As more missionary families switch to an every-other-summer approach to home service, late summer morphs into a time of transition. The “hellos” of May and June fade into teary “goodbyes,” luggage fills up with precious treats, and outings become a litany of lasts—the last time we’ll be at church, the last time we’ll eat Taco Bell, the last time we’ll see grandma and grandpa.
These tricky, emotional transitions are an unescapable fact of missionary life. And they don’t necessarily get easier with experience! “Returning for term three was the most difficult for me,” said Ukraine missionary Jayne Russell. Several of our longtime workers have a few ideas for how you can pray for your missionary friends and family during their transition out of home service and back into cross-cultural ministry.
1. Pray that their language gets back up to speed.
A few months away can mean that words once said smoothly again feel like tongue twisters. Pray that this stage won’t last long and that they will have courage to keep on talking through the transition.
2. Pray for the folks left behind.
“Saying goodbye to loved ones does not get easier with time,” says Jayne. That’s true both for the missionaries AND for their friends and family.
3. Pray for their friends on the field.
“Oftentimes, people come back thinking they’re ‘returning,’ but nothing is ever the same once you leave,” said Beth Eckstein in Taiwan. “You might not have the same relationships after a year away and the shock of the ‘new normal’ can sometimes be as disconcerting as initial culture shock.”
4. Pray for contentment, not comparison.
Over the years, missionaries can forget just how fluffy the towels feel when you don’t line dry them or how easily the sermon flows when you preach in your first language—but after a summer back in their passport country, the conveniences of home are fresh in their minds again. Plus, issues of identity might have arisen during home service. “There is always a sense of ‘I don’t belong here; I don’t belong there,’” said longtime missionary Liz Givens, who has spent much of her life serving in Asia. “Pray for contentment, no matter where we are. We will NEVER feel quite at home anywhere anymore.”
5. Pray for logistics.
A missionary family’s first few weeks back might include applying for new residency cards, getting cell phones set up, finding a new place to live, re-establishing utility service, and getting children re-registered in school. Pray that each government worker, each landlord, each teacher will prove helpful and understanding, and pray for opportunities for missionaries to build relationships with these folks within their communities.
6. Pray for missionary kids as they adjust yet again.
Three kids equals three different transitions. Add mom and dad’s experiences onto that, and it’s clear that each member of the family will need God’s grace and understanding for one another. Pray for compassion and strength for parents as they walk with their kids through their individual transitions.
7. Pray as missionaries grapple with difficult feelings.
Sorrow, confusion, anger—all these feelings might play a role in the post-home-service transition. But missionaries can also feel REALLY happy to be back to “normal life.” “Sometimes you end up with horrible guilt because you’re happy to be back—even though it means you’re away from family and your home country,” one missionary said. “Shouldn’t you be sad?” Pray that missionaries will freely bring all of their feelings before the Lord, knowing that he loves them in sorrow and in joy.
Thank you for loving your missionary friends and remembering them in your prayers!