I am often asked about by very well-intentioned people how they can help MAF missionaries who are returning from the field. Coming home is one of the hardest things a missionary faces. Yet this may be the single most misunderstood stage in a missionary’s journey.
People typically think the initial departure—leaving friends, family, and all that is familiar—will be the hardest thing a missionary does. While leaving is certainly challenging, coming home can often be the most difficult part of the journey.
I have found three things are helpful to keep in mind when helping missionaries transition back into their home society:
1. They will face culture shock when they step off the plane in America. They have spent years acclimating to life in a foreign place. They have learned languages, customs, and ways of life that are very different from life in the US. When they return home, they will be seeing America for the first time from a different perspective. This is a very surreal experience.
2. Stress does not vanish when missionaries return to the U.S. While Tanya and I no longer worry about militias like we did in the DRC or voodoo priests like in Haiti, new stressors have replaced those: paying a mortgage, working a “normal” job, and adjusting to the pace of American life. Be patient with them as they adjust to living in a new and difficult place and facing different challenges. The noise is different here, but it is no less spiritually challenging.
3. Missionaries are not the same people they were when they left. They have spent years striving to fit into and be effective in another culture. They may have gotten close, but they did not really become Indonesian or African or Haitian. However, they are no longer fully American either, in a cultural sense.
Life for Tanya and I has not necessarily become easier since we have moved to the States, but we know we are serving the Lord wherever He has us. We are so grateful for the support of our dear friends and church—their love and acceptance really made it easier to adjust to our new lives.
Thank you for supporting MAF and thank you for reaching out to our missionaries—wherever they are!
So very true! Even after being back in the states for many years I don’t “fit in” very well. So grateful God allowed me to grow up in a different culture.(My dad was a MAF pilot)
Great insight. Not sure we ever really fully adjust to being back in the States. The cultural change is permanent so our decisions, views, etc. are just a little different than those that live around us.