When a missionary returns from their field of service, they are actually LEAVING home, rather than COMING home, as we often see it. They have given their hearts to the place and the people where God has called them, so leaving it brings mixed emotions. (For a glimpse of how it might feel, read out PART 1!) Many times a return from the field can be unexpected - the result of a negative life situation like illness in their family, financial crisis in their organization, or restricted access in their country. But even under the best of circumstances, the transition is overwhelming! There are a few general ideas for those on the “receiving” end and how to facilitate a healthy transition for their returning missionaries.
1. Maximize the Situation. Get ahead of the situation by staying informed about their arrival and their plans for the early days of transition. Let them know you’ve been thinking of them and anticipating their return. Don’t miss the opportunity to reach out in the very earliest moments of their return.
2. Begin with Affirmation. Acknowledge their ministry, Many are overwhelmed by all there is still left to do and wonder if they even made a difference! So, celebrate their their obedience, their service, and their faithfulness.
3. Be their Directory. Imagine finding a “new” everything -- doctor, plumber, hair stylist, and even school! You can be their first and best resource for help finding a home, setting up utilities, or even securing new employment. Having a “go-to” person for this is so helpful, as they might not even know where to begin.
4. Start a Conversation. Truly “get to know” the worker that has returned. They are NOT the same person as when they left! They have changed. You have changed. Each of you has “imagined” how life has been for the other, but you’d be surprised what you will find if you just open a conversation. People are honored when we really LISTEN to their stories, and ask questions about theirs struggles, successes, etc.
5. Keep an open line of Communication. Ask. Offer. Be specific. Don’t assume they “know” how you feel, or what is available, or even “how to DO” something. Remember, if we are not intentional in our communication, people “fill in their own blanks.” Hearing from you regularly is a must, especially during transition. Stay Connected, especially after the initial “welcome” wears off, that’s when loneliness or disillusion can set in.
6. Offer Reconciliation. If there is any strain in the relationships, perceived or real, give opportunities for both parties to own their faults and offer forgiveness. Admit where you might have “forgotten” or “missed” some events, or needs in their lives. This also gives them a chance to do the same.
7. Acknowledge the “loss.” Many people greet a returning missionary with the phrase “aren’t you glad to be home?” But truly their field has become their home. They left friends, love ones, community, and ministry, so there is grief. And even beyond the people, there are little things they miss that were part of the daily “normal” like shopping at their favorite local market, or certain foods only found in their home country, special cultural or holiday events. Just hearing you say, “I’m sure you miss _______” is so meaningful.
8. Give them time, but not too much time. They will be regrouping, recovering, and even healing during their first weeks and months, so give them time. They may not be ready to “jump” right into ministry in your church right away. You are thinking, “well, they are missionaries, so they obviously wanted to serve,” which is true. But transition takes its toll! However, there will soon be a day when they are “ready” and finding a way for them to use their gifts and experience to serve your local congregation is a great blessing to BOTH of you! It’s a WIN, WIN!
Remember, the hearts and minds of returning missionaries are consumed with processing such a huge life transition. So helping with practical, physical, logistical details can make “brain space” for coping with so much change. Just as it is often said of missionaries, they “give it all away and move to a foreign land,” this is often true upon return as well. It might be leaving their dishes to the national pastor’s wife who hosts 40 people each week in her home, or the contents medicine cabinet to the village clinic,, many will come back with only a few precious pieces from their lives and a suitcase of memories. Many will literally start over, and often with limited resources. That’s where you can help. Here are a few things you can do to be a blessing as you welcome your missionary “home.” And these ideas come, not from the "wishes" or "demands" of disgruntled returning missionaries, but out of the overflow of gratitude from missionaries who have been "welcomed" well!
For hundreds of years, missionaries have been crossing oceans and borders in obedience to the Great Commission.. And for the same years, faithful friends and supporters have been sending and welcoming them home! Thanks to the people who welcomed us home! Well Done!
Have you been a part of WELCOME HOME? The Mission Family needs your ideas! We want to hear from you!!
