The word “home” evokes strong emotions and imagery for most people, but it can be especially powerful and complex for missionaries returning from an overseas assignment. Whether your missionaries will be staying in the U.S. for a few months or taking a Stateside assignment, they aren’t just “coming home.”
Your missionary friends have spent the last few years building new relationships, celebrating milestones and developing daily rhythms in another area of the world. They’ve longed for aspects of life in the U.S. and are excited to reunite with loved ones, but while they’re in the U.S. they may also be homesick for their community overseas. If they have children, their kids may even find America unfamiliar and uncomfortable at first. This move may be difficult at times for your friends, but you can help ease their transition!
Here are five encouraging ways you can welcome your missionaries back to the U.S.:
1. Give them space and grace.
When my family moved back to the U.S. after a short term in Papua New Guinea, we were exhausted, hurting and disoriented. My kids, who were grieving the home they’d grown to love, acted out constantly. My husband and I not only needed counseling but also had to relearn basic skills like choosing breakfast cereal in the supermarket. Life felt overwhelming for a few months.
Missionaries often return feeling depleted and need time to rest and heal when they return to the States. One of the best gifts you can give your missionary friends is the permission for them to behave like regular people. You can recognize that they sometimes struggle with their mental health, become discouraged, deal with misbehaving children or have sinful attitudes. Allow them the space they need to recover before they fully reengage with life here, and extend them grace when they don’t meet your expectations.
2. Ask questions and listen to their answers.
Although it’s been decades since my years as a missionary kid in the Philippines, I can still clearly remember the handful of concise stories my parents told during every church presentation about their work with Wycliffe. I also remember wishing someone would take time to listen to the stories that didn’t fit into that 20-minute slideshow. Our untold stories represented the parts of life overseas that mattered most to me.
Your missionaries’ rehearsed presentations are likely just scratching the surface of their experiences over the past few years. Ask them about their daily life: How did they shop for food and prepare meals? Who did they spend time with? What did they do for fun? If they have kids, include them in the conversation with questions about their house, school, friends, activities or animals. Your attention and curiosity will show your missionary friends that they matter to you — and you may learn something new in the process!
3. Invite their questions and be an information resource.
In the 18 months my family lived in Papua New Guinea, many things changed in the U.S., ranging from political and cultural issues to the use of debit card chip readers in stores. Even the meanings of some words shifted drastically. In many ways returning to the U.S. felt like starting over. Thankfully, we had patient friends who were willing to answer our frequent, often repeated questions.
Your missionary friends may need help finding good doctors, choosing the right cellphone plan or even understanding what’s now considered culturally offensive. But they may be uncomfortable reaching out with questions that feel silly or awkward. Let them know that you welcome all their questions no matter how minor, repetitive or delicate.
4. Help provide for their practical needs.
Your missionary friends may own little more than the luggage they return with. So they will likely need help gathering basic supplies like cold weather clothing (if they’re returning to that climate), personal care items and household goods. To help us resettle in the U.S., a family member filled our fridge and pantry with groceries, while other friends gave us bedding and cookware and a ladies’ group donated used furniture. Our transition would have been much more complicated without their generosity.
Whether you’re able to assist your missionaries with big needs like housing or a vehicle or you can offer smaller gifts like gas or grocery gift cards, they’ll be deeply grateful for your practical care.
5. Treat them to some fun!
Wrapping up ministry commitments and preparing to travel can be intense and time consuming for your missionary friends and their families so they likely have had little opportunity for fun recently. Perhaps you can take them to a restaurant they’ve missed, send them to a concert or amusement park, take them shopping for a new outfit or offer them the use of a vacation house.
Treating a missionary or their family can even be as simple as dropping off their favorite dessert, inviting them to swim in your community pool or giving their kids small road trip activity kits. Whatever you decide to do, hopefully you’re able to create memories with your missionary that last a lifetime!
As a financial partner, you’re a critical part of the work your missionary friends have been doing overseas. By welcoming them back to the U.S. with intentional grace and care, you’ll also help them continue in their next season of life and ministry feeling wholly restored, refreshed and reenergized.