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The greatest cost of my missionary career? Returning home

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 more than 40 years ago? Of joining OMF ten years later 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 didn’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. That, for me, was a far bigger transition than going to Japan in the first instance – and I no longer had 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 had largely diminished. But the mourning had 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 was acute at times – for physical places and things, but most of all for people. I missed the close relationships and deep prayerfulness of the OMF Japan family. I constantly wondered how those I discipled are getting on. Some I heard about, others I didn’t. In either case, I had to commit them into the Lord’s hands continually in prayer and remind myself that his work could 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 was immensely helped by those in the church who have invited me for coffee or meals; who offered practical help with home and garden; gave advice or just sensed when I was struggling and gave me a hug. It was 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 that initial season of transition and adjustment was immensely eased by the prayers of many faithful prayer partners and friends. With Paul I thanked my God with joy for their partnership in the gospel (Phil.1:3-5).
Now, several years into retirement, pangs of homesickness for Japan still catch me unawares from time to time. But UK based though I now am, I still connect through the internet and social media with both Christian and non-Christian friends in Japan to a degree I had not expected on leaving Japan. Another door swung open when a church in a neighbouring city welcomed my help with outreach to families attached to a Japanese company nearby.
Above all, I gradually discovered new roles in my local church community and as a volunteer mission mentor and presenter on behalf of OMF. God’s leading, or rather, propelling, was unmistakeable, although at times I wanted to shrink away from the ‘new’ callings of retirement.  

The story of Abraham (Genesis 11:31 to 12:5) challenged me. Abraham was almost diverted from his calling to leave Ur of the Chaldees in southern Iraq, and head for the promised land of Canaan when, for some reason we are not told, he and his father made a stop in Harran still 600 miles from their destination—and not just a stop but a ‘settling’ until his father died. Fortunately, Abraham then responded again to God’s command to get up again and go or Christian history might have looked very different.

I prayed, ‘Lord, even in retirement, may I never settle permanently in Harran when you want me on the road,’.   

Miriam Davis
Miriam served in Japan for 42 years and with OMF Japan for 32 years.

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