Are you a goer? Shout out a THANK YOU to those who have blessed you! Share a special memory of when you were blessed as you came "home." Or share a challenge you had when you returned, so we can better learn how to help!
Are you a receiver? Share with us ideas that you've used or seen that have been a blessing to those who are returning! And share how you've been blessed as you have given
We sat around the room, chatting away; a mixture of laughter and tears. Each of us remembering a different place, different people, but each with the very same feelings!
Nothing delights my heart more than sitting in a group of missionaries women. Kindred spirits. This time we were all "home" from our fields, Some young, some old. but all sitting together in one place, longing to be in another. Some were retired veteran missionaries, some home due to illness, others grounded for fundraising purposes. some who's countries closed their doors. But all "home." I say "home" with quotation marks. It's true what they say, "Home is where your heart is." But I've found that your heart can be in more than one place. Since that day, through our discussions about transitioning back to our passport countries, I've been convinced that we need to talk more about what it is like to "come home."
It's hard, ya'll!! And it's hard for a LONG time!!
Being the FIXER that I am, I decided to come up with a plan.....10 ways to help your missionary "come home." I sat down at my computer screen to write down practical tips to help families, and especially churches know how to help their missionaries.
1. . . . . . . nothing
I was stuck! I couldn't come up with one word! And then, this flood of words just came tumbling out! You'll find it below. Yes, I did go on to make a nice neat list with tips and practical advice. But this came first. And, though, I don't speak for all of the returning missionaries everywhere, it goes something like this. . . . .
Standing at the back of the church, you take a deep breathe as your mind is flooded with the years that have passed. You can remember it like it was yesterday, the day of your commissioning, the church full of friends and loved ones who were standing with you and cheering you on! You were charging the gates of Hell together for the sake of the Gospel! And it was glorious. You exhale; today you stand at the back of the sanctuary straining to find a familiar face -- some have passed on, some have moved on, some couples are now singles, some families are now separated, and the place where you sat is filled with new faces that have only heard of you in prayer, or seen your face on the missionary bulletin board. Where do you sit?
Your heart flips as you catch the eye of an old friend - she remembers! And she’s been waiting for you! She saved you a seat. You belong here. You sit side by side. If only she could know ALL that is in your heart and mind about what has transpired over the last 30 years - the good and the bad, the joys and the pain, the lives changed, and the lives still searching. And she wonders if you know how the world has changed while you’ve been away, how much “home” has gone on without you. You wish they could just “know.” Where do you start?
The worship leaders begins playing softly, and the spirit washes comfort over you. English lyrics are a change for you, and the song is unfamiliar; but the words penetrate as you sing about the Savior. And the new young pastor asks the congregation to turn to Matthew….the familiar “GO” and your heart stirs and a tear comes as you think of your friends back “home” in the Far East who still don’t know know...and you want to go….again. But you can’t - age, illness, finances, family issues, or God says it’s just “time.” What do you do?
You remember the words Philippians 1:5-6
“in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus”
And then you rest. So many firsts. So many lasts. And so much more to come.
Know someone who has?
Comment below or share with a friend!
*UPDATE: I did finally make out that plan! Check out specific ideas for welcoming your missionary home. Check out..."So Your Missionary is Coming "Home" - Part 2!
Believe it or not, I'm a kind of a perfectionist, but you'd never know it! TRULY, I have a visual image in my head of THE WAY I want EVERYTHING to go, and if it doesn't go just like that....then just forget it! I'm a "start a diet only on Mondays" kind of girl! But when I give in to temptation at lunch-time, then I just abort the whole plan and wait til next Monday to start again because starting on Tuesday just won't work! (Thus the weigh loss dream not realized...but that's for a different post.) So imagine the pressure I've put on myself on New Years! I mean....It's January 1 - the first day of the year, and of the rest of my life. This is my chance to get EVERYTHING perfect! And by everything I mean my diet, my bible reading plan, my goal setting, my closets, my meal planning, my finances, my pantry, my book list, my vehicle maintenance, my chore charts, my ministry, my writing, my big ideas, my husband, my kids, my EVERYTHING!!! TODAY IS THE DAY!!!! And if I don't get it all arranged perfectly TODAY, then I guess I'll just have to wait until NEXT YEAR! Maybe that's why I'm panicking right now, as it's already 10;00 am on January 1st and I"m in still in my pajamas with a hangover (not literally) from last night's New Year's Eve bash that kept me up til the wee hours of the morning, (ok, so it was just a movie marathon with the kids and "drinks" at midnight from ........ our 24 hour McDonalds! But still, it was exhausting!) Thus my perfect 2016 is already a little off kilter!
