are as nothing before him” (Isaiah 40:17a, ESV), “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14, ESV). What an utterly amazing privilege that God has included us in His eternal plans for His world. Taking a moment to acknowledge that reality glorifies God and is good for us.
7. BE OPEN TO A LONG-TERM CALL OVERSEAS
Because we are equally recipients of Christ’s unsearchable riches and grace, as it says in Ephesians 1:3-10, we know there are no hierarchies in God’s kingdom. We’re no more loved if we serve among the most unreached places on earth, and we are no less loved if we stay right where we are.
Still, for some, God uses short-term trips to refocus their practice of healthcare in radical, unforeseen ways. This is exactly what happened to dentist Dr. Michael O’Callaghan. “In the process of serving, God has graciously re-directed our lives,” Dr. O’Callaghan said. “I left my private dental practice (which I loved) and now have the greater joy of leading GHO teams, plus now I have more time to make disciples and teach gospel conferences to pastors throughout Asia.”
Are you willing to prayerfully invite God’s re-shaping of your own calling as the result of your own short-term trips?
SO NOW WHAT?
It’s easy to look at a list like this and feel guilty or overwhelmed. But those feelings are not from the Lord, whose Spirit fills us with joy and peace. With God’s help and a little effort, a short-term trip can impact us and those around us for the rest of our lives. Ask God to help you think of at least one small step you can start taking today so that His work in you will continue once you return from your mission trip.
As a ministry, CMDA is dedicated to both domestic and international missions. Through our various mission outreaches, we provide opportunities for healthcare professionals to use their God-given skills to meet the needs of others around the world and share the gospel with them. To learn more about joining an upcoming short-term term trip or our other mission opportunities, visit www.cmda.org/missions.