Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Mission Trip Burn Out: 5 Ways to Fight Desensitization



by Liz Netjes

Most of us have experienced it at some point - the wave of burnout threatening to crash down on us without warning. There’s usually not an indicator, so when it hits, you’re unprepared and without a board to ride it out. 

Exhaustion and desensitization can happen in all faucets of our lives, but when it happens in missions and in relation to serving, we feel the pressure to try to hide it. It's embarrassing and difficult to admit that you've become somewhat immune to the situations and people that once broke your heart! But if those of us who frequently lead and serve on these trips all sat down and had a good conversation about it, I’d be willing to bet we have a lot of similar experiences with fatigue or a sudden insensitivity.

But the bigger question: how can we fight the burnout? How can we keep from becoming desensitized? How can we keep that broken heart for the often forgotten? How can we remain passionate while compassionate?

Here are some ways:

1. Remember why we do it. It seems too easy, but sometimes the most simple things make the largest difference. Remember to ask yourself this questions: Why do we even go on missions trips? What are we doing this for? If the first thing that pops into our head is “because it’s what we do”, “because that’s what all churches do, it’s part of it”, or “because the kids need to learn”, its time to re-evaluate. While those answers are true in part, they should not be the heart of what we do. We should be so enamored with Jesus - who He is, what He has done and continues to do - that we can hardly contain our excitement over Him. The problem for many leaders within the church is that we get bogged down with so many logistics and even rules that we forget. Our gaze shifts just a bit to the side and we lose sight of our “first love.” Maybe it would be best to simply ask Jesus to re-ignite our passion for Him.

2. Realizing our position. Shortly after performing miracles, Jesus had a conversation with His disciples in which He explains to them the position they are about to inherit: “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father maybe glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it" (John 14:12-14). If we take a minute to dissect what Jesus is saying here, it is big enough to quite literally change our way of doing things. He makes this statement after healing incurable diseases and raising the dead.....”and you will do even bigger things than these....” Do we really believe this? Do we believe we can do even greater things than JESUS did? Do we function in this way? If we did, do you think we’d begin seeing Him work in ways so mind-blowing and earth-defying that we’d be continually excited to “Go”?

3. Community. Staying strategically connected with and to others who are doing similar things cannot be stressed enough. A close community of friends who understand and go through everything you are doing is of utmost importance when doing this kind of work. For years the church, I’ve attended has taken high schoolers on trips to Mexico. One of the best things about this group is that there is a continual flow of staff meetings and retreats and doing life together. Doing life together outside of church helps keep each other encouraged, motivated, understood, and filled. 

4. Rest and Process. Many of us wrestle with this one. We have a genuine desire to be bold and effective for the Kingdom - wanting to go and see God work. The problem comes when we get wrapped up in this head-on mentality for too long of a period of time. We stay in a state of serious depth. Our human minds and bodies can only take that for so long. At some point, we will exhaust ourselves if we aren’t careful. That is why long-term missionaries have to take “furlough”. Rest is necessary. I used to go on missions trips often. I would return to my job the morning after I got home. Every. Time. This did not leave time to rest my body and spirit and process what I had seen and experienced. Without the rest and processing, a part of my spirit shut down and did not remain soft to the things I saw that should have broken my heart before the Lord. 

5. Talk and pray about the experience. By sharing what you did, saw, and felt with others, you are re-igniting God’s passionate heart for what you did. Look at and share pictures or video from your trip. Talk about it. Continually ask others to pray with you for the people you worked with. Set aside a time or a day to specifically pray for those you interacted with. Set an alarm on your phone if you need to. Talk and prayer over it softens the spirit and keeps us compassionate and sensitive to the people and places we’re going. It’s hard to not be sensitive while continually speaking about such things.

Are there other ways that you've fought desensitization? Please share them with this community!


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

CSM Detroit Pilot Group a Success!

Our first CSM Detroit pilot group was a huge success! We hosted 34 high school students and leaders from St. John's, MI and they experienced a meaningful week serving in a variety of ways around the city. The majority of the group went to Detroit Rescue Mission as their anchor site in the afternoons, an organization that provides services to 1,800 individuals in need and serves more than 3,400 meals to the hungry and homeless in the city every day. We were able to be a huge blessing to them by cleaning out their basement, organizing their clothing donation room, and doing various other tasks that the ministry wouldn't have had time or resources to do in their daily routine of caring for so many people in Detroit.

