We all know work on the mission field is not easy. No matter where they are assigned, missionaries struggle with alienation, loneliness, and stress. But we might underestimate the significant difficulties they face upon returning home after years on the field. The better we understand the challenges they face, the better we can support and pray for them.
Here are four significant struggles that missionaries experience when they get home:
1. Readjusting to their home culture
No matter how prepared they are, missionaries experience culture shock when they get to the mission field—but they also experience it coming home. It is not just a matter of adjusting to the things that are different from their host country, but it is also a struggle to deal with all the changes.
Missionaries may feel somewhat like the children in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. They have just returned from a land where they met interesting people and had life-altering experiences, and they are coming back to a world where no one can possibly understand how they have changed. Churches, friends, and families expect missionaries to return as the same people they were when they left. In many cases, loved ones expect them to fill the same relational and operational roles.
Yet the place they return to and their loved ones have also changed while they were away. These transformations on both sides can leave missionaries feeling incredibly lonely.
2. Acclimating children
As hard as it is for the missionaries themselves to adjust, it is even more difficult on their children. Missionary kids returning from abroad can struggle with identity issues. At a time when every difference seems magnified and conspicuous, these kids acutely feel the variations in customs, fashion, priorities, and values.
When missionaries watch their kids struggle with their own reentry, it magnifies the anxiety they already feel about being home. Because they are experiencing the same issues their kids are facing, they may not feel adequately prepared to help them. This only ramps up the isolation that the entire family feels.
3. Starting over
On almost every level, missionaries are starting over when they return home. They are likely going to need to find a new job, home, school, and maybe even a new church. It can be frustrating to feel like an entire life has to be rebuilt from scratch.
The sensation of being ill-prepared to start over makes reentry even more difficult. Factoring in the pre-missionary schooling and preparation, on top of the actual missionary experience, they have likely been working toward one goal their entire adult lives. Now that their missionary service is over, they may not feel equipped to do anything else and are unsure where they fit.
4. Facing financial insecurity
Missionary work is not lucrative. So when missionaries return home, it is probably not to a full savings account. And even if the believers who supported their mission work are financially helping them transition out of the field, it will not happen indefinitely. This puts returning missionaries on very insecure footing.
For many of us, having a car break down or getting sick is a temporary setback, but for missionaries trying to get some financial traction, these challenges become huge obstacles. Many missionaries feel like they are one catastrophe away from devastation.
You can help
The Kairos Benevolence Fund strives to provide compassion and care to missionary families by financially insulating these faithful Kingdom servants from the potential devastation of a health or financial crisis.