So, I'm cutting myself a little slack -- I know, it's too soon in the year, but I'm trying to be realistic. I'm giving myself the WHOLE MONTH of JANUARY to setup the perfect 2016! (Go head and laugh!) TODAY, January 1, we are just going to focus on ONE THING -- the WORD of God! What I really want to do is start barking out orders, dragging stuff out of closets, and making mile-long lists for everyone in my family to do TODAY so we'll have a perfect year! But instead, our whole goal for today is....to get a plan for EVERYONE to be in the WORD regularly in 2016. (Of course, my diabolical plan is to count on the notion that if everyone is in the Word, then everything else WILL BE PERFECT .....their attitudes, their servant hearts, their sibling love, their work ethic, their obedience, and of course, their cleanliness - cause we all know that's next to godliness!)
But for real....by the end of the day, we will ALL have a plan for being in the Word of God. I'm over my original dream of us all having the same perfectly synchronized plan, and this year we are shooting for a personalized plan that fits the personalities and habits of each of us! After all, the goal is to get it done, not to get it done like MOM wants! (but I can dream though!) Some of our family is much better at it than others --and I personally, am not on the GOOD list! So, let's start with the one who's got this Bible reading thing down pat, then we'll work our way through the family album.
The husband......honestly, he's the least organized one in this family, but he's got THIS down! Having lived with him for 23+years, there's been lots of craziness in this family with schooling, and schedules, shuffling across continents, but ONE THING has stayed the same -- you can find him somewhere each EVERYDAY with his bible, and his highlighters, and his pens pouring over the WORDS OF OUR LORD! I know his secret -- it comes from HIS DAD. He has very vivid memories of seeing his father read the bible with his red pencil underlining truths, and our kids will have similar memories. I'll have to admit that sometimes I've been mad a him for the way he can close out the world around him and focus on the WORD. I'm like...."oh, if only I could sit and bask in the word of God quietly reading and meditating. I'm sorry, I've got a 5 kids to care for, and guests coming and going, and a to-do list a thousand miles long...and here you sit just reading your bible!" But that was the YOUNG me. As the years have gone by and I've had the privilege of daily enjoying the the fruit of the Spirit that comes from him being so deeply rooted in the truths of Scripture, I see it different now. And I long for it. And I learn from it. And THIS year....I'm going to get it!
Right now, his plan is usually to read 5+ chapters a day, making notes for our 16 year old son as it will be his gift some day -- his own personal copy of Scriptures that his dad has read three or four times through with personal messages just for him. See why I love this man? He knows the Word IN and OUT. He has found his groove, and he gets it done. EVERY.DAY.
