Archive for August, 2012

Filed Under (General) by Rob on 28-08-2012

Recently I posted this article, listing dos and don’ts for churches welcoming missionaries back from the field. I’m now going to do the opposite: a set of tips for the returning missionaries themselves. Having been through the transition back to the home culture several times, much of what I write below is based upon personal experience.

(NB Most of these are applicable to any returning ex-patriate).

Here we go…

1. Expect to feel like an alien for the first few weeks back home. Feeling disorientated, lethargic, confused, detached exhausted and frustrated is quite the norm at this time. The only completely effective cure is time: the longer you are back, the easier it will get, but expecting the negative feelings – and preparing for them as best you can – will help ease the way.

2. You are likely to be shocked by the ignorance of many folk regarding the country you’ve been working in, the work you’ve been doing or even how mission organizations work. Expect this (you’ll be pleasantly surprised if it doesn’t happen) and try to be patient and realize that everyone has busy lives here and that most have not been absorbed by your comings and goings as much as you might like to think. In fact, most people will probably stop asking you about where you’ve been after a week or so. I’m really not sure why this is the case – maybe it’s a desire to see you ‘fit back in’ and become like everyone else again. This is not what you want, and you know it will never completely happen!

3. Driving, even if it is technically easier, will be harder to start with as you relearn a whole new set of road rules. Also, if you drive on the opposite side of the road, don’t expect to readapt instantly. For the first week home, I like to always have a passenger on board, who says “LEFT!” at every junction (and particularly at roundabouts). Once, I actually drove 50 yards on the right before realizing! You will probably also get into the wrong side of the car, maybe for months after returning!

4. Plan your ‘escape’ soon after your arrival. The initial days back home are both exciting and stressful at the same time. You’re pleased to see friends and family again, but the constant attention is likely to wear you out. You will also be asked the same questions by almost everyone – here are the usuals:
• How was the journey?
• Are you pleased to be back?
• What are you going to be doing next?
• Did you live in a mudhut?

So, we always try to book a couple of weeks away within 10 days of returning – this gives us long enough to meet and greet first, knowing we then have time to properly relax and reacquaint ourselves with the home culture in an anonymous context, where we are not the centre of attention.

5. There will be some conversations you will struggle to follow, even though they are in your mother tongue. Again, this is due to cultural references and ways of speaking to which you are unaccustomed. With time, you will tune back into these.

6. If you are returning long term, there are likely to be hidden set-up costs. Our oven needed a costly repair, our dishwasher was no longer working and our garden fence needed replacing. We had no DVD player, no microwave and all the spices in our spice rack had gone off! Even the very act of filling your larder/freezer will cost you a lot. Prepare for this extra cost if you can.

7. People will openly express their shock at something you don’t know about the home culture, even though they know you’ve been away for years. This is another strange one – I can only assume it’s part of the culture! Things like: “Do you mean to say you don’t know what a tom-tom is?!” “What do you mean, you haven’t heard of!” or “How can you not know what league Chelsea are in?!” All you can do is reiterate that you’ve been out of the country or (better still) make a joke of it “I know – I’m so out of touch, eh?”

8. Beware of weight gain: you are likely to put on several pounds in your first weeks back home, unless you are very careful. This is partly due to being fed by supporters and partly due to the vast range of processed and/or fattening foods available compared with the country you’ve been working in. Also (if you’re like me) some people eat more when under stress, and transitioning back into the home culture is very stressful indeed!

9. Some things you say – which seem perfectly normal to you – may shock or even offend others. This is purely due to the differing set of cultural norms you have been used to. Example: saying “You’re old” to an old person – this would be a respectful thing to point out in much of Africa; in the West it can be taken almost as an insult!

10. You’re likely to be shocked by: (i) materialistic attitudes and practices (“Come and look at my new kitchen – it cost £12,000”), (ii) moral standards and norms (ie how young women dress, advertisements, television programmes, bad language) and (iii) the cold response of non-Christians when you say you are a missionary. The cost of just about everything is likely to shock you, too.

