By Gail Marsh
Overheard in the airport terminal as the church mission team returned: “I’m not sure who learned more—me, or the people we served!”
It’s good to hear a comment like this, isn’t it? But what happens once the suitcases are unpacked and the mission participants return to their busy lives? Many of the lessons learned will be forgotten. Sure, the high points will remain clear—at least for a few weeks. Mission participants might even recall a funny circumstance from the trip several months down the road. But how can you better ensure that teens and adults will continue to grow from their mission experience?
One of the best ways is to encourage journaling—in any form!
Journaling on paper prompts participants to write down their reactions and impressions as they experience the sights, smells, sounds, feelings, and spiritual insights that occur throughout the mission trip. A video journal can add to that, helping participants remember the places and faces of the trip. And, an audio journal is a great free-form way of reflecting on the mission experience. No need for correct spelling or grammar—simply talking is easiest for some participants!
Many ministry leaders encourage participants to journal right from the start—not when you arrive at your mission destination but at the first trip meeting at church. Invite individuals to write down expectations and hopes for the trip: What do they expect to see and do? How might God use this trip to grow their faith in Jesus?
If you use a group Bible study to begin trip preparation, encourage participants to record their reactions in journals. You’ll need to be intentional about this. If you fail to allow for journaling time at this meeting or during your trip, many will not remember to do it later at home. A scheduled journaling time can last as little as ten to fifteen minutes. Some people will reflect for longer, others less. That’s why the most successful journaling often happens at the end of the day.
Here are some additional journaling ideas:
- Order CTA’s On a Mission prayer journal. This compact book fits easily inside a suitcase, purse, or backpack. It has plenty of space to write, plus it provides Bible studies, journaling guides, prayer starters, and words from Scripture that will encourage participants as they share their faith. You can even take a sneak peek inside the book before you buy!
- Help trip participants who are hesitant to write in a paper journal. Show them how to locate, download, and practice using a voice recording app. Encourage individuals to use the CTA journal as a guide with suggestions for recording their trip experiences. Remind those using voice recorder apps to frequently review what they previously recorded to note changes, ideas, or new insights.
- A journal is personal. It’s probably not a book you’ll share with others. It certainly isn’t going to be graded by anyone, so encourage team members to use whatever style they choose when recording their thoughts or ideas. Sentence fragments? Fine! Pencil sketches? Sure! Poems, lists, tangible souvenirs taped in place? Great! The important thing is that participants get their thoughts recorded in a way that they can reflect upon later.
- Encourage honesty. God already knows what’s on your heart, and no one else will read the journal, so let participants know they have the freedom to record their true feelings.
- Suggest that team members keep their Bibles handy as they journal. Recalling the day’s events may prompt a person to seek out a specific verse or pray about particular section of Scripture. Others may want to reference a Bible verse in their journal.
Once the mission trip ends, encourage team members to review and continue to use their journals—on paper, in audio, and on video! Challenge participants to look for ways God has enabled them to grow (and continue growing!) through their mission-trip experience.
How will your team members be recording their mission experiences this summer?
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