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
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. :-)!