ME- Well, I've tried EVERYTHING, of course -- the One Year Bible, printouts, inbox reminders, NT only, OT only, devos, bible studies, and in every version imaginable. But NEVER as successfully and regularly as needed. Not for perfection (well, okay, for perfection) but even for just daily growth and strength. My to do list ALWAYS gets in the way. I always start out great -- I think I've read the first 15 chapters of Genesis EVERY YEAR for the past 30! And after week two,,,,it's hit or miss for the rest of the year! If I miss ONE day, it just throws me completely off kilter. So, this year I've chosen not a plan, but a checklist. It will allow me to check off what I have read, which keeps me from freaking out if I get "off" plan a bit. I can customize it, and start where I want -- this year I'm starting in Job, followed by Psalms, Prov., Ecc, and Song of songs. It may seem random, but it IS thought to be the OLDEST BOOK (so it's kind of "in order) and I didn't want start in Genesis or Matthew (been there, done that) but truthfully, it's because I printed out this cool color coded checklist and those 5 books are all lumped together in the BLUE section! I'm usinig my ESV -- and strangely it's a kids bible as I like it's layout and lettering and spacing! And I'm also listening to the ESV audio version as I read along. If i just read...my mind wanders. If i just listen...my mind wanders. So I'm doubling up. And it WORKED! And so it's done. Day one. January 1. Job 1! Done! And may I be blameless and upright, fearing God and turning away from evil! (Job 1:1)
Our Big baby boy, our firstborn -- really, there were moments my hopes were for him to just stay out of jail....then then he turned 4. and then 5, then 12, and my minimalistic prayers were the same. And then he turned 16 and it started to "click." and now he's 20. And the Word of God is deep in him, and part of his EVERYDAY. It wasn't me, or even his dad, or even our pastor whom he adores...it was the Holy Spirit grabbing his heart. And the personality that God gave him...that strong willed tenacious "jail bound" toddler is turning out to be a very disciplined young man, turning his strong will into determination to follow hard after God. His plan for the past year was 3 chapters a day, and 5 on Sundays. I dont' know his plan for this year, but you can be sure he has one, and he has it written on the daily notecard in his pocket like Pastor Rob suggested, and the way his dad models. Beyond reading it, he's memorizing major portions and sometimes shares them with us. (Check out some from Titus, starting at 17:15)
And my heart rejoices. And I cry. Let it be even more in 2016.
Our Curly Redhead -- in perfect first-born daughterness, she's figured it out - on her own! Of course we encouraged, and modeled, but in her independent spirit, she did it "by herself." I remember vividly, a few weeks after our unexpected return from living overseas, I saw her laying on her bed reading along in her purple engraved bible we'd given her years before, As I cracked up her door, she looked up and said..."Dang, mom, this Bible's got some GOOD STUFF in it!" Yes, it does. Sure she'd read it before, but this time it was her choice. I think she went to it for comfort, and and answers as to why God had shaken up her life, and taken her away some of her jr. high dreams. And each night as I passed by her room, she was laying there again, and again, night after night. And it stuck. She's midway through her Freshman year in college, and this Word has sustained her. This year, she's following a plan that has a NT reading, and OT reading, and a psalm or Proverb. She' also gets a devo on her phone app. And the Word of Life is driving her thoughts on life, love, career, politics, and every day grace.
The Middle - 16 and boy. Need I say more? Life is about hearts, and hurts, and hard work, and habits that don't come easily. He's a thinker, and a writer, and a reader. He can read a 400 page book in two days, and write 5,000 words in the same. However, reading a chapter of Scripture a day has been a challenge. But, he recently spent the weekend with his Big Brother, and came back with a plan -- Reading 3 chapters a day and 5 on Sundays. (Sound familiar?) And a chosen "incentive" that he has to run a mile if he misses a day -- thanks D-port, and Big Bro, and pastor Rob, and Dad, and the grandpas, of course. The TEAM that God has sent to shape this Middle one -- it is LEGEND! And I can't wait to see what a year in the Word will do to conform him further into the Image of the Invisible One.
#4 - I guess God led us to name him after a theologian because He knew Schaeffer would need all the extra "mojo" he could get to keep him on the straight and narrow. We are still waiting for all all the theological goodness of the name to kick in. But we celebrate his baptism in 2015. and we continue to wait. His (parent-directed) plan for 2016 is to read a Proverb a day, and a chapter from the NT a day, starting with Matthew. He'll read from the Apologetics Bible we got him last year that is signed by Sean McDowell. Yeah, I know, I also think autographing bibles is kinda weird, but we jumped at the chance when at a conference for our teens, Schaeffer (our middle schooler who is obsessed with his dream of playing in the NBA) said, "Mom, just in case my NBA career doesn't work out, I think I might like to do what Sean does and go around giving apologetics lectures." Boom. Signed. Gifted. and we wait.
