The two of us sat facing each other. We sank into our soft chairs, settling in for a long chat.

“So, how was your year?” I asked.

I was conducting an exit interview. As a long-term team member, I took time to give a returning hero the chance to process his year in Asia. There was a lot to think about.

Nine months ago, 20 young people packed their bags and headed to Asia. They waved goodbye to everything familiar so they could further God’s kingdom in a land where many people do not know Him. They felt excited because they could be a part of an adventure, something great. They felt anxious because there was no telling how it would go. Now nine months later, countless miles, innumerable conversations with Asian students, late nights, strange cuisine, successes, failures, prayer meetings and team meetings galore all lay behind them. They’ve returned to the same place, but as different people.

When their planes landed on May 17th, we sequestered them for a week of debrief in a small camp overlooking a picturesque lake. They needed space to recover from jet lag, think about their time in Asia, process their experiences, meet with God, and prepare for reentry into their home culture.

The team member facing me left nine months ago with short hair and returned with a surfer hairdo. But I had the feeling that wasn’t the only thing that had changed. He told me about working with his roommate day in and day out. He told me how God had changed him. He told me how one of his Asian brothers had been planning to pursue one career, but then decided to go into teaching instead in order to make a difference in others’ lives.

Then he told me how he himself had been thinking about going into theater as his next step. He knew he could do it. But he thought about the teachers in his life who had impacted him. They had believed in him. He wanted to do that for others, just like his Asian friend whom he had led to the Lord.

I listened in awe, aware that I was peering in on a holy moment. He was making a calculated decision to not do something he’s wanted, so he can invest in heaven coming to earth. It makes what we do worth it.

To all our returning heroes, we salute you.