The cost in returning from overseas mission

A less well-known cost of being a mission partner hits when they return from overseas service. Readjusting to their home nation can be the hardest part of it all. They’re back in a place where they look the part but no longer understand the cultural norms, colloquialisms or systems. Mission partner parents are bringing kids into a country they’ve never lived in but are expected to slot right in because it’s the nationality on their passport. For many, they return exhausted but with a limited time period to re-boot and find a new job. Then there is the emotional struggle of missing people, places and work that they know and love.

There’s so much that partner churches, friends and family can do to make re-entry smoother. A selection of our recently-returned mission partners share their experiences:

Kerstin Prill returned from Namibia in 2017 to begin a new ministry in Scotland with her husband Thorsten.
‘After having spent months in transition and saying goodbyes to many dear friends and colleagues, we arrived in Europe feeling vulnerable and exhausted. What made a huge difference were the many who expressed their love by offering practical help and providing for us in unexpected ways. Someone wanted to donate their old car to a missionary. A couple had saved up money so that we could buy good quality mattresses. Other gifts included a three-week holiday house sitting by a beach, help with moving boxes and driving a removal van, furniture, free accommodation while looking for permanent housing, invitations to dinner and the list goes on. Such love in action illustrated beautifully that our Father indeed knows what we need before we ask him.’ 

J served in North Africa for nine years.
‘As I went through the transition phase of resettlement into life back at home, I was grateful for the encouragement of friends. The fact that close friends from my sending church had visited me overseas really helped as we were able to talk about the people and work I had left behind. I also really appreciated the friend who offered to look at photographs with me.’ 

Andy and Susie Harker returned from Kenya with their three children in 2018.
‘In lots of ways we felt that the Lord gave us a very soft landing on our return to the UK. One of the massive blessings was a warm and welcoming church, where we had friends with children the same ages as ours. This meant our children quickly felt at home and were loving going to church, and we were all being encouraged by the gospel. Our church family supported us as we then experienced a fairly long period of uncertainty over work for Andy, which was in fact a situation others were also facing. We had the blessing of continuing to be Crosslinks mission partners for some of that time, which relieved the pressure to find work immediately and gave us time to settle in to life in the UK again. However, it was hard not knowing what the future would look like and whether or not we would be staying in London where we were feeling increasingly settled.’ 

Paul Hunter served in Tanzania with his wife and four children from 1994 to 2007, and then returned to Tanzania in 2015 to serve until 2018.
‘After nine years, we’d packed, said goodbyes and flown, but our hearts stayed behind. The grief of losing friends, places and purpose gnawed at us. My daughter bawled each morning, pleading to go back to her boarding school, unable to face the enforced, alien strangeness of a new school, new people and a new worldview. I was paralysed facing myriad trivial choices I was unequipped and too indifferent to make. How could I choose between cotton rich, polyester or wool blend? Single, three pairs or five? We were bereft, mourning for “home”, but oh how grateful we became to know that “underneath are the everlasting arms (Deuteronomy 33:27).”’ 

Bridget Hathaway lived in Tanzania for 19 years until 2010.
‘As the bus I was travelling on passed a supermarket, I gazed out of the window and saw shopping trolleys resembling mountains, the peaks covered in multipacks of crisps. I suddenly found tears in my eyes and an acute desire to cry - I knew the money spent on one trolley-load could change the life of a child with disability in Tanzania. Sometimes the mismatch between rural life in East Africa and the materialism of a large UK city is almost physically painful. However, the adapting could also be humorous: as I passed someone walking the other way down the street I greeted them, as it’s rude not to in Africa. But the look I got was evidence of my mistake. And in church, as I swung my arms in rhythm with my clapping, I realised that in the UK clapping is merely an action of the hands! The constant rush here is hard to cope with after rural life in Africa. Do I want to completely readjust? No, I don’t. The valuable lessons I learned from my dear friends in Africa are too valuable to lose. I do miss my friends, my “family”.’ 

Jonny and Beth Burgess returned from The Gambia in 2019.
‘For many months after returning to the UK, we couldn't help constantly comparing our present experience with experiences from The Gambia. It meant we sounded like a scratched record... "That's so different from in The Gambia! There..." We quickly realised that people would easily tire of always hearing us say this! So we found ourselves torn between really wanting to express thoughts about people and things very dear to us, but also knowing that we were in a new place now, with new people around, and so needing to move on. Friends who were interested and happy to hear our reflections were a great gift.’

Click here for tips on how you can help returning mission partners.