As I've been thinking about this, the first thing that comes to my mind is a strange kind of unsettledness-almost a fear-of trying to re-enter the world I once lived in after being gone for a year. And after the kind of living I've been doing. I may not have been out of the country during this time, but the things I've done and the way I've lived very much reflect that kind of experience. (I work for a missions organization, I live on raised support, I spend every day at the mercy of bus and train schedules, I live in a low-income area, my housing is an old church building, and I spend my extra time in a former brothel learning how to fight trafficking.)
I have so many friends all over the globe who've done this for years. Missions. Ministry. Moving. Coming and going. I've barely begun and I can't imagine what it's like doing this long-term.
So I had an idea.
I'm going to write a post each week about these issues. Short installments. The whole point is for those of you at home to get an extra "insider's view" into this whole world. To truly have a view of what your friends and loved ones who do the missions thing may be going through as they return home. And to be able to support and love them well.
With that, I will dive right in.
Issue #1: Identity/Reverse Culture Shock. When a friend has been working in missions for any period of time, regardless of whether it's stateside or global-they have gone through a deep time of change. As they depart from the season they've been head-first in, they are not the person that left you. Inevitably, they will be very different. And they will have some culture and re-entry shock coming back to you. Just like they did when they departed for this journey, they are quite literally exiting one world and entering another one completely. It is a hard mix of mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual challenges to return home after working in these environments. Things that used to be normal are suddenly a luxury. Your friend is not trying to be snobby or "better" than they used to be, but the way of recent life has just caused a shift in the way they are used to doing things now. The habits, pace, and focus of those around them at home-even if they are the same as when your friend left-may suddenly be a very different culture than what they've been doing. And may be hard to adjust back to. This is often referred to as "reverse culture shock" by missionaries. Being removed from the place they were staying may begin a delayed process of realizing how different, hard, or amazing certain parts of life "in the field" were. A process that will need to be walked through.
The best way to be a good friend and to love on them is to:
1. Understand that they won't be the same person and embrace it. Notice the beauty in the changes! Learn from the changes. Glean from the things experienced.
2. Be graceful and gentle rather than demanding. Don't push for instant or large amounts of time with them because they happen to be home. They will probably want to process things a lot at first. Sometimes that means a lot of alone time. Sometimes that looks like spending time on the phone or visiting with other people in similar fields. This doesn't mean they've suddenly made new friends and want to be with or speak to them more than you. It means they need to walk through a hard transition with someone who's physically done it. And don't be surprised if they seem less excited about doing things you may have once gone crazy over doing together. It may take time for their emotions and mind to adjust to the environment they have suddenly found themself thrown back into. They are going to need time to figure out how their new identity fits into their old life. They'll need time alone to process what's going on inside as they transition. Ask them questions. Try to understand what things were like for them. There were probably things about living situations, the job, and being separated from home that have left a mark on them. That hurt. Get to know this. Pray for them and with them as they work through what they've been through. Find out where they are experiencing "dryness" as a result and be an advocate for them filling those areas again. Also, notice the new things they may have discovered and grown to love. There may be a new item or habit that they are now into or interested in that may be foreign to you. Learn about. Take the opportunity to learn something new and beautiful.
Stay tuned for more weeks of thoughts!