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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Neal Pirolo :: Serving as Senders

Neal Pirolo :: Chapter Seven: Re-entry Support

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“And they abode a long time with the disciples there.”Acts 14:28

My father was a career missionary. My brothers and sisters and I were born on the mission field. This was our life. Dad diligently directed a theological seminary for the whole western region of the country. Mother stood faithfully by his side. Our education was as much enhanced by watching their lives as it was by the lessons in our classrooms.

Through the years they had weathered any number of storms that assail missionaries. Each brought them to a more determined level of commitment to our Lord and to the cause of training national leadership.

Tensions between national Christians and missionary leadership were frequent. But my dad was a peacemaker. He could walk that delicate line of cultural sensitivity. Lack of funds became so common that we all knew when to ‘tighten our belts.’ Discouragement over ‘promising’ national students who turned their backs on Christian service only toughened Dad’s resolve to pour his life into others.

But probably the most trying experience Dad and Mom faced was his arrest and uncertain life and death outcome during a military coup. With all the dramatics of a war movie, soldiers barged Into our house and took Dad captive. They were sure he had ‘secret contacts with the enemies of the people.’

The coup failed. After three weeks Dad was released and resumed his work at the seminary.

We kids are grown now. Several of us are married and back on the mission field ourselves.

Last summer Dad called us all together for a family meeting. By the curtness of the invitation and the insistence on our being there, we could tell something was wrong. In a thousand years we would have never dreamed of what would take place. The meeting was short and to the point. In essence: ‘Children, it is important for you to know that I am divorcing your mother. I plan to marry Sue.’ Sue is younger than I am! His parting words were, ‘And furthermore, I’m not even sure there is a God!’

In the secular world they are saying it: Re-entry is often the hardest part of an overseas experience and It should not be ignored. There are unexpected problems in returning home. Family members who have lived in another culture need to learn how to overcome the difficulties of today’s workplace, community and school environments.

In the Christian community they are saying it: Up to 50% of first-time missionaries return home early or don’t return for a second term. These wounded people need to identify and process the hurt and anger of failure-to begin to build up their lives again, growing toward mental and spiritual wholeness.

In missions seminars they are saying it: One leader emphasized, “I have not taught one seminar about the drastic need for re-entry help without some missionary coming to me, saying, ‘I thought I was weird. I couldn’t tell anyone about my feelings. Thank you for letting me know that it is okay to feel a little uncomfortable in coming home.”

“Recently, just as I finished the re-entry session of a seminar, a woman in the front began sobbing, then uncontrollably weeping. Finally, through her tears, she wailed, ‘I have been home from Indonesia for three months. Everything you just talked about—I am experiencing. Please help me!’”

The Situation of Re-entry

There is an initial shock in returning home. Old buildings have been torn down; new ones have taken their place. A favorite park is now a freeway interchange. Grandma’s rocking chair is empty. Your cross-cultural worker probably heard about all of these things as they happened. But now that he is home and sees them for himself, he’s jolted. As with an electric shock, though, these factors are gradually absorbed and accepted.

The stress of coming home is another issue. There is a mental stretching as new ideas and ideals are incorporated into the old—which isn’t old anymore since it also is new and strangely different.

There is a spiritual duress caused by the continual memory of the needs of a world lost in sin and what we are or aren’t doing about those needs.

There is a physical taffy-pull as well-meaning people gorge their newly returned missionary with rich American non-food foods. “You’re so skinny; have some more!”

There are odd emotions, as perhaps your missionary tries to justify the new $1,000 wardrobe of clothes that has just been graciously given him. Days before he left the field, his national partner had refused to receive a shirt from him with the words, “I have one to wear while I wash the other. A third one would just be wasted!”

Yes, the home scene with its people, places, and things—all that you represent—has changed. But more dramatically, your missionary friend has changed—socially, emotionally, mentally, physically and most of all spiritually. And because these changes happened to each of you so gradually, you yourselves are only slightly aware of them. But as you meet, the changes in each other appear drastic!

Needless to say, the longer your cross-cultural worker has been away, the more pronounced will be the culture stress in coming home.

