Photo by Joel Bengs on Unsplash

Discussion around the re-entry process often centres around ‘attachment’: relinquishing ties to the people, places and projects that the returning mission worker had in their host country so that they – and the people they worked with – can move on; and the intentional cultivation of new connections now that they are back in their passport country.  Such detachment/reattachment can help smooth the lengthy re-entry transition and minimise reverse culture-shock.

Letting go of attachments may be easier if an assignment has been short, unpleasant or unfulfilling, but can be a very significant challenge for those who have had a long, fruitful and fulfilling ministry.  They have to deal with the loss of such major contributors to self-esteem as friendships, identity, activity, vocation, significance, meaning and belonging.  If their departure was unplanned or unwanted it may be even harder.

This may be complicated further by the context of their return.  If they are returning to the embrace of a much-missed family, a supportive church, a familiar home, a close circle of friends and a meaningful new role, the transition may well be easier.  But sometimes, people return to… nothing.

A temporary home.  No job.  A church that has forgotten them.  Family that never engaged with them that much.  And a society and culture that has changed in their absence, so that what should feel familiar is disorientingly strange.  The gloom and despondency that can descend on an individual who has left a significant placement and returned to nothing can weigh heavily on their wellbeing.   In a recent debrief, a returning worker said:

I feel like I am adrift

 

And that, sadly, is a feeling common to many such people.  They have set out from a familiar port they can no longer return to, but haven’t yet found a safe haven to land in.  Unsure of where they are in the cold and choppy waters, they feel at the mercy of wind and waves that threaten to engulf them.  With no friendly horizon in site, they drift from day to day wondering if they will ever find home.  So how can we bring comfort to such ‘Flying Dutchmen’?

A suitable  illustration can be found in the life of another famous sailor, the 6th century Irish monk St Brendan, who bravely (or perhaps foolishly by today’s risk-averse standards) sailed off in his little currach, trusting God to take him wherever He wanted Brendan to serve him.  His epic journey has been much-mythologised but it appears that in trusting God into the unknown, Brendan comfortingly found that no matter how strange or unfamiliar his surroundings, he was always at home in them, because he was at home in Christ, who is everywhere.

The Northumbria Community’s communion service Small Boat, Great Big Sea* celebrates Brendan’s famous voyaging as a metaphor for our own wanderings, and concludes with this lovely blessing:

 

When you no longer know how to be,

may the Father take you on your deeper journey.

When you no longer know what to do,

may the Spirit reveal to you your fitting task.

When all feels lost or foreign,

may you know your home in Christ.

 

God is in the journey as much as he is in the arrival.

 

 

 

*Celtic Daily Prayer, Book Two, p962

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