We stayed at Hope Community Church, our very gracious housing partner for the summer, and got to thank them for their hospitality by weeding and doing various other maintenance tasks around the church. Some students had the opportunity to do a huge yard clean-up for several neighbors down the street from Hope, one of them being a woman who we invited to share her beautiful, powerful testimony with our whole group during a nightly debriefing session. 

The Capuchin Soup Kitchen was another site we had the privilege to serve at. Our students worked hard to sort items in their distribution center, namely a lot of clothes and potatoes! Afterward, we got to visit with some new friends at the soup kitchen and eat lunch with them. 

The group served at two different urban gardens as well, Earthworks and Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision, and learned about the huge urban farming movement currently happening in the city. We got to plant squash, weed gardens, and harvest black raspberries. 

YouthWorks-Detroit put on a fun event for our group and their summer interns Tuesday night that we all enjoyed. We got to participate in a Ceilidh dance (pronounced kay-lee), which is a traditional Scottish and Irish dance. One of YouthWorks-Detroit's interns from Scotland taught us how it's done and we all learned some new moves! Some of the other interns were able to share their experiences in Detroit this summer with our group. 

With this stellar first pilot group under our belts, we are so excited for future groups to come serve in Detroit!

- Emily Hoffmann, CSM Detroit Site Coordinator

Monday, July 14, 2014

When One Meets the Other


I have just celebrated my 5th month working with Center for Student Missions (CSM) and it is quite different than any anniversary I have experienced. In these past two seasons, I have been a city host to groups coming from all over the nation who want to come into the city to be a reflection of Christ. This has been done in many forms; playing with children, retirement home bingo sessions, etc. But the time I have been reflective of recently is of my and my teams times visited at missions and how the time I have spent in L.A. has begun to change my heart and thought process entirely over time.
A little over two years ago I came to this city for the first time as a volunteer at the Union Rescue Mission, the oldest mission residing in “Skid Row” (area designated specifically to those suffering in homelessness in L.A.). I learned many different facts and met many figures.   Those living or who had lived on the streets were the preachers of my trip and I just just sat quietly listening as a simple student. This trip caused the initial tear in my heart and conviction to come back to this city. You see, I came with the self righteous and barrier-building mentality that I was the aid that would help save people…and very quickly did I learn that that was wrong. In having this mentality, I was building walls and separation between myself and those suffering making my supposed “aid” a joke. Luckily my friends from the street did not approach me the same way in their teachings.
One teaching in particular came from a man that was in the mission rehabilitation program. I told him I was from Idaho and he said that he loved it there. I was startled because normally I get one of two responses, “AHHHH POTATOES!!!” or “Oh I went through there once”. So as I spoke to this man, that was the response I was waiting for. But what came next was all new…”I love Idaho…do you want to know why!!!” “Enlighten me” I replied. “In Idaho, you can be outside one day, with trash covering every corner of what you see but when it snows….man when it snows, everything is white! Doesn’t that sound like the Gospel?? Going into one day a sinner but with God’s love coming out clean.” I discovered that though I had “accepted Christ into my heart” that I had not met him officially until meeting this man. Since that day, I have moved back to L.A. and have come with different perspective on Christ entirely but it has been a process.
This week, I had a group here from San Diego and one of our earliest mornings began at one of my favorite places in the world, The Midnight Mission. The Midnight Mission has been in existence for 100 years and has served millions upon millions of people in its time. It is one of the big three missions in the Skid Row area and offers many different aid options from rehab to a simple meal. Whatever is needed, they offer it. Many groups have come through this mission taking me along with them but this particular visit was different. My team and I were serving breakfast on the front lines and getting every kind of response you can think of; some complaints, multiple mutters, but an overwhelming amount of gratitude. This is normal. But what was not normal was me.
As each person passed by my San Diego friends and myself, all I could process was what dreams each of my Skid Row neighbors and friends had and continue to have… “Oh, I wonder what kind of music he dreams of playing and for who…” I thought as a man came through with a guitar strapped to him. “I bet she writes…I could see her writing…maybe a poet?” I continued to imagine different dreams and lives for each of the individuals walking past me and began feeling sorrowful about it. We enter into this area, one that has the highest concentration of homeless in the U.S. and my thoughts were about their dreams. Have I not learned anything? Have each of the days I have spent these past 5 months been turned into simple reflection of childhood accomplishments unreached?
CSM’s theme this summer is Collison: Heaven and Earth with Matthew 6:10 as the core motivation in it all…
“May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
This is a loaded and familiar phrase from the Lords prayer that we are often saying but rarely reflective upon. In evaluating my thought shift, this prayer came to mind. The collision I see is us; the secure, uninterrupted, wealthy of the world running full force into the hurts, destruction, and constant fear of our brothers and sisters residing in the worst of conditions. The collision is us dropping barriers, both sides. At first glance my perception at The Midnight Mission seems insensitive and ridiculous. I see that. But where I rejoice is, is that not the way we think of those we love? Is that not the thought process when we initially  meet someone?  Is not our first question to those we introduce ourselves to, “What do you do?” Meaning, what are you about? What do you dream of? Who do you want to be to the world?
In working for CSM, I am recognizing that from the time I first visited Skid Row two years ago to now a great movement has occured in my heart.  I have been earth colliding with the heaven of the people suffering.   As I spend more time seeing others as dreamers alongside myself, I also find myself loving and coming closer to Jesus.  After all, he was a homeless dreamer too….
If we eliminate the barriers and come into the collision with love instead of self-centered recognition, how might the outcome look?
“May your Kingdom come soon…”

