What can churches do to help their missionaries who have returned back to Canada?
Do missionaries still experience culture shock? Isn’t that an outdated idea now that we are so connected worldwide and are used to travelling back and forth between countries?
In reality, returning to your passport country - the country where you can live without a visa or other restrictions - may not feel like returning home. It may actually feel more like re-entering your homeland or a even a new entry to a new country.
No matter how prepared we try to be, transition and change are stressful.
And transition is much harder when we do not have time to prepare or we were forced into the change by unexpected circumstances. If a missionary was not expecting to leave their location of service, they may have not been able to say goodbye to the people they love and care about, or pack up their belongings, or finish the work they had hoped to do. The children of missionaries may have lost friends, school and belongings. These things can also be experienced by workers who did not leave unexpectedly.
Nothing and no one can replace these kinds of losses.
Caring for Returning Missionaries
We as the body of Christ, the church in Canada, can play an important role in listening and caring for these brothers and sisters who are hurting and/or who have faith-filled stories to tell us.
“Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” I John 4:11
Here are 10 Things the Church in Canada can do to care for Missionaries when they return to Canada:
10 Ways your Church can Care for Missionaries Returning to Canada
1. Listen to their story! Ask returning missionaries about their life and experiences. Choose a few trusted people in the church with whom they can debrief their cross-cultural experience.
2. Stay in touch regularly with returning missionaries, checking in with them with prayer and encouragement, by phone, internet, etc. (especially if they are in quarantine). Assign a small number of people in the church to communicate with them, so that they are not overwhelmed with too many contacts or questions.
3. Give them time to rest and recover if that’s what they want and need. Balance this with staying in touch with them. Consider and discuss with them about postponing any public speaking at your church until they have had time to rest.
4. Acknowledge and realize that missionaries are going through a BIG transition - maybe bigger than when they left Canada and moved to their country of ministry. Canada may not feel like “home”, especially for their children or for missionaries who have lived away from Canada for many years.
5. Acknowledge that missionaries returning to Canada are grieving. They have lost friends, ministry role, home, usual routines, connections, etc.
6. Offer practical help: clothing, housing, food, community resources, money, etc
7. Consider and ask what their children need.
8. Communicate and coordinate with their mission agency as needed.
9. Help returning missionaries find community resources such as counselling, debriefing & spiritual direction as needed.
10. Pray for your missionaries and pray with them.
Are you already doing any of these things to care for returning missionaries? Are there items on the list that you want to start doing?
The MORE Network is a Collaborative of Canada-wide organizations supporting missionaries in cross-cultural transition. For more information on resources, events & retreats, and care for missionaries returning to Canada, please visit the MORE Network
Anna Marie is a Missionary & Clinical Counsellor with the MORE Network. She has been married to Doug for 40+ years, has 2 children and several grandchildren and lives in Vancouver, BC. She has provided counselling and Member Care in Asia for 12 years in several locations. Her passion is to help missionaries and their families through grief, pain and loss while in various stages of transition. She understands just how difficult it can be transitioning in and out of cross-cultural ministry. She holds a nursing degree (BScN) and counselling degrees (Master of Arts in Counseling) and is recognized as a Registered Clinical Counsellor and Canadian Certified Counsellor.