Getting your church involved
It might sound hard to believe, but your home church may be completely oblivious to fact that you may need extra support during this time. But, if they have no missions experience, they may simply assume that you’ll easily slot back in where you were before. They represent a key support group who can help you through the transition if you can elicit their support, so it’s important to work with them.
Consult with them well in advance, so that they know the reasons why you’re returning, and can be part of your decision. Don’t simply present them with a fait accompli and expect them to play their part. They’ll be much more likely to help you if they’ve been part of the decision-making progress, so at an early stage ask them for advice and prayer as you make decisions.
If you can establish a dialogue with them on how they might be able to support you, you might want to send them Neal Pirolo’s book The Re-Entry Team which will help them understand their part in the process. If your church doesn’t have a missions team, the pastor might be too busy to be able to take care of everything you need, so try to appoint a friend to act as a co-ordinator of your support team.
The most obvious aspect of your re-entry a church can help with is practical support – getting accommodation, transport, and schools sorted out. They might also be able to help with finance for your journey home and to help you in the first few weeks if you’re not working. One of the best things a church can provide are mentors for your transition. These can be people who will hold your hand through all the practical steps of reintegrating such as sorting out utilities or telling you where to shop, or emotional mentors – preferably people who’ve been through this transition themselves – who can talk to you and comfort you about your feelings.
The church can also pray for you and take an active part in welcoming you, not just by holding a special meeting on your first Sunday back but by engaging you in friendships and helping you get to build new relationships. They can also give you opportunities to talk about your work. It’s been important to you for many years and being able to talk about frequently it will help you feel that others value it too.
It will also help your church greatly if they can understand that you’re not the same people who went out all those years ago, and relationships may have changed as a result. They need to realise that you may have some health and emotional issues to sort out and they need to give you time and space to do this rather than immediately dragooning you into service!
Sadly, many people report that their churches were not much help when they returned. This is not always due to lack of concern so much as lack of awareness. If you can gently educate them in how to support you effectively through the transition, you will not only be making life easier for yourself, you’ll be helping any future mission workers who come after you.