Since we have already dealt with ideas regarding a missionary returning home for a furlough or home assignment, we will treat the term “reentry” in this section as referring to the missionaries terminal leave back to their home country. Missionaries could reenter back home permanently at any stage:

  • after only a short time on the field, due to severe culture shock, maladjustment, disease, or any number of personal issues
  • after one term of service, due to a variety of reasons, including the possibility of interpersonal relational stress
  • after several terms of service, due to completion of a specific ministry goal, civil or international war, sociopolitical rejection, loss of a valid visa, etc.
  • after a long career of service, due to physical incapacity, request to assist in the home office, or retirement

Communication in the context of loving shepherding relationship is, again, key to unlocking any difficulties that may arise in the reentry process. Appropriate and thorough debriefing with your church pastoral and/or missions leadership staff is essential. Take care to not rush this. Pushing too soon to effect an intense interview schedule is unnecessary. Remember that your dear missionaries are probably reeling in heart and mind from the magnitude of making such a huge shift in their life. Even if they are retiring, they are retiring back into a culture that has changed drastically while they’ve been away for years and years. Their home country, its culture, and its technology has made radical progress since their first departure.

If your missionary family is returning home for good after less than 20 years away, they may face even more crises trying to find a new career at midlife. Most missionaries first leave for the field declaring their unswerving commitment to a life of service overseas, proclaiming God’s call on their lives, and making large sacrifices vocationally, emotionally, and materially in order to go. Coming back some time short of retirement can carry a stigma which is difficult to shake. Now they have to explain to everyone why they came back. And those reasons are not always so clear. And those reasons do not usually include some real reasons between the lines or behind the scenes or buried deeply.

So, you can see that debriefing needs to be done in a sensitive, loving way. You may need to dig a little bit to find out from your missionaries what their real financial needs are. It’s not unusual for missionaries retiring from the field to still need some level of support for some years to come. Many of our older missionary friends have given little thought to retirement support and may have made large assumptions about the level and quality of financial security under a government Social Security system. They may not have raised funds for or contributed to a corporate retirement account. Missionaries who have not attained retirement age and come home permanently have probably not built up enough retirement income and don’t qualify in years. The church doesn’t have responsibility to assume financial management for all their needs. However the church may have responsibility to find out what resources your reentry missionary has and to help them connect with public or private resources to help them in their situation.