It felt like the bottom fell out from below us. We just received news that we were not returning to Colombia South America, our home for 8 years. Our house was finally built after a year of construction and all our furniture and belongings were still there. We made no plans of staying in the States, no job prospects on the horizon, my stomach churned in anxiety. Now what? My wife and I sat in a crowded Starbucks, but we felt as if a bubble encased us, like we were isolated and no one else existed. I have heard of missionaries experiencing sudden changes in their mission or being recalled back to the states, and the agony they go through seem unbearable. I thought we would be exempt from this situation. Our ministry was going well, the finances were there and I planned to grow old with my wife where we were. But God had other plans. What happens when the mission you love so much to do stops? What do you do when your ship runs aground?
Before embarking on this adventurous journey we heard the phrase often “count the cost.”. We went through training, we gleaned from the experiences of former missionaries and our parent ministry’s long successful history. We thought okay we’ve covered our bases. We counted the cost of this sacrifice emotionally, financially, physically, mentally and spiritually. We were ready for what life can throw us in the mission field...but we never calculated the cost of coming home and our mission ending. No matter how prepared we were and no matter how much training we went through (don't get me wrong training and preparing is all good and needs to happen) nothing really prepared us for the emotional roller coaster ride we faced coming back for good.
Home was a bittersweet word for us. On the one hand I longed to be home, to be with my family, friends and familiar surroundings. To be able to speak a language I do not have to think about that my brain hurts after awhile. To drive on streets where it is relatively safe and lane sharing is forbidden, to know that there will be no trucks or buses barreling at 60 miles per hour playing chicken with you on a daily basis. That buildings and homes are expected to be air conditioned and we do not have to ration energy, oh how I longed for all these things when I was in the field. I knew I had to be grateful that I finally was home, after all, many immigrants come here for a better life. So why did I feel lost and depressed? Why, all of a sudden, did I feel that this was the worst time of my life? Why did I constantly dream of Colombia and being back there? Why did I feel like a stranger in my own family and with friends? Why did I feel useless and unwanted even though people told me they were glad to see me? Maybe many of you who had been in the mission field did not experience this and maybe some did. All I can say is that I felt confused and guilty for feeling what I was feeling and I did not really know what was going on inside of me.
I thought coming home for good would be easier, but I realized that it was harder than going to the mission field in the first place. There were false expectations of the life i was supposed to have back home, such as, picking up where I left off. Almost everyone I knew in the place I called home were gone, many new people had no idea who I was. Close relationships had moved on with their lives and there was a disconnect that I could not put a finger on. Trying to connect with new people was a struggle, I was not able to relate well to the culture I once knew and no one seem to be interested in what we’ve done and what we went through in Colombia. Suddenly home was not safe anymore. It was really no one’s fault, and today I learned to not even blame myself. Many missionaries coming back are fortunate to have gone through a debriefing and re-entry process. They learned beforehand the effects of reverse culture shock. We on the other hand, did not go through this, instead we learned the hard way and by watching missionary friends come back and exhibit the same behavior we went through. By God’s grace we figured things out. Throughout all it, He made known His love and provided all that we need. He took us through a process of healing from wounds and then He did the impossible, He settled us. I have learned there is life after the mission. I can summarize this in the following points:
God is always interested more in us than what we can do for Him. His main goal in everything that happens to our lives, good or bad, is to know Him more intimately and to know we are safe in Him no matter where we are. He is HOME.
Your identity is not the mission but as a child of God that transcends what you do, where you do it and how you do it. This can get very difficult and painful because we confuse so much our career or what we do as our identity and not who we truly are. This is a process of inner healing which requires trust and the courage to stay put.
Just because you are no longer on the “mission field” that does not mean you are no longer a missionary. All believers are missionaries (Ambassadors of the gospel of Jesus Christ). You are still called and you are still a missionary wherever He places you.. As hard as this is and as painful as this feels, you need to broaden your perspective of Him and surrender your idea of what you should be doing and where you should be doing it.
Stop trying to make people understand. No one will truly understand you nor will you truly understand others but you can accept the grace that God understands.
Learn why Paul said he is a citizen of heaven more than a Roman citizen. Being rooted in the eternal helps us deal with the ever changing and mobile characteristics of our world and culture. It will not help us avoid the grief of loss but it will comfort us through the pain and produce compassion for others.
There is no other way to overcome the feelings of rootlessness and restlessness than to unpack and settle down. Then God will send a small group of people who you will share your life with and allow you to be a mess when you need to.
Receive grace for yourself and be gracious to your church, surrender all expectations of them meeting your needs. By doing that both you and your church can freely interact and truly love each other. In the process, God provides for your needs.
Connect with missionary care groups or organizations who provide debriefing, counseling, mentoring, support groups, life skills seminars, vocational skills workshops, ministry training etc.
If you are in a mission agency who provides missionary care, I encourage you to connect with them as immediately. If your church or agency does not have a missionary care program, we can provide these services free of charge at Compass Ministries.
Finally, I encourage you, my fellow global nomads, my co-workers in Christ, all that you have gone through is not in vain but you have very valuable skills and experiences God wants to use here at home. It requires you to sit at His feet and learn to wait on Him.