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17 Things You Should Know About Missionaries Coming “Home”

Recently I published this video below of our last Sunday in Ukraine before coming to the States for 8 months of visiting our supporting churches.

My hope with the video was that it would help non-missionaries better understand what it’s like to have two homes and too often pull up roots and travel between the two. With that in mind I made a list of 17 things that I thought might be helpful for churches to understand their missionaries who have just returned from the field.

While I made this list with mainly our own experience in mind, I tried to make it somewhat general knowing that many missionaries experience similar things. That being said, I realize that missionaries come in every shape and size, so certainly all these points don’t apply to every missionary.

Another thing to remember is that often the missionary’s experiences change with time on the field. For instance, after the first term missionaries may be more homesick than ever. They may be struggling in a new language and feeling very discouraged. Thus, they can’t wait to get back to the States where they can speak English and enjoy their native culture. However, often after a few terms missionaries begin feeling settled in and may not look forward to going to the States as that means stopping the momentum of much of their ministry and it means living away from your new home for up to a year!

That being said, let’s get started with the list!

17 Things Churches Should Know About Missionaries When They Come “Home”

  1. Coming back to the States doesn’t always exactly feel like home.
    • It might be our native language, we may have grown up here, we probably have family here and yet it doesn’t exactly feel like coming home. Things have changed and we have changed. It’s still a home for us but now it’s one of our homes. We live with a strange tension between two places and two groups of people. It’s rare for these two homes to cross paths but occasionally someone crosses the divide and that is always a special blessings.
  2. We may feel guilty for coming back to the States.
    • Many of our national partners don’t have the opportunity to come the States. We feel bad about leaving them. We feel guilty about not being there for them for months in a row. We worry about the church and the ministry continuing on without us while we are in the States.
  3. Your church has changed a lot.
    • There are many new faces even after just a few years. It’s amazing how much turnover there is in US churches. Sometimes it’s awkward when we have a supporter who left a supporting church for some unknown reason.
  4. A lot of people want to talk to us, so please be patient.
    • We’re very thankful for your invitation, we will try to do everything to make it work, and we truly want to see you and fellowship with you. However, don’t forget that we have many requests for dinners and lunches and visits.
  5. It’s not a vacation.
    • It is change for us but it’s not a vacation. Sometimes furlough ministry can be even more stressful than ministry on the field. We are trying to connect with all our churches, and individual supporters. We’re also staying in contact with ministries on the field and continuing to work to keep them running while we are here. That makes for a juggling act. Throw in lots of travel and you’ll find that we are busy indeed.
  6. We’re not as amazing as you think.
    • In general churches like to praise their missionaries and that’s commendable but sometimes it makes us feel hypocritical. We’re really just a normal family with a lot of the normal struggles that you have. We struggle with cranky kids and bedtimes and getting schoolwork down. We often don’t feel as “spiritual” as we are made out to be.
  7. Our kids are more comfortable living outside of the US.
    • They miss their friends, and they don’t feel very American. On the field they’re known as “Americans” and in the US they’re known as “missionary kids” so they feel a bit on the outside no matter what country they are in.
  8. Schooling makes furloughs extra difficult.
    • No we can’t realistically do homeschooling in the car and just because we are homeschooling doesn’t mean that we can easily do school in any situation or any home but we will try our best. Much of our luggage is school books. Travel makes consistent schooling very difficult on parents and children.
  9. Just because we are in the States doesn’t mean our ministries have stopped on the field.
    • Much of our ministries continue in our absence. In today’s connected world we are still working, writing, organizing, communicating, calling, counseling, and whatever else we can do to keep the ministry going.
  10. Sometimes it’s just as hard to go back to the field as it was to leave the field.
    • Yes, we want to go back but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Just as there were tears when we left the field to visit the States so there will be tears as we return to our mission field.
  11. We may have come from some very tough situations on the field.
    • We might make things look pretty nice in our presentations, that’s because we want you to see how God is working and the amazing things he is doing. However, don’t forget that there is a lot that we are not showing you. It’s not because we are trying to hide anything. Partly it’s because we are limited by time and partly it’s because we don’t want to focus on the negative. That being said, it’s not all sunshine and roses and there may be some pretty difficult situations that we didn’t tell you about.
  12. We may need time to just rest a bit and come back to ourselves.
    • We need time when we’re not on display, when we’re not talking about the ministry, when we can simply rest with just our family.
  13. Although we love to travel it takes a lot out of us.
    • Visiting our supporting churches means lots of travel and that’s why we may be a little tired when we get to your church. We’ll probably agree to do most anything you ask us but eventually we’ll have to catch up on our rest a bit. We appreciate your understanding
  14. Every Sunday in a different church can be a spiritual drain.
    • While it’s nice to see the varied tapestry of different churches and different ministry styles we also miss being in the same church most Sundays.
  15. We answer lots of the same questions.
    • We really like answering your questions about our ministry and the area where we serve. However, sometimes the questions can get a bit repetitive. If your missionary has a website or a Facebook page you might want to consider looking around there before the meeting as it will probably answer most of the basic questions.
  16. Yes, we could use your financial support but we probably won’t ask for it.
    • I haven’t yet met a missionary who said, “please don’t support us!” Our ministries require finances to keep them going. That being said, we often don’t like to talk about money. We’d rather talk about the ministry. We often feel uncomfortable asking for your financial support but that doesn’t mean we don’t need it.
  17. When we say your prayers are the most important thing, we really mean it.
    • Living in a foreign country has taught us one thing very well; the power of prayer. We ask for your prayers because we see the spiritual battle in front of our eyes. We ask for your prayers because without them we feel vulnerable to the enemy’s attacks. We ask for your prayers because we know that the best programs in the world don’t save people. We ask for your prayers because we truly do need them more than anything!

Are you a missionary? What would you add to this list?

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I am a pastor, missionary, and preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Ukraine since 2007. God blessed me with a wonderful wife and 5 amazing children! My greatest passion is to teach, encourage, and exhort others to turn to Jesus, who is Savior, Lord, and God!

  • karph63

    The only thing I would add is “Our children grow up.” It is disconcerting to come back to a supporting church who has your prayer card on display, with you and your spouse and toddlers – from more than 15 years ago. When your children are getting cute birthday cards sent to your field address and they are in their 20s. We laugh and take it in stride!

    • Exactly! That’s happened to us several times. Then again sometimes we are at fault for not providing any new prayer card.

  • Helen Steele

    Looking forward to seeing you before too long. Very valid comments above!

    • Oh great! Will you be at Baker Creek?

  • Thanks for the glimpse inside your worlds. It’s enlightening, although, I would never assume to grasp what it is to walk in your shoes. As I’ve said before, my hat’s off to you and yours for the sacrifices you make in this life. And may God continue to bless and provide for you and yours. Praying for you and yours. You have a beautiful family.

    • Thank you Floyd, we appreciate your kind words.