Post-Mission Hangover

You wake up in a dreary haze. Looking at your phone, you see it’s 3am. You realize that you’re back in the comforts of your home. 

Before you can catch your breath, responsibilities, relationships, and obligations are demanding your full attention. Friends want to catch up, but it’s tiresome and annoying. They share their problems, but they seem trivial. At the same time, their interest in your past few weeks is minimal at best. 

The temptations you weren’t afforded to indulge in while you were away come at you with fuller force. You put up a decent fight, but you eventually give in. It feels like you never left and the past several weeks weren’t real. Guilt sets in. 

Then you start hearing the accusations in your head…
“You’re such a fake!” 
“Why did you even go on missions?” 
“You will never change!” 
“What was the point?”

Diagnosis: Post-Mission Hangover

This experience is what I like to call “Post-Mission Hangover.” Often the greatest challenge of missions, whether it’s emotionally, spiritually, or physically, comes after the trip. 

PMH symptoms include: 
•    Exhaustion
•    Confusion
•    Loneliness
•    Disillusionment
•    Self-condemnation

PMH starts on the return flight home and hits you hard the first few days back. You had set your life on pause for the past several weeks — school, work, relationships, family, etc. But as soon as you land, you’re expected to pick up where you left off. 

You forgot that while your life was set on pause, everyone else’s life played on as usual. You just had one of the most amazing experiences in your life, but most of it is quickly forgotten. Your mission trip starts to become a distant memory.  

The worst thing about PMH is that many don’t see it coming. And even if you were given warnings about it, there is little we can do to avoid the post-missions lulls. 

So why does it happen? Short-Term Missions (STM) is a special experience with a unique environment that can’t be easily replicated. And that leads us to three potential causes for PMH. 

  1. Intense Focus
    For months you’ve been training and preparing for one mission — teach English, run a VBS, serve the indigenous church, feed the poor, etc. Then for the next several weeks, you are executing your mission. The purpose is clear.

  2. Constant Fellowship
    You start and end each day with the same people. You do devotions together in the morning, and debrief together at night. Every day you are serving alongside one another, encouraging one another, and even getting into fights and arguments. During downtime, you’re playing games, laughing, and enjoying one another’s company. You feel known and you’re growing deep relationships with others.

  3. Shared Desperation
    As you meet new people, anticipate bad weather, hear about the missionaries’ struggles, and deal with your own insecurities, there is a desperation that unifies your team. You’re crying out for mercy and salvation for the people you’re ministering to, imploring God for favorable weather, asking for provision for the missionaries, and asking God for strength. This desperation creates a unique environment of prayer, faith, and hope. 

While you were serving elsewhere, you grew accustomed to this new environment. However, in a matter of days, you find yourself back in the familiar rhythms of home. 

Clear focus has now turned to an ambiguous trudge through life. Constant fellowship has turned into occasional hangouts. Shared desperation transforms to self-focus and self-reliance. Not only are you dealing with complete exhaustion from missions, you're struggling to make sense of why there is such a severe disconnect between your missions experience and your usual routine at home.

For those of us who are feeling the effects of PMH, I would like to offer some words of encouragements and reminders to help you pull through. 

  1. You are not alone - your teammates are going through this hangover as well. Go through this together by checking up and praying for one another.

    Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)
  2. Our post-mission lull doesn’t disqualify or diminish the mission - God will accomplish His purpose through your work.

    What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. (1 Corinthians 3:5-7)
  3. God uses broken, imperfect people to display His immeasurable love and grace.

    But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:27-31)
  4. The God during our mission trip is the same God post-missions. Don’t cling to the experience, but cling to God.

    Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)
  5. God delights in you, not because you went on missions, but because by faith in Christ you are His adopted child. Don’t let your feelings deceive you of what is true.

    For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:15-17

I praise God for all of you who went on missions this summer. Thank you for being obedient to the Great Commission. Let’s stay focused, stick together, and stay desperate for those who are lost.

David Chong is the Associate Pastor at All Nations Community Church in Lake View Terrace, CA. He and his wife, Jane, reside in Pasadena with their beautiful children Deacon and Devyn.