Surviving the transition

Happy manHaving talked at length about the challenges of coming home, it’s about time we put into place some strategies for surviving.  The first step is to recognise that the process can take time.  It’s not always easy to jump from one culture to another and simply flip a switch in our head so our brain works differently.  It takes time to adapt to different values and attitudes, and it may in fact take several years before we feel completely settled in our new environment.

At Syzygy we don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing – why would we want to fit into the worldly culture around us?  And given that most of the major characters in the Bible were completely out of step with the world around them, we need to remind ourselves that we are immigrants and strangers here, and citizens of heaven (Ephesians 2:19).

Community – Having friends, family and church around us who are supportive and pray for us is a huge help.  We can often feel isolated by our inability to fit back into our home culture, so people who can accept us for who we are can be extremely comforting.  Don’t worry about sharing how you feel with them; even if they don’t fully understand it will give you an opportunity to express yourself.  If you have people in your community who have lived and worked abroad, make a point of spending time with them as they will be able to appreciate what you’re going through.  Experienced people who can mentor you through this process are invaluable.

Debrief – A good debrief is an important part of transitioning.  If you serve with an agency, it is a service they should provide, and if they don’t do it, ask them to.  Your church can do it, if they feel confident they can cope with it.  There are agencies like Healthlink 360 and Interhealth who will do debriefs as well as psychological and medical reviews, and Syzygy offers a debriefing service to mission workers.  You can talk to us about this by emailing info@syzygy.org.uk.  We are also happy to put you in touch with counsellors whom we can recommend.  Please remember that a debrief may not be just a two-hour interview.  It can be a number of conversations taking place over several days, or a series of meetings.  A one-off event may not bring enough issues to the surface for them to be dealt with fully.  You can also find more resources on Oscar who also run one- and two-day workshops on re-entry.

Reflection – In the aftermath of returning, it is good to take time to reflect on your experiences.  This is why it’s not necessarily good to rush into working.  It can be helpful to reflect on what God has done in and through us, what we’ve learned, and what the current nature of your calling is.  We have a list of questions to help you review your experience and your feelings.

Continuing involvement – Another good way of easing the transition is to find a way of continuing your involvement with the work overseas.  Whether it is doing deputation work talking about what you’ve done, running a regular prayer meeting, helping support or mentor in a practical way from the home front, or continuing involvement in a related ministry, the feeling that you haven’t just quit and left that aspect of your life behind can help you transition.  But be careful that this does not become a failure to let go, or an ongoing involvement which undermines the authority of the local team which is carrying on your work there.

The important thing is not to bottle up inside you all your frustration, anger, guilt or grief.  You need to find a channel to express it, to people you can trust and who won’t judge you for an unreasoned emotional outburst.  It is quite normal to experience feelings like this when you return, but if they persist for more than a few months, you should seek advice from a debriefer or counsellor.