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!

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