People often rush into coming back having been frantically busy finishing up their projects and handing over responsibilities. But a little bit of advance planning will help you get much better organised and get you through the transition. Some well-organised sending organisations will even run a course training you for re-entry, which isn’t as absurd as it might sound, since doing it well can be very effective for helping you make the transition well. If your agency doesn’t, you could ask them to start one. Or if you’re independent, you might like to try asking a sending organisation if you can participate in one of theirs. Here’s a list of some of the things you need to think about.
Finance – Often the cost of returning is high. The cost of flights, accommodation, transport and general living may well be a problem, particularly if you’re not earning during the transition. Some sending agencies deliberately hold back a proportion of support in field years to allow a fund to build up and finance your return. If yours doesn’t do this, you can ask them to. If you’re independent, try and save money towards it. Alternatively, explain the problem to your church, or your supporters, and ask them to help you with it.
Set the date – Once you’ve decided to leave, you need to figure out the timing. Fitting it in with your children’s education is probably the most significant issue. You need to work out when is the best time to get them into schools. You may also need to plan around births, weddings, significant family birthdays, and festivities such as Christmas. Remember that when you fly can have a large impact on the cost of flights.
Hand over your work – For most mission workers, this seems to be the very last thing they do. But in fact, it should be one of the first. For a long time ahead of your departure, maybe even from your arrival, you should be thinking about what happens to your project when you move on. Will it be wound up, or handed over to a suitable successor? Where are you going to find a successor and how are you going to train him/her? What happens to the assets if you wind the project up? These are not questions for the last few weeks as it will take a lot of time to prepare your colleagues for the future without you. Ideally you should plan to hand over your responsibilities several weeks before you leave, so that you have plenty of time for orderly packing and goodbyes, without getting exhausted by the process.
Set your objectives – Prayerfully get a vision for what you are going to do next. A continuation in mission on the home side, resumption of your previous career, an entirely new ministry, or further study are all possibilities, but you may need to think through how your planned agenda actually moves you towards achieving these goals.
Arrange the details – This is such a big issue we have a separate page devoted to accommodation, transport and education and other needs.
Prepare your material – Don’t think you can just plan your presentation the week before you need it. Plan it well in advance. Think through the various different groups you might present to (Sunday church meeting, prayer meeting, supporters’ briefing, youth group etc) and what possible outcomes you are looking for. Design a general presentation which meets these goals, and have a number of minor variations tailored to each specific group. Make recordings and photos specifically to illustrate it – this is why you need some time. Make sure your photos don’t show you in flashy restaurants, big cars or luxurious swimming pools, as these might give the wrong impression about your lifestyle. Remember to take home suitable props – musical instruments and clothing are good, as is food. Would anyone like to try some durian?
Buy your supplies – Remember to take things back with you as gifts for your supporters. Small craft items, booklets, paintings, or items of clothing can be light souvenirs which make a good token of appreciation.
L Ron Kotesky has also produced a helpful free ebook on preparing for re-entry which is available on his Missionary Care website. Good planning can help avoid stress and disorder later on in the transition, so take time out early to plan well!