Thank you for the compassion and concern you have to support a missionary coming home! Each of the ways you can come alongside your missionary who is returning to their “home” can be summarized under the basic principle to be supportive. I know, that’s pretty vague and can be interpreted in quite a few ways, so we’ll dig into that a little bit more. In essence though, if you are guided by prayer and have the intent to be supportive in ways that will meet your unique missionary’s needs, then you’re on the right track.
Be excited for their return, yet understand they may need space to reacclimate to their home culture. The unfortunate truth of the matter is that many missionaries who are returning home are coming back a little crispy. They generally need to process their own experiences and need time to heal from some burnout; because there is typically a weight they are already carrying, many missionaries feel apprehensive about returning home. Whether they are battling ideas of failure, fear of being judged, hurt from ministry partners, a home environment that has completely changed while they were away, or fill in the blank (the list goes on), most missionaries can’t communicate what they need beyond having their basic needs met because they simply don’t have the brain space to focus on anything else. This leads me to the final point.
Be an advocate ready to support this missionary as they come home, but don’t expect to carry them through re-entry. We have this colloquial saying that it takes a village to raise a child, and anyone with children understands why this saying has stood the test of time. Well, it takes THE BODY to receive a returning missionary with patience and in love. If you don’t already know what your local branch of the Body has available as resources, start finding out. Is your home church able to be involved with helping this missionary meet their basic needs upon return? Are you willing and able to sacrifice to help fill any gaps? Do you know other members who may be excited to help? Are there any nearby Christian counseling services if the missionary is going to need professional help on the path toward restoration? Depending on for how long this missionary has been gone or the circumstances dictating their return, coming home could throw their brain functioning into crisis level response. In a crisis, our brain’s short term memory and consequence processing capacities almost entirely go out the window. Once you’ve figured out some of the basic resources your community can provide, I recommend you write that information down so your missionary can revisit this information when they’re ready.
Every person is different, and every missionary experience is different because we each have our own highly individualized relationship and testimonies with the Lord. At the same time, there are many essential truths we all hold in common. Regardless of the amount of context you have for this missionary’s time on the field, understand that you cannot understand the missionary from your own perspective. Utilize open and clear communication to discover what it is this missionary needs for support. The “Golden Rule” is a beautiful truth God has given us to live by, but please don’t make assumptions about this missionary based off of what you would need or how you would feel if you were in their place.
While all these nuggets of advice are intended to help equip you to step into something the Lord has clearly placed on your heart, this is by no means an exhaustive list or to be taken as absolute commands. I am glad and eager to share these as testimonies from what I have seen and experienced, by the greatest source of wisdom for what you’ll be facing will come from God. For this to unfold, you’ll need to be steeped in prayer and led by the Spirit. I have every confidence the Lord will lead you as you seek Him and care for His children as He has promised. If you have additional questions on this subject, our missionary care team is available to consult with you.