My church home group were discussing the cost of being a Christian. Someone turned to me and asked about my experience. What had been the cost of going to Japan in short-term cross-cultural mission 43 years ago? Of joining OMF 32 years ago? Of spending my entire working life in a foreign culture? ‘It was a tremendous privilege’ was my instinctive response. ‘And it was a case of simply following Jesus one step at a time. I certainly had no idea a short-term two year commitment would turn into 42.’
I certainly had no idea a short-term two year commitment would turn into 42
The greatest cost
That doesn’t mean there wasn’t severe testing along the way. But, reflecting afterwards, I thought that perhaps the greatest cost of my missionary career was leaving the country I loved and retiring back to the UK. This, for me, is a far bigger transition than going to Japan in the first instance – and I no longer have the resilience of a 22 year-old!
A blog for expats has an intriguing title: ‘10 Things That Make Coming Home Feel Weird’. When I read it, I strongly identified with ‘feeling incompetent’, ‘feeling homesick at home’ and ‘mourning.’ After seven months back in the UK, the overwhelming sense of being in an unfamiliar culture has largely diminished. But the mourning has not.
‘Clearly repatriation and death are not the same. That said, mourning is an absolutely legitimate part of this transition. It is healthy and natural. The defining characteristic of grief is that it is a process.
Mourning is not the same as venting. You don’t just get it out of your system one day and then “poof” it’s gone.’
Grief for people
The grief is acute at times – for physical places and things, but most of all for people. I miss the close relationships and deep prayerfulness of the OMF Japan family. I constantly wonder how those I discipled are getting on. Some I hear about, others I don’t. In either case, I have to commit them into the Lord’s hands continually in prayer and remind myself that his work can go on without me!
Up to 70 per cent of cross-cultural workers experience some significant degree of depression after re-entry to their home country
Up to 70 per cent of cross-cultural workers experience some significant degree of depression after re-entry to their home country. Four years away can bring massive changes in home churches and society. Like me, the returning missionary may know many people at home superficially but have few close local friends. Ongoing emotional tiredness makes it hard for me to reach out to others.
I have been immensely helped by those in the church who have invited me for coffee or meals; who have offered practical help with home and garden; given advice or just sensed when I was struggling and given me a hug. It has been important to join a fellowship group to start to get to know people; to contribute in small ways to the local church to foster the sense of belonging. But, above all, I know that this season of transition and adjustment has been immensely eased by the prayers of many faithful prayer partners and friends. With Paul I thank my God with joy for their partnership in the gospel (Phil.1:3-5).
Miriam served in Japan for 42 years and with OMF Japan for 32 years.
Will you pray for Workers in the Harvest Field?
- Pray for supportive friends with insight into all that transition involves for the returning missionary.
- Pray for new doors for ministry to open back home and the wisdom to know which to explore and when to walk through them.
- Above all to pray for missionaries retiring to wholeheartedly look forward to and embrace all that God has in this new stage of life and ministry.