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Resonate missionary Adrianna Herrera talks with local ministry leaders in Nicaragua

How can you use your volunteer experience to shape your life and how you serve moving forward? Here are five practical tips.

Serving as a volunteer on a short-term mission trip can be a powerful experience. You experience a new culture, make new friends, and see God work in new and incredible ways.

But then one day, it’s over. You’re back home and settling back into your usual routine or maybe trying to find a new routine altogether. It can be frustrating, confusing, and lonely to return from an experience that not everyone around you has shared.

How can you make sure that you do not forget what you learned or experienced during your volunteer time? How can you use your experience to shape your life and how you serve moving forward?

“I have observed that it often isn't easy to make applications. There's real life, and you get busy, back into the old routines,” said Steve Brauning, a Resonate missionary in the Dominican Republic who has led many volunteers. “For the experiences as a mission volunteer to really make a difference, it has to be an intentional and deliberate effort.”

Here are a few tips from Resonate ministry leaders on how you can be intentional about changes you want to see in your life:

1. Find a mentor.

It’s important to start preparing for after your volunteer experience before you even leave for the field, said Nalini Suganandam, Resonate’s Mission Support Manager. 

She recommends finding a mentor to help keep you accountable in your growth. A mentor can help you ask and work through challenging questions you might have from your experience, affirm your passions and gifts, and work with you to discern your next steps.

A mentor could be someone from your church, someone who has experience in mission, or just someone you trust. If you’re looking for a mentor and not sure who to turn to, talk to your pastor or a trusted church leader about who in your church or community might be a good fit. Resonate also has a dedicated team of ministry leaders throughout Canada and the United States who are ready to walk alongside you.

2. Learn as much as you can about your host country and community.

“See your service trip as a learning experience. Learn as much as possible, before, during, and after your trip about the context,” said Mario Matos, a Resonate missionary in the Dominican Republic.

What is the history of the country or community? What are some of the challenges? What are the opportunities? Where do you see God at work? Connect with people living in the community and ask them to share their perspectives too.

And remember: learning doesn’t have to end after your experience.

“Find ways to continue to be connected to your host culture or cross-cultural relationships,” said Ruth L., Resonate’s Volunteer Ministries Program Coordinator. “After my short-term experience, I worked at learning more of the language and history and culture of the region. I've also worked with refugee resettlement as a way to welcome others to the U.S. in ways that I was welcomed overseas.”

3. Take time to rest, reflect, and debrief.

“There's no need to quickly package up what you have just experienced,” said Nathan Groenewold, Director of Cohort Detroit.

You’ve been through a lot during your volunteer experience. You may be tired and even a little burned out. Depending on how long you’ve served, you might also be experiencing reverse culture shock. 

“Take time—probably more than you think you'll need—to reflect and debrief the experience,” said Ruth.

Don’t feel like you need to rush through this process and move onto the next thing right away. In fact, you might be reflecting on your experience for many years to come.

“The experience you just had will influence your work, ministry, and relationships, even if you can't quite make sense of it right now,” said Nathan. “I returned from Honduras seven years ago, and I am still realizing new ways that God prepared me for what I am doing now.”

4. Incorporate activities from your experience at home.

Adrianna Herrera, a Resonate missionary serving in Nicaragua, recommends incorporating activities from your experience at home. It may have been something that was part of your daily or weekly routine, or maybe it was something that happened once that really affected you.

“Did you go on a prayer walk around the neighborhood? Try going on a prayer walk around your neighborhood, and greet anyone you pass,” said Adrianna. “Did you visit a school to play with children? Visit a school in your community and ask the leadership if there's some way you could get involved or interact with the kids.”

5. Determine a “next step.”

Determine a “next step” to continue incorporating mission into your life. Maybe that means continuing your education by taking a few courses or enrolling in university or a graduate program to study something specific. Maybe that means planning another volunteer experience, finding a way to serve long-term, or making a job or career change..

You don’t have to make a major life change, however. You can incorporate mission into the daily rhythms of your life! Connect with your local church and see how you can work with them to engage mission at home. Many churches partner with local ministries and organizations right in your neighborhood who are doing similar work. If your church isn’t connected to a local ministry, talk with your pastor and church leaders about how your congregation can serve the community.

“Many times, God takes us out of our own context to help us see our own contexts with more clarity,” said Mario.