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Missionaries returning home often experience reverse culture shock — when an individual or missionary returns home after spending an extended period of time in a different culture and has difficulty readjusting psychologically, emotionally, physically, and culturally. Reverse culture shock is something all churches should be aware of in order to best serve their missionaries who return home.
To help you serve your returned missionaries, we’ve identified ways that the Church can better serve, support, and encourage those who are coming home from the mission field and working through missionary readjustment.
What You Can Do to Serve Returning Missionaries
Give Returning Missionaries Grace
“Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” 2 Corinthians 12:8-9
Our American culture thrives upon instant gratification. We often expect returned missionaries to settle back into our community without skipping a beat. However, that’s not what returned missionaries need. They need grace to figure out what their new normal looks like. These missionaries have often spent multiple years on the mission field, which means they have been so completely engrossed with the foreign culture they served that changing their habits instantly can be difficult. Here are a few ways to show returned missionaries the grace they need:
- Encourage them to take time to themselves and slowly start getting back to a new normal.
- Check up on them once a week to see if they need anything.
- Don’t overwhelm them with activities, speaking engagements, or other event invitations.
- Show them grace when they need to take a break from a commitment they instantly signed up for when they arrived back in the United States.
“Being a missionary in a city that was centered on foreign gods alongside being filled with marginalized women, I thought I could continue learning about the marginalized as soon as I got home. Right after I unpacked my bags, I signed up for a program that taught me just that. It began two weeks after I got home. Once I started attending the classes, I began to feel so much pressure to learn it all in a short period of time. I just came from a city filled with people who simply shut down when they were tired or felt too much pressure; now I was expected to be on time and have everything down within the hour of learning it. I was also looked down upon because I didn’t have everything down immediately. The pressure became so much that I needed to bow out for good, so I quit. After that experience, I’ve tried to meet with returned missionaries to let them know God’s grace is all over them to figure out what God has in store for them rather than our American culture.” — Returned missionary from North East Asia.
Connect Returned Missionaries With Similar-Minded Individuals
“Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.” 1 Peter 3:8
There are two ways to connect returned missionaries with similar-minded individuals.
The first is to connect them with other returned missionaries. Whether the returned missionary returned from the same country or not, try and connect newly returned missionaries with people who have been off the mission field for a while. This gives them a grace-filled sounding board to process their return.
The second way is to connect them with individuals in your community who are from the country in which the mission just returned. Being surrounded by faces that look like the faces they just left can provide a sense of comfort and familiarity that makes returning a little easier.
“I was a tall, bearded redhead in the middle of a small town in China. I got used to seeing the tops of everyone’s heads on buses and standing out in a crowd. When I returned, I realized I felt lost without my Asian friends. Finding an Asian community once I arrived home made my anxiety go down tremendously because I understood why they acted the way they did.” — Returned missionary from China
Help Returned Missionaries Succeed
“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11
Once a missionary returns home and gets readjusted, a good way to support them is by helping them find a place to fit in. Talk with them about what job opportunities there could be for them. Discuss what they envision their future to look like. Ask them if they want to do speaking engagements based on their experience overseas. Sit down with them and help them make a plan that will lead to success. Encouraging them to do this can make all the difference to a returned missionary who is reacclimated to the United States, but doesn’t know what to do next.
“After about two months of being home, I felt comfortable with the American culture again, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do next. Praise be to God for a local church member who came and helped me figure out my next steps, including what jobs I should start looking for. Without their help, I don’t know what I would be doing at this point.” — Returned missionary from the Middle East
Hopefully, this list of ways to encourage returned missionaries gives you ideas on how to serve those in your community. If those who are returning would like further ministry training, be sure to check out our online courses. We want what’s best for those returning home from taking the Gospel to the nations.