But even short assignments can produce dramatically bold changes. The Apostle Paul’s entire life was changed in the span of just a few minutes on the Damascus road!

In many situations of world need today, God can instantly open your missionary’s eyes to crying needs for ministry. Short-term mission trainers report, “For simple exposure to another culture, we have taken people across the border into Mexico and watched God break their hearts with compassion for the lost and needy of this world in just one afternoon.”

There is another factor to consider in re-entry support: denial. Some workers may prepare to return home denying that they will face any stress upon re-entry. Some steel themselves with the attitude that “it won’t—it can’t happen to me.”

Denial can be suicide—emotional, spiritual, mental. And even literal, physical suicide has been the result of some missionaries’ shock and stress in re-entry. Your returning missionary may think, “Look how easy it was for me to adjust to my new culture on the field. What’s the big deal? I’m just going home!”

Look at some possible blind spots in that statement:

  1. The adaptation probably wasn’t as easy as he now remembers it;
  2. The months (maybe years) of anticipation before going gave him time to prepare for the adjustments;
  3. The nationals of the host culture may have been accustomed to Americans and therefore knew how to help him adapt. In many cultures the people are very gentle, non-demanding and forgiving of missionaries.

None of those factors will cushion his re-entry as he comes home. Perhaps his unaware friends back home are echoing the same words: “What’s the big deal? He’s just coming home!” Because many of them have not ventured beyond the comfort zones of their own world, they have no idea of what a missionary goes through in living and ministering in a second culture. Many supporters feel coming home is basically a non-issue.

Awareness of the factors of re-entry can prepare you to become a strongly supportive friend in the “coming back home” process.

The Challenge of Re-entry

As a re-entry support person, it is necessary for you to keep your eyes and ears open for signs of culture stress in reverse. The returning field worker is the one least prepared to handle the situation. He knows something’s not right! The loneliness, the disappointment and let-down, feelings of isolation and not belonging here, the dizzying speeds of everything may find him silently crying, “Slow down! Slow down!” But it doesn’t slow down.

You must take the initiative. You must be the “intensive care unit” for your missionary’s re-entry.

He will face challenges of re-entry in any one or more of the following areas:

  1. Professionally

    After the adventure of an overseas experience, going back to his old job could be very boring. Equally perplexing could be the “big-fish-in-a-little-pond” syndrome. Upon return, he suddenly becomes a small-to-medium-sized-fish in a much bigger pond! He may lament, “The light of my testimony looked so much brighter out there where it was dark!” Possibly he will sense an under-utilization of the skills and experiences he gained on the field. Or he may feel the loss of some degree of independence as he is now under the more watchful eye of his employer. Or the feeling of being in the old rat race may begin to haunt him.

    In some areas of work, a year or two away may find the old job obsolete. One woman working in computers realized this during her field training before she went as a short-termer to the field. Helping her through that stress before she left for the field made re-entry easier for her later. In fact, when she returned, she said, “I’m not going back into computers. I am working at a nursing home. I see this as a ministry now, and the medical training I’m getting will really open up new opportunities for me to go again where laborers are needed.”

2) Materially-Financially

The America your worker is coming back to is generally much more expensive. That doesn’t mean that a loaf of bread necessarily costs more. It does mean that Americans spend more money on things than do the people of the culture from which he is returning.

When your cross-cultural workers return to this, It may cause stress! When they see a teenager go to a full closet of clothes and cry, “I don’t have anything to wear!” they remember the hours they labored over how to ask “the people back home” for a few extra dollars to feed and clothe the neighborhood kids.

One recently returned missionary said, “The wealth of this country is very difficult to handle; the wealth of the church is even more difficult for me to deal with.”

Another missionary said, “It happened to my wife this way: A few months after our return from Mozambique, she was leisurely walking the aisles of a super-market, choosing this and wisely picking that off the shelves. All of a sudden, a feeling of being overwhelmed consumed her. She began thinking, ‘There are too many choices. I have to get out of here!’ She left her half-full cart right in the aisle, went to the car and drove home!”

