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!
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.
My husband always says, " With a last name like OUTLAW, you might not want to look very far into your family tree!" With a name like ours, you expect that your family might have a reputation! When our kids were little, strange looks were the norm when we'd holler "lets go Outlaws" trying to wrangle our five kids ages 10 and under out of a MickeyD's playland! Most people thought we were talking about our family's character -- wild and rowdy - rather than our actual given name! We'd just smile and say, "Yep, that's who we REALLY are -- The Outlaws!"
Over the years we've gotten a reputation for more than our last name -- some good things, and some not so much! But when people run into THAT family whose name they can't remember just heard was crazy enough to take their 5 little kids across the ocean, they say, "Oh, you're... THAT MISSION FAMILY." To some that might be a compliment, and others just might mean we are weird. There are a few other ways we know we're THAT MISSION FAMILY like when....
Okay, so maybe we ARE just weird! Or maybe we got a jumpstart by living overseas. But truthfully, wouldn't it be great if the world would see ALL christian families as THOSE MISSION FAMILIES! They would see how much we LOVE the WORLD and the people in it! They would see that we live with purpose and mission for our lives. That's really the purpose of every family no matter our vocation or our location!! In Genesis 12:3, God tells Abraham that through his family, all the families of the earth will be blessed! And truthfully, that covenant continues today. We are all Mission Families with a mission from God to bless all the other families of the earth -- Kazakh families, Syrian families, Chinese families, immigrant families, neighborhood families, poor families, your soccer team families -- all the families of the earth!
JUMPSTART your Mission Family today by doing this ONE thing! But be careful, you might be get the reputation for being "THAT MISSION FAMILY."
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. :-)!