11. If someone says “Isn’t it hot?” it’s best just to agree with their assessment of the weather, even if it’s ‘barely warm enough’ to you. This is certainly true in Britain where, culturally, you almost never disagree with these semi-rhetorical weather questions!

12. Be proactive in making church visits happen; merely putting a note in your prayer letter saying you’re available to take services is unlikely to jam your inbox overnight! Sending personal e-mails, making phone calls or (best of all) face-to-face contact are all more likely to yield results.

13. Try and do something to help you sleep well at night – insomnia or disturbed sleep are terribly common during those first weeks. Why not plan a half hour evening walk in the country, or listen to music which will relax you? You could even try herbal teas, or other natural products known to calm and aid sleep. Oh, and no computer work for a couple of hours before hitting the hay!

14. Some friends who have barely kept in touch whilst you were away will welcome you back warmly and you will pick up from where you left off, in spite of the lack of contact. Other people who you were good friends with before going overseas, you may no longer “click” with – you have changed, they have changed, your histories are now different and your values may overlap less. Don’t be surprised when this happens.

15. And finally, remember that you will generally feel more at ease with other people who have lived overseas, probably for the rest of your life.

Filed Under (Song of the Week) by Rob on 24-08-2012

The Harvest is Ready!”

For all Christians out there – do you truly believe that:

(i) There is a God
(ii) He sent Jesus to die so that we can live forever
(iii) Those who do not follow him will be eternally lost
(iv) Coming to know Jesus is the greatest thing that can happen to anyone

If so, how can we not want to share this with the world at every possible opportunity? What’s gone wrong? Our culture frowns upon “discussing religion and politics” but we mustn’t let that stop us. Surely even most non-Christians would understand that anyone believing the four statements above would urgently want to share this (even if they themselves do not believe it)!

So, what are we waiting for? Pray, then pray some more, then go out into the world and ooze Jesus in all you do!

Here’s the song:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

(Click above for the audio – sorry, still can’t get the built-in audio player to come up)

We thank you for your Gospel
We thank you for your Word
And for the life abundant that we live
We bring before you, Father,
All those who haven’t heard
Of the glorious salvation that You give

The harvest is ready
But the workers are so few
And lost souls perish daily
Without ever knowing You
So give us hearts in tune with Yours
And open up our eyes
To see your awesome purpose
______Bm_____E____A___ __D_____A____(Esus__E) [third time: to key change]
In each moment of our lives

In every situation
With everyone we meet
Lord, teach us true obedience to your call
We need Your loving power
To make each conversation count
As we introduce the Saviour to them all

If we don’t go and tell them
Then they may never hear
This Good News of unquestionable worth
So Holy Spirit fill us
With the power to go out
And be the voice of Jesus on this earth

The harvest is ready
But the workers are so few
And lost souls perish daily
Without ever knowing You
So give us hearts in tune with Yours
And open up our eyes
To see your awesome purpose
______Cm_____F____Bb___ __Eb_____Bb____Fsus__F
In each moment of our lives

(Recorded for the first time on ‘The Broadwood Grand’)

Filed Under (General) by Rob on 06-08-2012

Coming back to the “home culture” is stressful for any missionary, and re-adaptation can take months – even years.

In her book Burn up of Splash Down, Marion Knell states that ‘more than sixty percent of former missionaries returning home find the experience negative – even devastating.’

So, to help put your missionaries into the other 40%, here are my top tips:

DO: Get up to date with their news first! If you have time, re-read their last couple of prayer letters so you know what to ask. There’s nothing worse than an opening conversation like this:
“So, how was Benin?”
“Fine, but I’ve been in Mali for the past three years.”

DON’T: Bombard them with dozens of questions too soon. Coping with readapting to the home culture is very disorientating for them, and having the ‘Spanish Inquisition’ every time they meet someone is exhausting. All they really need is a hug and the assurance that they are loved and welcomed, maybe followed by a couple of well-directed questions.