Another recalled, “In Brazil, due to our various economic and living conditions, personal ownership took a back seat in our minds. Upon our arrival home, I began working with a fellow who was using a new Bic felt point pen. They had not been on the market when we left. He let me use it. I commented to him how I enjoyed the feel of it and how good the writing looked.”

“The next day he gave me one. ‘Here, this is yours!’ For several days, I would pause and just look at that 59¢ treasure. ‘Its mine! It’s really mine!’ I would muse to myself.”

“Ridiculous!” you might say. Yes, but this is the very level on which culture stress in reverse occurs.

Comparative wealth can begin the stress even before your missionaries leave the field. And children are susceptible as well as adults: Bill and Alice were house parents in a chlldren’s home for Wycliffe Bible Translators in the northern Philippines. Their son William had had an opportunity to spend a week in a tribal village.

Sometime after his return to the Wycliffe Center, Alice saw William looking into his clothes closet. He was crying. Knowing her own concern for how little they had compared to their lifestyle back in the States, she went to console him. After several attempts at resisting her comfort, he said, “No, Mom. I feel sad that I have so much in comparison to my new friends in the tribe.”

3) Culturally

New beliefs, values, attitudes and behaviors have become a part of your returning worker. Perhaps he has adjusted to a culture with a slower pace, a more relaxed atmosphere, an emphasis on people and relationships, zestier foods, a noon-hour siesta…

The cultural differences that your returning missionary may try to hold onto are innumerable. When schedules and attitudes of people here at home now don’t allow for them, he feels irritation and stress!

One major expectation of most returnees is that people will be interested in their experiences: “We had been invited to their house for the evening,” one returning missionary wrote. “We assumed it was to be able to share the excitement of our missionary venture. After a delicious meal during which we were able to insert a few comments, we were ushered into the family room. ‘Now is our opportunity; I thought. But as our host turned on the TV, he said, ‘I was sure you would enjoy watching the NFL playoffs on our new 29-inch screen!’ I was absolutely devastated!”

What a different story is told of the Antioch church welcoming home their travel-weary pioneer missionaries: “From there they sailed back to Antioch where they had first been commended to the grace of God for the task which they had now completed. When they arrived there, they called the whole church together and rehearsed before them all that God had done with them, and how He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles” (Acts 14:26-27).

4) Socially

Many people place an “unholy” halo about a missionary. He is held aloof as if he is right next to God.

“How can we relate with someone who has been a missionary?” they wonder. “What would we talk about?”

Or some may fear that the missionary is contagious! “If I have them over for dinner, will my kids come down with some kind of exotic diseases?” Worse! “Their enthusiasm for missions might rub off on me!”

It might seem to returning missionaries that every-one is hurrying here and there. After spending some time here, one perceptive international observed: “In America, everyone has a watch, but no one has any time. In our country, few have watches, but everybody has time!”

Compared to much of the rest of the world, life in the United States is extremely busy. When your missionary went to the field, his old friends closed the gap that was created in their lives by his departure. Social ties may have been broken with time. Former friends’ children have made new friends. Once-dear families may have moved away.

If communication between the missionary and his home church has not been good or if it is a particularly large church, he may not have even been missed! One returning missionary who had spent two years of fruitful labor in Europe was greeted by her mission pastor with, “Hi, Sally! How was Hawaii?”

One short-term missionary, after returning from a five-week ministry, was welcomed back at church with, “Bill! You’re back! We thought you had backslid!” It was a blow for the returning missionary since it basically meant he wasn’t being prayed for while on his mission.

There are real situations that may cause stress, but there are also imaginary ones that can be equally distressing: A family recently returned home to their church which had been kept informed about their mission. The husband said, “My best friends went sailing by, barely saying hello as if I had only been away for a long weekend. I was mortified! I was distraught!” His friends meant no harm. But rejection, whether real or imagined, can have equal consequences.

5) Linguistically

Your returning missionary has probably learned a second language-or at least some phrases. There are many languages of the world far more descriptive than English. He may try to express himself in our limited vocabulary and feel inadequate. Stress! He may have “forgotten” certain English words—which may be seen as humorous or inconsequential to most of his listeners. Stress! Some of his responses might automatically come out in his second language. Stress!