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

I am a part of His great plan


I am exactly where I am supposed to be right now and it’s a great feeling to have. I look at all of the things that I’m experiencing with the people in my life right now and I can’t help but know that it’s all a part of God’s great and awesome plan. 

During a debrief with my group this week, I shared about the relationships I’ve developed with the CSM staff. I spoke of God’s greater plan in my life concerning the people He places in it. About a month before the summer season started, CSM Houston City Director, Britani, emailed us with some information about the summer and she included the names of the rest of the city hosts and the people I would be serving with. Through faith in God’s great plan, I knew I was really going to care about them someday and I already knew that I loved them. 

Today, I can safely say that the members of the staff here in Houston are playing crucial, God-planned roles in each other’s lives. It’s a feeling that grants me total peace and joy knowing that I am standing in His presence and His great plan for my life.

Spending the summer in my city is super cool. Houston is my home and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It gives me a secret, inner burst of joy whenever I see people slowly fall in love with the city with each little thing they learn about it. Thank you, Lord, for this city!


- Chris, CSM Houston Summer 2014 City Host

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Love Creates Unity: How to Survive Week to Week as a CSM Host


The busy week to come has been thrust upon me. No longer is the identity of my serving group a mystery. Onward I march, throwing myself out of bed, toward the new relationships, of which each is brimming with the potentiality of wondrous stories, of experiences to be had, and the hope of a perspective change. 

But wait. I'm still in love with last week. I mean, it's only been a day since saying goodbye to those whom I shared my heart with. I would rather listen to the opening of their hearts during debrief, then have to try break the awkwardness rising from my new group. I grew accustomed to the personalities of that group. I fit into their way of ministry and we each shaped each other through last week's journey.

The question arises, then, how must I accurately 'do' this week? How am I to be authentic and relate to my new group? Like a broken relationship, there has to be a healthy moving on period; the redefining of myself will happen slowly, for now is the time to allow the brokenness - in all of its pain and fear - to simply exist. Paul defined the group of citizens living in the covenant community of Colossal as people who are one in the Messiah, one in Christ. And if this is true, if the lives who shared this sacred space together last week are one in the Messiah, then the present moments behold the same possibilities. 

In Paul's words "love creates unity". Unity - as in the only possibility this week can be like the last is propelled by how much I am willing to love. I must love them through awkward silence during debrief, through early morning breakfast setups, and the voiced concerns of weariness. I am required to love them when they do not seem to get the prayer tour, or when the flashy lights and glittering skyline of the city captures their attention more than the person they serve food for; only if I pour my spirit into this week, into ten 14-year-olds who are looking for a push in their spiritual journey can our unification, by love, create meaningful relationships. Then, just as the first believers believed, we are one in the Messiah. 

- Kieffer Hellmeister,  CSM NYC Summer Host