Each year I take teams to Mexico and I’ve come to realize there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all short-term experience. As we prepare for trips and return to share our stories, I am continually reminded of three lessons that apply to anyone interested in serving on a short-term trip.

You will go to meetings, get calendars, look over daily schedules, and ask many questions, but things are always subject to change.

The first time I served in Mexico I had my mind set on building a house for a family who recently lost their home during heavy rains. I couldn’t wait to swing the hammer and see this house completed, but many times we didn’t start until 10am and I was going crazy. “Do you know how much we could have done if we had started at 6am!!” I kept telling myself. To add to my frustration we didn’t complete the house and had to leave. I was so disappointed.

When I returned home from my first short-term experience the Lord revealed an important lesson to me. My goals were not His goals for this trip. I wanted to complete the house project, He wanted to work on the “me project.” In my reflection time, I realized that the relationship of the team, and the community we were serving in were more important than the completion of the house. I realized that my plans did of not line up with the Lord’s plans.

When you join a team preparing to serve in Mexico you will come with your personal tool box. You may come with musical abilities, construction abilities, or thinking you have nothing to offer. If you are willing and come with open hands you will find the Lord using you in ways you may never have expected.

Instead of swinging a hammer you may find yourself swinging a jump rope. Rather than singing to a crowd you may be praying with the elderly. When you open your heart to what God wants to do through you will be surprised at how easy it is to love people just by simply being available and willing.

After spending 10 days driving with your team members, in daily prayer together, in daily worship together, in daily service together you will experience genuine fellowship with other believers.  You will be filled with the awe and wonder of God and His Holy Spirit. You will experience God’s kingdom here on earth and be more aware of how active God is and how alive you will feel serving Him, but you will come home. You will return home filled and quickly feel empty.

You will make close friends, you may experience a new culture, you will feel like you were part of something bigger than yourself, something God sized, and then you feel empty. Despite the incredible time you had, you often return to find family and friends back home apathetic to your experience. They are glad you went but don’t share in the life change you are going through. When you try to explain the joy you felt giving that child in the camp a piggy-back ride, and the sadness you felt saying good-bye, not knowing if you’ll ever see that child again this side of Heaven, people don’t understand and you feel empty. Instead of fellowship with believers you often go back to quiet bible reading and weekend church attendance and you feel empty. How do you combat this emptiness?

When you return home it’s important that you find groups to serve with. Find people to worship with. Find people to pray with. You will quickly realize that your emptiness is not because of those around you not caring, it is because you have experience true fellowship which you were created for. You will find you don’t have to travel to foreign culture to experience the kingdom of God. You just need to do what you were designed for. You were designed to worship the Lord with a community of believers