Further, colloquialisms and slang have changed. Teenagers of returning families might especially feel stressed by not knowing which words are in or out-or even if “in” and “out” are in or out! When you see a puzzled look on your returning friend’s face, it may be the stress of not understanding American English!

6) Nationally, Politically

New leadership can bring new laws. Can you imagine your missionary leaving this country when the 55 mph was strictly enforced, then spending several years riding no faster than a bicycle can go only to return home to the maddening pace of our freeways today?

A visit to Iguazu Falls in southern Brazil can make the USA’s Niagara Falls look like a miniature cascade! What happens to American nationalistic pride when we discover the technology of European television yields a much clearer picture than ours? Or when the mass transit systems of world-class cities make our freeway clog and smog a disgrace? Stress!

Having seen the other side of American foreign policies, your missionary’s political outlook on this country may be affected. Possibly your returning worker found the government of his host country more to his liking. Singapore, for example, is a much quieter, gentler nation than the USA. Americans who live abroad sometimes feel that a socialized government offers more security to its citizens than does the pluralistic free enterprise of the US. As a returned worker simply reads a newspaper editorial about issues now facing his own society, he may be irritated with stress! And that is when you as a Re-entry Support specialist need to have your eyes and ears open!

7) Educationally

The formal and informal educational standards of the world vary. Missionary children may have for years been educated in home schooling or at a boarding school away from their parents. When the kids now have to go to a large public school, parents can understandably be concerned. The kids themselves can feel they are in a potentially devastating situation educationally as well as socially.

One girl, returning from the field to spend her seventh grade in a US junior high school, described her first day: “We circled the monstrous wood and brick building. We surged forward, carried irresistibly toward its mouth and stopped momentarily at its gaping door…I was now in the monsters throat. I felt a downward, sinking feeling. I was being swallowed! The noise was like thunder…I was alone in the blackness of that nightmare.”

Actually, the description might fit what your returning missionaries and their children all might sense during the weeks and months of re-entry.

8) Spiritually

Your returning cross-cultural worker’s life has concentrated on the salvation and discipling of the nations. He has sensed the very heartbeat of God pounding in his breast: “He is not willing that any perish, but that all come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). He has become disentangled with the affairs of this world “that he may please the One who has called him to be His soldier” (2 Timothy 2:4). He remembers the cry of the widow, the orphan, the lost and dying.

And now in bold, stark contrast, the demands of a “godless Christian” society surround him with stress. He is enjoying the pleasures of new conveniences at home in America, yet even that enjoyment can create feelings of bewilderment, anger, guilt and condemnation. The hurt is not only for himself; it is also for the hundreds of people he left back in his adopted country who need food and care and Bibles and Christian music and Bible studies and the multitude of other blessings of America.

Each of these areas—from professional to spiritual factors—is a stresspoint needing your re-entry support.

Re-entry Behavior Patterns

Generally, there are five different patterns of return behavior that could show up in your missionary friend. Four of them are dangerous. You want to be alert to their symptoms and help your friend process his feelings, working toward the expression of the fifth pattern. That is the one you want to facilitate.

1) Alienation

The cross-cultural worker comes home. His attitude of “I’m just going home!” has left him unprepared for what he is facing. He begins feeling very negative about his home culture. Not knowing how to handle what he sees and feels, he begins withdrawing.

He makes excuses rather than meeting people. “I don’t have my slides together yet,” he says. So he can’t share with the home fellowship group. “The crowd at the baseball game would be too noisy,” he argues. Three weeks later he is still “suffering from jet lag.” These are the types of symptoms you must be on the lookout for.

They are shallow pretexts to hide his inner feelings.

He might internalize these feelings and sink further into this pattern of alienation. He may feel there is no one to talk to, no one who could possibly understand, no one to help him process his thoughts.

