Jamaica Diaries: How to Say goodbye after an emotional mission trip

Saying good bye

Saying goodbye is a critical part of having a successful mission trip.  It is a well documented phenomena that people can come back from mission trips and feel a huge letdown and even depression. Why is that and what can we do to he prevent that?

why is there a letdown?

I think the why can  generally be boiled down to a few factors. 

The first being that they feel that the work while it has changed them has not changed anyone at home, their friends and family all still act and behave the way they did before the missionary left.

The second can be sort of tied to a reverse culture shock, they have been to this incredible and beautiful place, maybe not physically so, but spiritually they have been to the mountain top and now are facing the valley. In our case, were literally and spiritually on a mountain top that was every bit as beautiful and vividly colored as the world of Avatar.

Thirdly I think there is a component of this issue related to “lack of closure”. I think that the mission work is planned for and built up, for in some cases months, ahead of time and when it ends it end haphazardly. I think of it as the feelings that one goes through if someone dies suddenly and they don’t get a chance to say goodbye or make peace before hand.

How can we help our missionaries make a safe return

FIRST:Prepare ahead of time

As I have mentioned before, we bought copies of Kara Powell’s book “Deep Justice Journeys” for all the youth on the mission, and in our nightly team meeting time, one of the youth (in a nice coincidence, named Cara) suggested that we look over the chapter on saying goodbye by Terry Linhart for that night’s devotional. It was a fantastic way to get prepared for the next day’s mission work. Here are the highlights of what we did to get prepared.


The first part of the chapter was to do a game. This game was “ways or phrases to say good bye” which proved to be hilarious. We went around the room attempting to say or demonstrate a method of saying good bye that no one else prior had said. Standard elimination format until a winner was determined. 

The next part was the same format but more serious.. and the topic this time was “Wrong ways to say it”. 

The point

We then moved into the “what have we just learned” phase. the excellent follow up, deeper thought questions we worked through as a team were:

1) What do we unintentionally communicate if we do a bad job tomorrow saying goodbye?  Which clearly built the case for making sure we were deliberate and purposeful in our task of saying goodbye the next day. 

2) Who are the people here we need to do a good job saying good bye to? Which allowed us to hold each other accountable for being good to all the people that were good to us.  We came up with some specific names as a team, names of people that I don’t know we would have gotten to if left to our individual skills.

A well traveled road

We then moved into the devotional part of the evening. We read Acts 20:17-38 and worked through its message for us in that situation with these questions. 

1) How is the scene in Acts 20 the same as us saying good bye?

2) How is it different?

3) What does being sad to leave mean?

4) How will we say goodbye as a team?

It was clear from the reading that we were about to do something that Paul had to do quite a few times in his career. Go into a place and then leave them not knowing when or if they would ever meet in the flesh again. It was a great passage to contemplate before our full day of good byes and I think it helped everyone a great deal.  The heart of Paul’s message to us is to reflect on our past together, honor our present time and realistically look to the future of our relationship.

SECOND: Communicate the right message

We went into the next day with a pretty solid vision for how we wanted things to go. We had also already made quite a few plans before the trip even started around things we would bring and donate while we were in Jamaica. We had brought a dozen or so soccer and playground balls, we planned on donating all the clothes we brought and shoes that we didn’t wear back on the plane. In addition to the things we had packed along, we paid attention for any other unmet needs that we could take care of quickly while we were there. Toilet paper, food etc. So between the things we picked up and the things we packed along we had that area pretty well covered.

In addition, we wanted to focus on a few things while we were saying goodbye. First we wanted to make sure to pray together with everyone when we were saying goodbye. Second, we wanted to be sure to communicate how much we valued our time with them. Third we wanted to spend the time with them as normally as possible, and especially making sure to learn as much from them as we could while we were there. Especially working on learning thier songs while we still could.

All in all I think we did an excellent job of living up to the goals we set out for ourselves.

THIRD: Find ways to stay in touch, follow up.. with your team and with your clients

One of the things that your team will also need to account for is ways to stay in touch after the mission trip is over. This is for both your team and with the people you met in the field. In the video you will notice that we exchanged Facebook information with some of the people we worked with. If there is one thing I know about the ministry professionals I have talked with over the last year or two, and that is not everyone knows exactly what to make of social media and where it fits in thier ministry. If you are in a church where the rules around facebook and twitter are on the more “anti” side you may want to spend sometime working out “rules of engagement” prior to departing on your trip.

In addition to social media, you may be asked for either your address, or given peoples addresses to send stuff back later. For me this was all totally positive, but again I will stress this, everyone is different, and you should work through those potential situations well in advance of facing them in the field, because regardless of how you draw your own personal lines, it is better to think them through than being put on the spot when you least expect it.

For me I am ok with buying and donating items and not as ok with handing out cash. I am ok with exchanging facebook and addresses. But I know not everyone on our trip had the same boundaries.

For our team, once we got back I see pretty much every member of the team at least once a week, several of them 2 or 3 times a week. We also have kept up our groupme circle (see my earlier post about this technology) and have made and will continue to make dinners where we all can get together from time to time. It still is no substitute for the kind of closeness we had as a team while we are in Jamaica. It was an awesome time, and they were all so well balanced, with a really awesome mix of skills and personalities and 100% drama free.

I know we wont ever be able to get the same team together to go on the same trip, and that makes me sad, but I would not have missed this trip for the world. And if we had not handled our goodbyes well, I dont know how that might have changed my feelings on the whole trip. So I am glad we did a good job on that part.

So take a few minutes and watch the video on saying goodbye.

About the video: This one proved be a real pain. I was not doing anything fancy and I had quite a bit of good footage. Although I did find that as was the case on other days, I didn’t have usable video from everyone. Some people I just missed connecting with, but more than one the audio had so much background noise as to be unusable, or the old thumb over the microphone issue made it totally silent. But the real issue was that the lipsync on the final render kept being something like a full second off. The iMovie preview was always correct. But it kept rendering the final product wrong. regardless of resolution or other edits, half of the video was always out of sync. took me like a week of passive attention (click render, check back sometime that day and see what happened) to finally get it sorted out. So free tip for those of you encountering this. Detach the audio for the problem clips and then re render. Dunno why it works, but it does. 

For the video itself, I wanted to focus on the reaction of the team, and communicate for those who havent been on these sort of trips the depth of emotion that you need to be prepared for. Hopefully this will help your team get ready, and have a more successful mission trip.