I have a number of friends who are preparing to leave the mission field this month. Many of them had no idea they would be doing so until just a short while ago so this transition is probably made all the more challenging by the unexpected nature of it.
I’ve been thinking of them a lot this week, of these people I was blessed to know and work with and learn from for a short while long ago. I’ve also been thinking about what it’s like to come home.
I can tell you this: it’s difficult.
In fact, it was much harder for me to transition to living here at “home” than it was for me to adjust to life overseas. Both were difficult, but coming home was definitely harder. As I’ve thought of my friends today, I’ve also wondered why it was so, and I’ve come up with a few reasons.
First, I went from waking up in the morning and thinking things like “I should go to Tanzania today” to working 8-5 in a gray cubicle. I almost died of boredom.
I struggled with purpose because I went from (essentially) doing PR for missions to doing it for lawyers. It was hard for me to have the same kind of passion in my work.
Then there was church.
When I went from singing, dancing, drum-beating African churches to quiet, solemn ceremonies here in the South, I felt like I was being suffocated. I wanted to stand up and scream “Wake up!” to everyone around me.
I found myself surrounded by people just like me who could not understand me at all.
And, I didn’t understand them either.
I think that’s the hard part about “reverse culture shock.” You don’t expect to be confused by your own culture.
I had to remind myself that I, too, had truly worshipped in that same quiet way. I had learned and listened and been led by God on those same soft pews.
I had to remember that all things can be done for Christ and through him. Not just ministry and mission work.
I had to learn to look for the adventure in every day.
I had to open my heart and my mind to America, just as I had opened them to Africa.
And, I had only lived there for two years.
That’s why I’m thinking of my friends today….
Because they’ve lived there so much longer.
Many of them have been on the mission field all of their adult lives. Their children were born there. Their memories were made there.
And, they’re leaving.
Packing what’s important, leaving what isn’t. Saying goodbyes. Finding flights. Living somewhere in between.
Chances are you might meet some of them as they return and join our churches or their kids come to our schools.
Get to know them…and not just as a novelty to pull out for the mission offering emphasis. Help them transition by looking past their presentations and finding friends.
And, be patient with them, too.
They may be “home,” but I promise you they’re homesick.