You can pull him out of that tailspin by inviting him to your home. Just the two of you—or three—is a small, safe number. Or visit some of his favorite spots together—a park, a beach, a restaurant. If he refuses all of this, get desperate! Just show up at his doorstep and insist on some fellowship! Get him talking about anything, Just so he begins verbalizing his thoughts.

2) Condemnation

This person is also negative about his home culture. The areas of challenge seem to be overwhelming. He didn’t realize people would be so unthinking. He can’t understand why his pastor has no time for him. How could they be so unChristian! The pressure of his judgmental attitude increases, and he becomes explosive. Everyone he sees knows within minutes how inferior and lacking in spiritual gifts they are—so he thinks—because they are not involved in missions. He begins to condemn and criticize everything from the church pews to Mrs. O’Toole’s new hair style.

Be blunt about his condemnations. Perhaps you could say, “My standing is in the righteousness of Christ. In whose are you standing?” Then let him talk to you. He, too, needs to verbalize all of his frustrations in the safe environment of a close friendship. Don’t wait until he feels he must unload in the middle of a Sunday sermon.

3) Reversion

This person takes a hop, skip and a jump off the plane only to discover people aren’t hopping, skipping and jumping any more. Yet he keeps trying to deny that any vital changes took place in him while he was gone, or in you who stayed home. He keeps trying to fit in to what was but no longer is.

This person is likely to jump right in to whatever task is put before him. And his unaware friends play right into this dilemma: “So glad you’re back! We need a teacher for the sixth grade class!” “Great! When do I start?” Usher? “Yes, I will” Lead worship on Wednesday night? “Sure!”

He will wake up one morning doubting his sanity. He has moved into the fast lane of American Christianity without allowing himself time to process the incredible changes his body, soul and spirit have endured,

4) The Ultimate Escape

Alienation, condemnation or reversion could lead your cross-cultural worker into a devastating scenario of the ultimate escape of suicide—figurative or actual.

The missionary went out to live and minister in a second culture. He had a good experience. Language was learned. Relationships were nurtured. Souls were saved. The church was strengthened.

He returns. He is not prepared for the changes at home. He tries to cope. He internalizes all his frustrations. Alienation whispers, “Nobody cares or understands. Forget them!” He argues with himself, “No, I have to get out and share a vision for the world among the church people.” “But they are so ungodly,” Condemnation thunders. “This isn’t getting me anywhere,” he yells back at himself. Reversion reasons, “Okay, let’s just forget it. I was there. You were here. We’re back together. No big deal!”

The whirlwind of emotions leaves him broken. He backs out of life—spiritually, mentally, emotionally, or finds the ultimate escape his only alternative.

If you see your returning friend falling into any one of these four behavior patterns, your help is needed!

The most vital immediate help you can give is to listen! Take the time to hear his heart, to share his experiences, to care about his feelings and burdens, to see his slides, to be there when he needs someone to talk and laugh and cry with.

The gala reunion parties are fine. But what about at three in the morning: You’re awakened by the phone. At first you don’t hear anyone on the line. Then you hear someone softly sobbing. You say, “Bill is that you?” There’s a weak, hardly distinguishable, “Yes.” You say, “I’ll be right over!”

Let him say anything in the confidence of your friendship. Don’t interject, “I know, yes, I understand.” You probably don’t! Just let him talk. Encourage him to keep talking by asking leading questions to explain something he has referred to. Ask often, “And how did you feel when that happened?” Affirm with “That must have been tough/terrifying/exciting/etc.”

As stability returns to your friend, you can help him move into the fifth return behavior pattern—the only healthy one: Integration. Actually, by initially focusing on this one, the others are more likely to be avoided.

5) Integration

Helping your missionary integrate takes place on two levels: Immediate and Long-Range.

The Immediate

a) Be sure your workers are welcomed and picked up at the airport. Don’t overwhelm them with half the church being there, but a good-sized group who will say, “We’re glad you’re home!” One church welcoming party came to the airport two days after the missionary had come home. Fortunately his parents had confirmed the correct day of his arrival and were there to meet him!

b) Have a place for them to stay. “And [Paul and Barnabas] abode with them there for a long time!” (Acts 14:28). It is noteworthy that of the twelve Greek words we translate “abide,” the one used here is defined to wear through by rubbing; to rub away! In other words, their stay with the disciples in Antioch was of such a duration that all strangeness of relationship had come to be “rubbed away!” When you abide with someone, you know where the extra lightbulbs are stored. You aren’t just camped out in the front hallway. Whether it is with friends, family, or in a place of their own, be sure to check with your missionaries before they return. Let them be prepared for the accommodations you are providing for them.

