How to help when mission partners return

Melissa Chaplin, author of Returning Well, talks about practical ways churches can help returning mission partners go through the process of coming home again.

The first thing for the church is to put themselves in the shoes of the mission partner who has come home, and understand what the big issues will be for them. These might not be what you’d think.

“Something every returning worker has experienced in varying degrees is grief… they have lost a life, friends, a team, a culture; even lost internal things like a sense of identity. They could be suffering uncertainty of purpose What’s next? They’ve developed a greater heart for the world; they’ve seen things, so they want a deeper purpose.” Uncertainty could include financial worries when missionaries return a lot of financial support drops away.

It could be exhaustion. Almost certainly coming home will be humbling and disorienting. “They expect to be returning to some semblance of home, a place of cultural competence for them, only to find that the culture has changed. People have changed. They have changed. There can be a deep sense of homelessness. They face the humbling task of having to relearn what they thought they knew.”

But if they have a solid support base coming around them this can create a sense of rest and joy in return.

So how can we in their churches do a better job of receiving mission workers back home in practical ways?

In the first settling stage, when the person or family might be tired, sleeping badly, acting indecisively and overwhelmed by choices, helping them find housing, stocking their pantry, going with them to places, offering transport might help. In the second stage, when emotional reaction kicks in, be sensitive. “I advise churches to let the returnees choose when they share about their ministry; don’t press them to share before they have had debriefing and have processed their transition. Build a relationship with them. Listen to them.” If their transition is clearly difficult, it would be a blessing for the church to pay for a residential debriefing, such as Piringa Charitable Trust, (North of Auckland in New Zealand).

-Notes from a talk with Melissa broadcast on