The Roomate - As always, there's an international flare to the Outlaw family and right now it is Daniel Park, our Korean "son" who has been with us for 2 years. As stereotypically expected of a good, christian, asian young man -- he's polite, kind, hardworking, studious, devoted to the reading of God's word.....AND.....he's #4's Roomate!! Last year he read a chapter of Proverbs daily, and a chapter of the New Testament daily. (Sound familiar? minus the Korean part.) This year, his goals are The Old Testament in English and the New Testament in Korean. I can't take credit for that devotion...he came to us this way! But I'm thankful for it. because each morning by the time Schaeffer wakes up, Daniel is already up reading the Word by his lamp. And each night you can hear him praying loudly when his Roomate turns out the light..... and we wait.
My energizer baby girl - It's settled -- mornings before she even gets out of bed. IPAD. You Version. New Testament. Listen and read along. And a listening to christian music or audio bible at night to settle her as she goes to sleep. It's not a fancy plan, but it's perfect for the highly-distractable, mind-whirling one who's so much like her momma. And if the rest of us get it done this year, this girly has the best chance of the getting the MOST WORD in her heart and mind by adulthood than any of us! That's just ONE of the perks of being the Baby. We MIGHT get it right by the 5th one! Or more likely, we'll just be better at expecting God and his Grace to step in.
And that's the plan. It's 2:30pm on January 1, 2016. And we've had an impromptu family breakfast made by the kiddos that brought us all to the table. And we each hammered out our plan for the Word for 2016. And I've added a post to the blog today, which was also on my list for 2016 - so I actually accomplished two things! now to get out of these Pajamas. Don't judge...it's only day one. And in reflection from my Day One Bible reading of Job...... in 2016, May I do this continually! (Job 1;5b)
So, what about you? What you and your family doing this year about digging into the Word of God? If it's 5 minutes, 5 verses, 5 chapters, or whatever? We want to hear what has worked for you. And NEXT year, we'll let you know if this has worked for us! :-)!
1. Explore Christmas around the World
One of the funniest things during our time in Central Asia, was that almost EVERYONE knew the song "Jingle Bells" - in English! But their other Christmas traditions were quite different than ours! As your Mission family becomes more familiar with the places and faces around the world, why not explore how other countries celebrate Christmas? WhyChristmas.com? has loads of International Christmas info and fun! France, Japan, Kazakhstan. South Korea. Just pick a country and try celebrating their way! And while you are at it, GO HERE and find out the status of the gospel in that country and pray they will be turned to the REAL reason for the season!
2. Remember your Missionaries
When your family gather's around the table or the tree this year, remember that missionary families are always away from "home" and family on Christmas. Everything is different when living abroad, especially during holidays - from shopping to food to family traditions! And it's even different for the grandparents back at "home." There are empty places at the table and missing gifts under the tree! So during this season take time to say a special prayer for missionaries and their extended families! Consider sending a special Christmas package with holidays movies, stickers, or crafts supplies,! Be sure to include a card with your family picture so they can see friendly faces!! But hurry....it takes a long time to cross the ocean!
3. Have a James 1:27 Christmas
The holidays are the hardest time for people who are alone! Why not take Christmas time to live out James 1:27 and bless widows and orphans! Set a few extra plates at your Christmas table and give the gift of time and family to someone who is alone this year. Hang an extra stocking or two and invite a single mom and her kids to share the joys of your Christmas Eve pajamas and hot chocolate tradition! Take Christmas dinner to a local motel and find someone who is alone on Christmas day! Christmas Blessings for everyone!
4. Share Christmas with International Students!
Nothing is more exciting for a college student than finishing up exams and heading home for the holidays! But for International students, home is too far away! Did you know that there are over ONE MILLION international students in the USA this year? And many of them sit in their dorms or eat at a local fast food restaurant alone for the holidays! Grab one, bring them home for the holidays. Take them to your church Christmas program. Make Christmas Cookies together. Share with them the many awesome American Christmas traditions! And more importantly be sure to share the REASON for the Season!.