As a church recently brought home their first missionary family, the missions pastor said, “The washer and dryer are hooked up. The utilities are on, the refrigerator is stocked and the telephone is in service. I think we’re ready!”

c) Have an immediate means of transportation for them-a borrowed car or a dependable, inexpensive one that can be sold when they return to the field. One returning woman said, “Not only did they have a comfortable, dependable car available for my three months home, but a gas credit card for my use!” It is important that returning missionaries have some independence and the freedom to be mobile.

d) Provide meals for the first few days. Invite them over; bring food in; have their home stocked with some basic food supplies—and maybe a few treats. Take them out to their favorite restaurant.

But be sensitive. Don’t make it difficult for them to say “No.” Some missionaries have said, “I can hardly wait to get back to the field. I won’t have to eat so much!”

e) Take them shopping. They may not know what styles are fashionable. And they can look conspicuously out of place without even knowing it!

f) Perhaps they had complete medical check-ups just before leaving the field. If not, ask them if they would appreciate your making arrangements for doctor, dental and eye care visits—free or discounted or paid for by you or the church!

g) After an appropriate few days, have a get-together—perhaps a potluck dinner—so they can meet more people in a shorter time. A ladies’ tea is great for the women to catch up and again feel a part of things. But again, be sensitive. They may want to spend most of their time alone for the first week or so.

Long Range Interaction

Help returned missionaries to slowly integrate their new identity and lifestyle into their new environment. They have the opportunity and challenge to be positive change agents—people who can purposefully help all of you back home to see the world more and more from God’s perspective. Be open to their new ideas and ways of doing things.

Look for creative ways to help your missionary introduce global perspectives to your friends. What groups of people could you interest in hearing his report: Sunday service congregations? Sunday school classes? Home fellowships? Prayer groups? Public and private schools? Other churches’ groups? Christian radio or TV? Secular radio or TV? A newspaper article? Is his story worth writing a book about?

Allow the creative genius of God to expand your thinking to other ways your missionaries can share their experiences. You can thereby facilitate a good debriefing for them. Paul and Barnabas, on their arrival in Antioch, were given the opportunity to “call the Church together and report to them all that God had done with them and how He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles” (Acts 14:27).

Scripture further says of Paul and, Barnabas that they stayed in Antioch for some time teaching and preaching the Word of the Lord (Acts 15:35). In other words, the time came when they picked up the ministry they had been involved in before going. In its time—if they are not returning to the field—taking up a ministry in the church would be a goal for your cross-cultural workers. This might possibly be in their area of previous ministry. But it is also possible that with their cross-cultural ministry experience, they would now be suited to further develop your church’s involvement with internationals who live among you. Or to train new missionary recruits. Or to develop the many aspects of strong sending teams.

Personalizing Re-entry Support

There may be special re-entry concerns for various members of the family:

1) Husbands can use help.

As a family returns from the field, there are pressures and anxious feelings of responsibility on the husband as provider. Financial support may have dropped off because they aren’t on the field now. Yet expenses are probably higher here at home.

Take the initiative in talking about money. Maybe you can help financially, maybe not. But you have helped by bringing the subject “out of the closet.” Let him verbalize his family’s needs. Even that may help to sort out priorities. And, then again, it might bring a totally new, Holy Spirit-inspired solution.

Go easy on this, but the time will come to help him talk about future plans. “What livelihood are you going to pursue?” “Are you planning to go back for more schooling?” “Back to the field?”

2) Behind every good man is a great wife!

On the field she probably played a much more active role in ministry than she will now. Be sure to allow opportunities for her to share. If this is not appropriate in your public gatherings, provide occasions in your living room. Often the wife in the missionary team bore enormous pressures in the balance of ministry and family affairs, and her needs to share are equally valid.

