“…they (Paul and Barnabas) sailed back to Antioch…On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. And they stayed there a long time with the disciples” (Acts 14:26-28, NIV).
Have you ever wondered what it was like for Paul and Barnabas when they came back home after a mission trip? Did they wish they were still on the field? Did they struggle with feelings of guilt for being back safely in Antioch at their home church with their families and close friends? Did they question God’s timing or wonder why they couldn’t have stayed on the field a little longer so they could make an even bigger impact? I’m sure Paul and Barnabas, like the rest of us who go on mission trips, struggled with re-entry into their “normal” lives again. After all, they had shared the Gospel with tens of thousands of people who had never heard the name of Jesus. They had seen possibly thousands of lost people give their hearts to Jesus. Paul and Barnabas had planted churches in nearly every community they visited and trained leaders for each of them. They even saw God use them in miraculous ways to make His power known, whether it was striking an evil sorcerer with blindness to silence his attack on their message, or healing a paralyzed man in front of a large crowd of unbelievers. Ultimately, Paul had known the pain and triumph of being persecuted and nearly martyred for Jesus. It would be difficult to come back to a normal life after experiencing God’s power and protection like that. It would be painful to leave new friends who desperately needed leaders like Paul and Barnabas to continue pouring into their spiritual development. You are probably feeling some of these same emotions right now as you are attempting to re-enter “normal.” You need to know that you are not alone, and that this is part of the sacrifice of leaving your comfort zone even for a short time to obey God’s command to “go.”
Is it possible that this Scripture holds a few insights to help you know how to re-engage in your daily life in a way that is emotionally, relationally, and spiritually healthy? Let’s take a closer look. First, Paul and Barnabas quickly re-engaged. They wasted no time in gathering the church together to share all the great things that God had accomplished on their journey. They didn’t sit around feeling depressed that they were back home, and they definitely didn’t isolate themselves from others. The Bible says that “on arriving there, they gathered the church.”
The second insight is that they took the initiative to tell the story of their mission trip. Often we expect others to ask us to share about our mission trips, and we miss strategic opportunities to give God glory by being proactive witnesses of what we have seen God accomplish through our team. It’s not up to our pastors and leaders to tell our story of God’s might and faithfulness. It’s our story to tell how God used us and how He transformed us in the process. We need to own the story!
The third insight is that they gave God the credit for what was accomplished through their ministry. The Scripture says, “…they reported all that God had done…and how he had opened the door of faith…” God made it all happen. They were active participants, but God was the one who accomplished His mission and opened hearts to receive salvation. If we try to make this trip about us, then we are attempting to shift the spotlight from God to ourselves. To do so would be to commit idolatry, so we need to avoid the temptation to claim credit for something that only God can do.
Last, Paul and Barnabas accepted their current assignment. The Scripture clearly tells how they re-entered “normal” in spite of their longing and concern for the new believers they had left behind. “And they stayed there a long time with the disciples” (v.28). In other words, Paul and Barnabas went back to the normal ministry of preaching, leading, and discipling others just as they had done before their mission trip (see Acts 11:26). Were Paul and Barnabas different afterward? Absolutely! Mission trips often transform those who participate, especially when God works through us in amazing ways. Did they long for a new adventure or to see their new friends again? Definitely! There are several passages where Paul shares his longings to re-visit the churches he planted and to go to new places that had never heard the Gospel. Those longings probably never went away, but Paul and Barnabas obediently accepted God’s will and timing, and purposed to serve Him faithfully in their current assignment.
Re-entering “normal,” though often difficult, is actually an act of great faith and obedience on your part. I believe God wants you to be present, to re-engage in your relationships and ministries quickly. It is vitally important to be proactive in helping your family and friends understand what you experienced and how God changed you on your mission trip. Be patient with those who need time to understand. Most of all, know that your team leader and mission staff are praying for you as you re-enter “normal.”
Keith West is the founding President of Latitude GLC, a non-profit ministry in Rockwall, Texas. Keith believes his calling is to be a "Barnabas" to the next generation of spiritual leaders.