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Coming home from the mission field

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Ever been on the mission field and away from home from for extended time? Coming home can be difficult. Of course you miss so much about home. You miss your friends, the food, the things that made life comfortable. But on your way home, you can get sideswiped by stuff you didn’t expect.   Cr…
By Seth Barnes

homecomingEver been on the mission field and away from home from for extended time? Coming home can be difficult. Of course you miss so much about home. You miss your friends, the food, the things that made life comfortable. But on your way home, you can get sideswiped by stuff you didn’t expect.
 

Craig Storti has written The Art of Coming Home to help us make the transition home more easily. Storti is founder and director of Communicating Across Cultures. He has discovered that people tend to expect home to be like it was and are surprised when it’s not.
 
The following is taken from Storti’s book as abstracted by David Mays:

 

1. Common problems

Home isn’t just a place, it is “the place where you are known and trusted and where you know and trust others; where you are accepted, understood, indulged, and forgiven, a place of very few surprises…”
 
You can’t pick up where you left off. You have to create new routines. For awhile, virtually everything is new and requires conscious attention.

 

“The strangeness of home is bound to be more alarming than the strangeness of overseas.” Four characteristics of American life trouble many people when they return:
  • the shock of material abundance,
  • enormous waste,
  • the frantic pace of life,
  • and the seemingly narrow and provincial attitudes.
To reenter is to be temporarily homeless and homelessness.
     People have little interest in your story and as long as they don’t know your story, you are a stranger.
Their new job is as interesting to them as your four years in China are to you.
     You’re not a hero.
                 The loneliness may be the worst…
 
How to help

What family and friends can do: Show interest. Don’t be offended when they criticize. Don’t put them on the defensive. Don’t pressure them for visits. Don’t spring the family problems on them. Be patient?
 
What you can do: Say goodbye well. Deliberately draw out your assumptions in advance and consider them. Don’t jump to conclusions. Give yourself time and be patient with yourself. Ask questions of the people back home. And listen to them. Find other returnees for a sympathetic ear.
 
2. Not fitting
The honeymoon may last a week or a few weeks as you travel and visit friends and enjoy being a minor celebrity. And you do all the things you’ve missed while overseas. It’s a bit like vacation.
 

But as you get back to life, reality sets in. You begin reacting to things and making judgments. You feel a vehement rejection of home and a general sense of insecurity and unhappiness.
 
You have shed some of the values, attitudes, and behaviors of your home culture while you were gone and you feel culturally split apart. You don’t quite fit; you are a marginal person. You feel misunderstood, alienated, and alone. You experience sick doubts and feel overwhelmed. You may try to resist, escape, and withdraw.

3. Missionaries
Returning missionaries face the question of what they accomplished. Some results may be obvious; others may be very indirect or very slow ripening. Those who have supported the ministry may not be able to appreciate the value of your work.
 
They may react to the dissonance of values between abroad and home, the general permissiveness of the culture, the increasingly violent and sexually explicit entertainment, the availability of drugs, the crime and violence in society, and the loose morals of young people.
 
Missionaries may be unable to reconcile it with their image of themselves as tolerant, caring, nonjudgmental individuals who also happen to be good at crossing cultures. Doubt arises. “If I can’t love and get along with my own kind, how can I care for and minister to those I work with overseas?” To have their self-image undermined like this is a serious matter.

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