Five Realignments For Returning Missionaries
This is the third in a series in missionary debriefing. You can check out Missionary Debriefing and Refreshed with these links.
It’s fairly easy to understand why missionaries who have transitioned from life on the field back to life in America need to be REFRESHED, and that the gift of debriefing can be a major source of refreshment for them.
Missionary debriefing is a relational and intentional process that provides an opportunity for a missionary to tell their story—by verbally processing past and recent events from their point of view, complete with their emotional responses at the time and since then.
But debriefing does more than just REFRESH missionaries, it also REALIGNS them for the new season of life and ministry that God has for them.
The challenge is that most missionaries, and those that know and love them, don’t realize that being REALIGNED for life and ministry back here is just as important as it was for life and ministry on the mission field.
Because they knew before they left for the field that they would be living in an environment that was radically different than their own, they accepted significant portions of their life and thinking to be REALIGNED for the glory of God, the good of those they would live among, and their own spiritual and emotional health.
Although they may not be conscious of it, here are five of the key areas of their lives that they permitted to be REALIGNED:
Their life-posture was realigned.
In order to represent Jesus in relevant ways to those they went to live among, they chose to live with an observer, listener, and learner frame-of-mind. This mindset helped them to not draw conclusions about the things the locals do before taking the time to understand why they do those things.
This approach also helped them to avoid offending people needlessly and ignited a greater love and respect for the culture and people than they had to begin with. It also contributed to their ability to package God’s truth in a way that increased the likelihood of it being received and obeyed.
Their expectations in a number of areas had to be realigned.
How quickly they would learn to live day-to-day life, build relationships, and learn the language and culture, had to be adjusted to match the reality of where they now lived.
The amount of time they expected it would take them to become significant contributors to the lives of their neighbors and community, especially through sharing the gift of the gospel that was the ultimate reason for their being there, also had to be adjusted to fit their context.
Put as succinctly as possible, their expectations of the time required to feel normal about living there had to be realigned.
Their responses to the day-to-day circumstances and situations that are part of life there had to be realigned.
Even though they arrived on the field with a belief in the Sovereignty of God, they seldom permitted the implications of that belief to influence their responses to the unpredictable and unfamiliar incidents that are part of life on a planet where people have rebelled against their Creator.
Glorifying God in the midst of whatever impacted them or enveloped them on the mission field required their responses to those things to be realigned.
They had to view all things through a Sovereignty of God lens, trusting that whatever happened to them–from simple frustration-producing annoyances to trauma-inducing events–God had permitted it, and that the Holy Spirit would empower them to realign their natural response to what had happened in order to bring glory to God.
Their appearance to their neighbors and fellow community members had to be realigned.
Recognizing the value of not amplifying their foreign-ness, and to minimize the obstacles that could distract from the important message that they were there to bring to the nationals, they willingly realigned their external appearance in various ways.
This may have included adjusting both the length and style of their hair, the clothing they wore and the way they wore it, their mannerisms, and even their non-verbal communication skills.
Their thankfulness for how and what God provides to meet their needs had to be realigned.
The reality that very few aspects of day to day life were predictable, consistent, or reliable, moved them to realign what is worthy of thanking God for.
They learned to thank Him regularly for a consistent supply of electricity and water in their residence. For one of their favorite foods or a snack from back home when it was either hand carried to them or it showed up in a local store once every few months. For the driver of the car they’re riding in or the driver of any other car on the road, that actually stops and stays stopped at a red light until it changes colors.
Debriefing helps missionaries to recognize and be thankful for how many areas of their lives they already permitted God to realign in order for them to live and minister successfully over there.
Even more significantly, debriefing brings them face to face with the importance of being REALIGNED for what God has in store for them next, along with encouraging them that just like over there, He can realign them for effective life and ministry right here.
Encouraging and helping to ensure that missionaries are REFRESHED and REALIGNED is the reason that Shepherd’s Staff strongly recommends missionaries accept the gift and the blessings of debriefing.
Pastor Jeff Jackson is the founder of Shepherd’s Staff Mission Facilitators and currently serves as the director of Church Relationships and Missionary Care. Jeff previously served with his family as church planters in the central Philippines and in the United States