Ten ways to support returning mission partners

Readjusting to their home nation after overseas service can be hard for mission partners. They’re back in a place where they look the part but no longer understand the cultural norms, colloquialisms or systems. Children are expected to slot right in because they’ve entered their passport country, but they may have never lived there before. There’s the emotional struggle of missing people, places and work that they know and love, combined with the pressure of a limited time period to re-boot and find a new job. How can you help?

  1. Be a listening ear. Invite them round for a cup of tea, cook a meal for the family or offer to go for a run with them – provide an opportunity for conversation and the chance to talk about some of the challenges that they’re facing.
  2. Ask good questions. Where they’ve come from will be fresh on their mind, so ask about it! Who are they missing? How did God encourage them in the months leading up to departure? How does it feel to be back? Ask questions that affirm the experience of change and avoid the assumption that returning mission partners are taking everything in their stride. You could spend time looking through old photographs with them.
  3. Help them find somewhere to stay. You might be able to put them up for the first few days after they land back in the UK, or provide somewhere they can base themselves for a few months as they find their feet. Or maybe you can advise on the property market, rental process or suitable areas to stay – things may have changed quite a lot since they left the UK! Alternatively, can you offer a holiday home for a week or so, allowing them to process and refresh after the stress of saying goodbye and moving?
  4. Keep communicating well. This is so important to a smooth landing and must include partner churches, mission partners and the mission organisation. There will be so much to decide and sort out: accommodation, children’s well-being, schools, jobs, physical health, mental health and financial provision for the period of settling back in. Communicating well will prevent disagreements, duplication and over-complication.
  5. Embrace cultural quirks! Returning mission partners will sometimes think and act in non-British ways. Adapting yourself to the mission partner will help them overcome the feeling of too many changes coming at once.
  6. Expect things to take a while. A family arriving home might take a year to get settled, especially in terms of new jobs, schooling and housing. Re-adapting to the culture may take even longer. Be prepared to take the long view and don’t expect them to feel at home right away.
  7. Help out practically. Could you offer a car they can borrow or buy, or provide bulky items such as furniture, car seats or children’s cots? Your knowledge of local schools could be beneficial, especially if decisions need to be made whilst they are still overseas. Maybe you could move boxes or drive a removal van as they move between temporary and permanent accommodation? Offers to help with insurance or transport issues can reduce feelings of embarrassment and insecurity.
  8. Make the most of the church service. As well as asking them to give a presentation during or after a Sunday service, why not host a ‘bring and share’ lunch so there’s no time limit? A short interview up-front whets the appetite for follow-up conversations later. Consider inviting them to feed back to the youth group too. Be careful not to tire them out completely though!
  9. Recommission. Their return is not just an end but also a new beginning. Unless health issues mean they need an extended time of rest, churches should encourage mission partners to see themselves as being recommissioned for future service. They may be beginning a new ministry back in the UK, or entering secular employment, or retiring from paid work. Whichever way, they will still be a Christian, called by Christ to make and mature other disciples. Recommissioning doesn’t need to be as formal as a commissioning - prayer meetings or home group bible studies are a good context to mark the next step.
  10. Ask for their help. Cross-cultural mission is their area of expertise, so use them! They’ll have a wealth of experience and gifts but may need encouragement and guidance on using them in the new context. How about a workshop where they help your church engage in cross-cultural mission locally? This can help overcome feelings of unworthiness and give them a sense of belonging.

For more on this topic, check out these blog posts: Returning from overseas mission, Coming home as an angry alien, The pain in returning home, The shame in returning home, The guilt in returning home.