She is pleased with the fully-carpeted, three-bedroom, two-bath house the church rented for them. But she is at a loss as to how she is going to keep it clean! More often than not on the field she had a maid who had helped even with the cooking! Help her ease back into the skills of home-making. Be willing to help her with it for a time.

3) Missionary kids are ordinary kids.

Born to American parents but raised in Japan, Zaire, Cairo or Hong Kong, missionary kids (MKs) often don’t know where they fit! America is their homeland, but it usually isn’t their home.

A 14-year-old MK, after returning to the field from a year back in the US, wrote a ninth-grade essay titled, What I Would Like to Tell the People Back Home.

I want to answer a few questions I have been asked: No! We don’t live in mud huts. No! We don’t eat “foreign” food. It is very natural. MKs are not perfect. We’re human and have faults and virtues like everybody else. When you subconsciously or otherwise treat us like we should be perfect, we get chewed out by you (who have no right at all) and then by our parents (who know better).

No! All MKs are not super brats. Those few who might act like it on furlough are probably trying to hide the culture shock they are going through. No! Just because you’re an MK doesn’t mean you know your Bible any better than anyone else. All the time when we were on furlough, I was asked to quote Scripture or find something in the Bible I had never heard of. People were shocked and whispered behind their hands.

No! MKS don’t go around barefoot and in rags. Mrs. X had seen a picture of me in a paint-spotted tee-shirt and cutoffs and assumed I didn’t have anything better to wear. Please send money! The money sent to missionaries is never enough! Even though it often appears my folks aren’t doing anything, they are! And our national friends will tell you so!

How can you support a returning MK? With all the tenderness and understanding and tact and wisdom and patience you would employ in being a re-entry support person for Mom or Dad use with a missionary kid.

4) Single and satisfied!

This phrase (the title and subject of a book) might remind senders that singles need special re-entry support, too. Few married people understand single ministry workers’ needs of being cared for. And few married couples realize the unintentional insensitivity and hurt hurled at single adults in even Christian circles.

Sometimes re-entry is harder for a single. At least family members have each other to talk with. Loneliness, perplexities, inability to cope with modern single relationships and the desire to get on with life can throw unmarried returned missionaries into quagmires of alienation and depression. You be there to draw them out! Be there to listen and serve as their “intensive care unit.”

We are the Body of Christ. We are a community of believers. We need each other. May God challenge you to become part of a re-entry support team who are serving as senders!

A Case Study in Re-entry Support

One of the senders team we’ve been following in our case studies reports:

My wife Teri and I are the Core Group leaders of re-entry support for Lou and Sandy. The only experience we have regarding our responsibility was the short time Lou and Sandy were with us between their field training in Mexico and actually going to the Philippines. Because their time in Mexico was only three months, there didn’t seem to be any of the major culture shock or stress problems. Still, when they came back from Mexico, we worked to make things as normal as possible for them. This was good practice for us!

Oddly enough the process started before they left for their field training. It began with a commitment on their part to keep those of us at home informed of what was going on in their lives in Mexico. We were kept up-to-date on prayer needs and trying situations in their training and in their “new” culture. We were told about the victories and the defeats. They kept us informed about their daughter Marlies and how she was growing and how all of them were adjusting to living with their host Mexican family. A key to this communication was that it was regular. We were “with them” as they progressed through the twelve weeks.

And that paid off. When they got back home they didn’t have to feel pressured to condense or just hit the highlights of their experiences. And we hadn’t missed so many of the little things that had contributed to who they now were. There was already a group of us who had “gone through it” with them, families with whom they could feel comfortable in rehashing some of their experiences. This detailed debriefing proved as important to them as it was informative to us.