5. Give the BEST GIFT EVER!
Don't you just LOVE the feeling you get when you find the PERFECT Christmas gift for your friend or family member? Well, there is ONE gift that is PERFECT for anyone and everyone everywhere in the world! It's the Word of God. But did you know that more than half of the world's 6,901 languages still do NOT have the whole Bible in their language! Find out more about how you can help give the BEST Christmas Gift EVER! Or help our friends distribute recently completed tranlsations of Scripture at Christmas time to unreached people in Central Asia!
6. Pray for Peace On Earth
Sitting quietly in my chair, sipping hot chocolate, and listening to Christmas tunes in a room lit only by my Christmas Tree, it's easy to forget how blessed we are to live in such a peaceful place. As we count down the days to Christmas, people around the world are counting the number of gunshots heard on the streets, and how many lives are lost each day to violence and terror. As you watch the news this season, remember the suffering of so many men, women, and children around the globe. Join others in praying for these current events and ask the Prince of Peace to truly bring Joy to the World.
These are the habits of a MISSION FAMILY! Click #1 to get started, and then check back as we add more ideas for your family!
#Blessed. The most overused hashtag ever! It's become so cliche and most frequently posted along with a journal, a Bible, and pumpkin spice latte! These days you even get the "eyeroll" from people if you do ACTUALLY feel blessed and mention it or tweet about it!
But seriously, the idea of BLESSING has been all over my mind lately! And it all started in my study and conversations with David about the genesis of missions. Check out what Scripture says is God's plan to evangelize every family for every age in every corner of the world. It's a part, or rather the grand finale, to God's covenant with Abraham in Genesis 12.
"....and through YOU , ALL the families of the earth will be BLESSED."
fWell, my theologian hubby could write a whole discourse on the Abrahamic Covenant and it's missiological implications, but for me it's simple. God's plan to bless the world is YOU! It's you, and your family, your kids, your small group, your church! And it's ME, too! He wants to BLESS the entire world - every family on the earth - through US! He wants to use regular families, like ours and yours, to bless all the other families of the earth!
American Families. Kazakh families. Single-parent families, Neighborhood families. Refugee families. Racially "different from you" families. Atheist families. Muslim families. Rich families. Poor families. Marginalized families. Chinese families. Hopeless families. Homeless families. ALL the FAMILIES of the EARTH!
We started this blog to help families find their place in the Mission of God. We see families every day - including our own - that get so side-tracked from God's plan for their lives! We end up grumpy and discontent and seek to fix it with busyness, or success, or stuff! Just last week I noticed a friend in the choir at church crying during the worship. She's a wonderful mom, with a great family, home, and job, When I poked a little for the reason for her tears she said, "You know, I"m just tired of spending my days on stuff that doesn't matter in eternity."
I hear ya, sister! I feel the same way!
It was easy when we lived in the middle of a Muslim country with 40% unemployment and very little access to the gospel! There, our family's mission was obvious -- it was everywhere we looked, every person we talked to! But here, in the suburbs of the Bible Belt. - it's easier to take our eyes off our mission. The truth is...even here, it's everywhere and with everyone we meet! People need Jesus. People need love. People need you, and your family, and the blessings of the gospel that your bring in His name! We've just got to reboot our lives, and get focused on the Mission of God. Many times we dont' know where to start or it seems overwhelming! Sometimes we feel inadequate. But really, if we just get up everyday and say...."It's our mission today to be a blessing to all the families of the earth"....well, that's pretty simple. You never know WHICH family of the earth God wants your to bless today! It might be just your own family and the little ones, or the teenagers, or the spouse that needs your blessing. Tomorrow it might be your new neighbor, or the single mom on your kid's ball team, or the homeless guy on your way to work.
Just ask God to show you who and how he wants your family be a blessing! He WILL bring them to you! And through YOU and your family - and me and my family - all the families of the earth will be blessed.
mom to five kiddos and wife to the only man who could put up with her; lover of God, the church, missions, and all things community and culture.
dad, husband, theologian, global leadership guy, professor, and author of countless words hidden in stacks of journals that sit in our bedroom whose wife is making him put his writings here for others to read. :-)!