DO: Invite them into your homes, even if it’s just for a cup of tea. It’s common for folk back home to think: “They need time to settle in, so we’ll leave them be.” The first part of the statement is – of course – very true. However, what folk don’t realize is that being welcomed into other people’s homes is all part of that settling in process, as it allows the missionaries to reacquaint themselves with the home culture and to feel loved and wanted.

After eight weeks back home, one missionary was asked: “So, have you finished your epic tour of dinners with supporters yet?” Embarrassed, he replied that during this time he’d only been invited to two people’s houses!

DON’T: Expect them to do too much too soon. Besides perhaps a short introduction and welcome back at their first Sunday service home, it’s best not to even ask them to be directly involved in any church ‘work’ for their first two to three months home. If asked, they may feel obliged to participate, and may even like the idea of doing so. However, this is probably not the best thing for them during these initial weeks of intense transition and adaptation.

DO: Offer them a debriefing and/or counselling. If their mission organization is worth its salt, they’ll have already had this shortly after returning. But extra times with a caring local pastor or deacon could also be helpful. Even if they have left the field under ‘normal’ circumstances, it is still quite traumatic to return to what is now a foreign country to them.

DON’T: Focus on the future. They’re still dealing with the past, and coming to terms with all they’ve left behind overseas. This includes their home, their workplace, many wonderful friends/colleagues and – in many ways – their very identity. Until they have come to terms with grieving all of the above, they will not feel like talking about future plans in any detail. It’s a very Western trait to want to ask people this, but it is unlikely to be helpful for your missionaries. For more information on the transition process, follow this link.

DO: Ask one or two open questions which allow them to share some of what they’ve experienced with you. For example: “What is the hardest thing to get used to back here?” or “What do you miss most about Africa?”

DON’T: Use “You must be/it must be…” phrases. It’s a very British (Western?) trait, but they’re just not helpful to most people returning home. The likes of: “You must be glad to be back” (Actually, I’m not. Not yet, at least), or “You must be cold” (Correct! I just came from India. What do I say next?!) Then there’s: “It must be really strange for you, coming back after all this time.” (better, but still rather stating the obvious, and all I can do is nod mournfully in response).

DO: Show a genuine interest in what they’ve been doing oversees. Asking them to bring some photos along or to recount interesting anecdotes (they’re bound to have loads of these) will not only help them to reconcile their two worlds, but will also mean that you learn something new and understand missionary life more clearly. Saint Augustine said: “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” So, think of them as a living encyclopaedia of anthropology!

DON’T: Say, “You haven’t changed a bit!” Again, terribly common, but to many of us, that’s like saying: “The past 10 years have had no effect on your character or spiritual depth”. Living overseas changes anyone, and usually for the better! In fact, this great website states that ‘When you’ve had a mission, you can never go back to a mere job’. I agree!

DO: Pray for them and with them. Missionaries like praying and tend to do a lot of it (as do many Christians, of course!)

DON’T: Make negative comments about their dress sense, however out of fashion or outlandish it may seem; they’ve just spend several years in a culture that not only dresses very differently, but which – in all probability – puts much less importance on fashion and outer appearance than most Westerners do. Sure, your missionaries may not ‘blend in’ like everyone else, but they are probably most comfortable dressed like this. With time, they will readapt (to some extent at least), but being singled out for “dressing weird” is unlikely to help them readapt!

DO: Keep on asking questions, even weeks after they’re back. Their overseas experiences are now part of who they are; they really don’t want to have to deny this and merely slot back into the home culture unchanged.

There you go!

For more great (and even better!) tips, please take time to read – and act upon, the sound and thorough advice in this article: Welcoming Returning Missionaries.
Also, have a look at this reading list with loads of great books on the subject.

Where’s Rob this week? Any ideas?!