One of the frequent consequences of a Short Term Mission experience - and in fact, one of the most important objectives from the point of view of missions agencies - is that participants will return from the experience, "ruined for ordinary life". That is, the cross cultural engagement will so profoundly challenge the person's everyday assumptions that a return to ordinary life will simply not be possible. It's more than reverse culture shock. It's more than just seeing God in a different light. It's more than confronting the reality of cultural blindspots and biases. It's more than learning about the (usually challenging and often painful) realities of life in a different context. It's more than witnessing a dynamic spirituality growing in, what seems from a western perspective at least, a material desert. It IS all of those things to some degree, but it's more. These things are all somewhat predictable.
The MORE is hard to define. It's impossible to predict or control. It's the way ALL of these things intersect with the person's sense of self and of God and of purpose. But there must be a working out of all of this so that out of the ruins of what was once our everyday life, there can arise... something beautiful and productive and life-giving.
There's no point in getting stuck in ruination. We must move on! We must get our proverbial act together, re-orient our mindset and our energies so that we can get engaged in kingdom living, here and now - wherever "here" is. Having the opportunity to interact with global partners in their neighbourhoods should be destructive and transformative. If we surface from the process of deconstruction relatively unscathed and unchanged - able to get back to life as we've always known it - we have squandered the opportunity for transformation. Or, if we fail to surface from the process - if we are SO deconstructed that we can't get on with our lives in any positive, constructive or creative way - then we too, have squandered the transformational imperative.
What is needed, I think, is a renewal of vision and of passion for a life which is dedicated to a diligent pursuit of truth, wherever it may lead us. This may require that we make significant course corrections. It may well require repentance. It will most certainly require humility and a heart and mind open to God.
Knowledge and experience and understanding of life amongst the global poor should inspire us to this kind of pursuit and also to layers of action which will demonstrate our commitment to solidarity across geographic and economic and political divisions and boundaries. There IS life after a short term mission experience, but it may NOT be the life we expect!