Another aspect of their re-entry support was to attend to their physical needs. Before Lou and Sandy left for Mexico, they had sold most of their household things and had vacated their duplex. So there was a need for a place to stay for about seven weeks until their departure for the Philippines. Initially there was the chance that they might be able to house-sit for a family that was going to be out of town. As that hope faded and eventually disappeared, Teri and I felt that we should open our home to them. There were many things that contributed to our volunteering. We already knew them well and knew that our lifestyles were compatible. The Lord had blessed us with a large enough house that eight of us could live in it comfortably (including a kitchen large enough for both Teri and Sandy). There was an extra room that could be just for Lou and Sandy, while Marlies could stay in our daughter’s room. And, most importantly, we all prayed about it and felt that the Lord was saying, “Yes!”

We were aware that a lot of people might want to spend some time with Lou and Sandy before they left for the Philippines. We planned a potluck reception after church their first Sunday home from Mexico.

Because we knew that there were quite a number of their friends that would like to share a meal or spend an evening with them, we decided to develop an appointment/social calendar so they could budget their time. We prepared a letter that was sent to the other Core Group members and all support members expressing Lou and Sandy’s desire to spend time with those who wished to visit. It also explained their need for time to take care of unfinished business and to keep rested. The letter was sent out well in advance of their return. Teri acted as their appointment secretary. Lou gave us directions on how full to make their calendar and what days they already had planned for other things.

The rest was simply working with the people who called so that everyone could spend some time with them. It made things easier for us and even more enjoyable for Lou and Sandy when we could get a couple of families together at the same time. The letter proved to be successful in that Lou and Sandy were able to accomplish their three goals of visiting, doing business and resting.

The room we were able to provide for them was our den. We rearranged the furniture, brought in a bed and a chest of drawers and put a lock on the door so they could have privacy. They had their own keys to our house so they could come and go as they pleased. Even though they still had their own car, they were free to also use one of ours when they went in separate directions.

We have lived with other people at various times during our marriage, but I don’t remember it ever being so tension-free. I think the major factor in this good living situation was that Lou and Sandy were doing exactly what God would have them do in preparing for the mission field and we as re-entry support team were doing exactly what God would have us do, He had prepared all of us to live together—for a while at least. And, as the widow from Zarephath who provided hospitality for Elijah found, the Spirit of God rested on our house.

Though our greater task will be when Lou and Sandy return on their furlough, we have learned a lot from this experience. Re-entry support doesn’t begin when the cross-cultural worker returns home. It starts before they leave. It continues while they are gone. And accelerates when they return. While they are in the Philippines we are keeping in close contact with them so that when they return there will be a group of us who are not “cultural strangers” to them. We will be able to immediately relate with them as they begin their debriefing.

This then is the full circle of support you can offer to your cross-cultural worker as you express your love and concern for him while he is preparing to go, while he is on the field and when he returns home.

(In addition to the individual study below, see the Group Leader’s Guide for session seven.)

For Your Personal Involvement

  • Though this aspect of missions life has been long neglected, articles are beginning to appear on the subject. From various missionary journals, collect and read as much as you can about re-entry.
  • Talk with missionaries who are on furlough or those who have returned more permanently about the challenge of re-entry. But be prepared for some tears! Many missionaries, unless they have had a good Re-entry Support Team, have a lot of bottled-up emotions!
  • As you listen to these people, try to identify symptoms of the first four re-entry behavior patterns.
  • Write to the mission agencies of your cross-cultural workers. Ask them for the materials and useful ideas they recommend to help bring missionaries home.
  • Write to other mission agencies and ask them for their materials and procedures. Learn all you can about this needy area of missionary support.

Action Steps

By the time you have read Chapter Seven, completed the For Your Personal Involvement section and participated in a discussion group, you should…

  • Be able to decide if this is the area of support the Lord is directing you into.
  • If it is, write to the missionary God has placed on your heart. Ask him if this is okay with him. Find out if there are others who have made this commitment to him. Begin networking responsibilities with the others.
  • Four months before your cross-cultural worker comes home, send him material collected on re-entry that will help him prepare for his major transition.
  • Multiply yourself. Share the material you collect and all you learn about re-entry with others. Make these people aware of this badly neglected area of missionary support.
Chapter Six: Communication Support ← Prior Section
Chapter Eight: Your Part in the Big Picture Next Section →
CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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