Sunday, July 14, 2013

“Greetings From Mars”—or what to do when your missionary returns home

They may not actually be from another solar system—but I know what you’re thinking. They might as well be. Random country names with more syllables and sounds at the back of your throat than you thought possible, displays in the church foyer with giant bugs and pictures of huts made from grass, a missionary at the podium dressed in a long jean skirt, sandals (AND socks!), who uses some expressions that aren’t quite right when clicking through the 800th slide of half-dressed children. And, you better make sure you brought your Bible into church when it’s Missionary Sunday, because I swear I glimpsed a set of angel wings hidden beneath her hair that hasn’t been cut in 10 years...

A Martian indeed!

But, I’m here to tell you—never fear! You won’t need to pull out your Star Wars Jedi tricks to understand your home-coming missionary. Here are 10 things that you can do to help your missionaries (including me!) out when they come back to their home country.

1. Listen

Always room for one more!
Papua New Guinea (PNG) and the US have very different perspectives on time—and what is rude in one is actually polite in the other. As I shift from the “drop-in-for-tea-spur-of-the-moment-and-stay-for-hours” culture (PNG) to “let’s-make-an-appointment-from-3:17pm-to-3:31 pm” culture (US), I especially appreciate your willingness to simply sit down and listen, giving me the valuable gift of your time. And, of course, I’d love to hear your stories too!

2. Ask specific questions
Imagine if I asked you describe the history of the American economic system in two sentences? Yeah—practically impossible. Similarly, questions like “how was your time in PNG?” or “what is PNG like?” encompass a magnitude of experiences that are tricky to distill into a snappy response appropriate for a church foyer conversation. Let’s strike a deal—you aim for specific questions, I’ll try to keep it short, and if you really want to hear the long answer, let’s go to coffee :)

3. Don’t make me try to choose between PNG and the US
I have laughed in both, cried in both, bled in both, worshipped in both. I have hugged friends and family goodbye in both, I’ve struggled and rejoiced and learned and grieved and seen the good and the bad. My home is now in both of them...and in neither of them. I now live in the margins, no longer fully fitting with either country, and instead I know that someday I will enter my heavenly home where I will truly belong.

4. Don’t put me on a pedestal.

Every time you look at me and say “I could never do that/be like you/go over there,” it makes me ache, because without God’s help and His empowering in my life, I could never do it either. He gives us the strength to do what He has called each of us to do, so please don’t belittle the work He’s doing in your life by trying to lift me to a place that I don’t want or deserve.

Here's a new fruit that I had to learn--starfruit or 5-corner
5. Be forthcoming with information
Instead of following the US pattern where, when you move, you tend to slowly lose contact with your original location, I have attempted to keep both the entire network of US friends and my entire network of PNG friends. Not only that, but when I moved to PNG, I also added an entire different structure to learn—new methods of driving and measuring things and navigating cities and counting money and speaking languages. I’ve met hundreds of people...and believe me, when you add that to my already huge network, in two years that’s lots of babies and anniversaries and new jobs.

So, please don’t be offended when I ask questions that seem obvious or can’t remember your child’s name or where you live or have to check the church’s picture directory while I’m sitting in the parking lot before going inside. Also, if we go to coffee—don’t be afraid to suggest a place to go or things to do. I truly want to reconnect with you—please help me to do so!

6. Take the initiative.
I know it seems odd, reaching out to an almost-Martian, but I really would be honored if you invited me to your Bible study (as a person, not as a missionary...not everything has to revolve around the country I work in) or a game night or your women’s retreat or your pretzel-baking party or rock-climbing or the new yogurt shop in town. While I do have limited time, I also want to get involved, and if you take the initiative, that helps me a lot. I’m doing my best to contact people and take that first step (I’ve started months in advance!), but I’m human and sometimes things and people fall through the cracks. So, if I’ve missed you or your activity or your group, ring me up or shoot me an email!

7. Allow me to serve you
I am so honored and blessed with how much support and care you have given me—please, let me be a part of your lives and let me serve you. Relationships are a two-way street, and I’d love the opportunity to be a blessing to you and your family as well.

Here I am, researching away and trying to stay warm (55 F!)
8. Assist me with US things
As I re-enter the US, I will be dealing with a wide variety of services that I haven’t used in a while (phones! banks! gas stations!), dealing with needs of housing, vehicles, food while travelling, trying to find resources for training/education (any know about veterinary training for lay people? good first-aid courses for off-the-beaten path? self-defense courses?), purchasing items needed in PNG, and much more. If you are interested in helping me out with some tangible needs (accompanying me to do things, doing research for me, loaning items etc.), please contact me.

9. Pray

Your prayers for me and my family during this transition time are greatly appreciated and extremely powerful—don’t underestimate them! And, if you are comfortable, instead of just saying “I’ll pray for you,” have you thought of just stopping a moment and joining me in prayer at that time?

10. Educate yourself.
Do you know where PNG is located? (Hint: not Africa) One very practical way you can help your missionary is by reading up on the country that he/she works in, noticing when it’s in the news, and following what your missionary has been doing during his/her term (Do you remember what my job is?). Also, it can be very helpful if you read up on missionary care and the process of reentering the home country; there are lots of great resources out there. I’m outlining a few below (and will be blogging more on the reentry topic as well).

Missionary Reentry
Caring for Missionaries on HMA-Furlough
The Emotional Needs of Women on the Field
Caring for People in Missions
Supporting Missions Workers: The Key Role of the Sending Church:
Adopt a Missionary
Coming “Home”  
Serving As Senders (and here’s a chapter from the book on reentry)
The Reentry Team

What other ideas do you have to help your missionary when he/she returns on home assignment? Or, for missionaries, what has been helpful for you?