Missions -

How to prepare your heart for the return home —

By Becca Haines

Sometimes the hardest part of an Engage international mission trip is the return home.

Nathan and Whitney Smith traveled to Haiti with Engage two years ago and agreed coming home was spiritually harder than the trip itself. After meeting so many people who had few material possessions, minimal access to quality health care, and even everyday American amenities like electricity, coming back to the U.S. was a cultural shock. 


“We grew up in rural Missouri and traveled to one of the poorest countries in the world,” Nathan said. “When we got home, we spent a solid amount of time wrapping our minds around what we saw. It was a great time in our lives when we were planning a wedding, but at the same time we didn’t want to forget what we experienced. I saw the selfish side of myself and how I took things for granted and just how much time I spent looking at my phone at things that don’t matter.”


Whitney said a lot of her “unpacking” was a need to process her thoughts with her mom.


“I didn’t want to look at Instagram – anything online – because I didn’t want to look at things that would make me bitter. I didn’t want to leave what I just experienced behind, and I asked my mom the questions I was asking God – ‘How is it OK I get to walk in and out of that?’ But she told me it wasn’t just an experience that you close the door on. It leads you to be mission-minded for the rest of your life. I learned you can’t close that door, and God doesn’t allow those doors to close – He’s sovereign in that way.”


Reflecting on the experience of coming home, Nathan and Whitney shared two important tips that will help other Engage participants “unpack” from their trip.


1. Don’t Expect the Door to Close.

“When God breaks your heart, He has a plan for those pieces,” Whitney said. “I wish I would have asked more people at Haitian Christian Mission how I could help them from my home in the states, and I would encourage other Engage students to be bold in asking that question, too. The experience doesn’t end with the trip, and we can help through prayer, financial support or by following through with local missions in our communities.”


“Figure out how to get involved,” Nathan said. “Regardless of where you are, people need the Lord. Spend time in community and challenge yourself to continue to ask God what you can do. Listen to Him and grow closer to Him through that.”


2. Keep the Conversation Going.

“We were so grateful we had excellent group leaders on our Engage trip,” Whitney said. “After the trip was over, they kept us engaged and kept that conversation going when we got home. That was so important – maybe one of the most important moments of the whole experience. Seeing adults willing to invest their time and energy into students to help us process what we experienced was life-changing in itself. I hope Engage students get comfortable with the uncomfortable in asking God what He wants them to do with their experience and where it will lead them in life.”


“God doesn’t call us to do easy things, but glorifying Him in whatever you do is the most important thing,” Nathan said. “What I saw on my Engage mission trip to Haiti assured me that the missions I see and the people I encounter don’t need me – they need God and He is serving them. He is faithful to them just as He is faithful to me.”


Learn more about Engage and see the schedule of mission trips here.