Are You a Returned Global Worker? The Struggle to Re-engage is Real

“Home is behind, the world ahead, and there are many paths to tread. Through shadows to the edge of night, until the stars are all alight. Then world behind and home ahead, we’ll wander back to home and bed…” – JRR Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Staring at the choices on the grocery store shelf is socially acceptable for a minute or two, but when it becomes paralyzing – it becomes super awkward. I know it may seem odd to be stumped by choice, but when you’ve just returned from a country where choice was limited, abundance can be overwhelming. It’s only one of the signs of reverse culture shock global workers experience when they re-enter life in the United States. I’ve come to learn that my own adjustments are shared by many who live through the returned life.

My husband and I returned to the United States in the midst of the vitriolic 2016 presidential election. Six years away had increased my appreciation for being a U.S. citizen and the freedoms we enjoy. Our first overseas assignment in the Middle East had been in a country where “Sharia Compliant” signs were displayed by local businesses. So the heated rhetoric and in-your-face division during the election left me disheartened.

The new found freedom of driving my own car was tempered by having to re-learn to navigate Houston traffic. The ribbon of red tail lights that stretched out in front of me on the Houston freeways would make my heart sink and my anxiety rise (it still does).

Even worship was a challenge. My beloved home church worship services contrasted sharply with the simple church without walls we left behind in our last assignment. What would my Papua New Guinean friends think about worship on such a grand scale?

Returning after six years away turned out to be very different than what I had envisioned. My deep desire was to readjust to American life. But on many days my return left me feeling anxious, isolated and alone.

Living and serving overseas is an intense, transformative experience. Interaction with other cultures expands your worldview and facilitates spiritual growth as you become part of God’s work in far-away places.

Returning to your home country is just as intense, in a different kind of way. It’s almost like time travel in a sci-fi movie. You leave one reality and return, feeling like an alien, to a changed world. You can love it and loathe it at the same time. The loathing part sounds particularly ungrateful, but the love/hate relationship is a paradox I’ve also learned is common among returned workers. We need a safe place to manage our re-entry in a healthy way.

In our previous assignment in Papua New Guinea, the missionary community had been that safe place for us. We arrived in country, not as missionaries, but as expatriate global workers. It didn’t matter to them. They welcomed us into their lives and provided us with the precious gift of fellowship as aliens in a foreign land. They taught me much about missionary life their struggle with isolation, fear, and separation from family, their love for their adopted country and its people, the assurance of their calling and the desire for all to know Christ. Most of all, I came to understand the tension of wanting to go home yet wanting to stay. Having a safe community to voice the trials and triumphs of living overseas was invaluable. Together we shared the unique challenges of serving the Lord as global nomads.

The community we left behind gave my husband and I the template for life and ministry upon our return to Houston, Texas. We set out to re-create a safe place for returned global workers in our city – one of the most culturally diverse in the world. Through Houston’s First Baptist Missions Department, we became involved with the Missionary Care Ministry and their network of supported workers serving internationally. We started a home group that has become a gathering place for wandering nomads who have dedicated their lives to sharing the Gospel with every nation, tribe and tongue. Today we still gather to worship, study and encourage one another in the work around the world that God has called us to do.

Global worker, where is your safe place? I encourage you to find a supportive community that understands your experience. Whether you are coming or going, the people you surround yourself with can help you adjust in a healthy way as you continue with the mission He has given you.

and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”- Hebrews 10:24–25

Shirley Ralston (MA Christian Education, Dallas Theological Seminary) is a founding member of the Missionary Care Team at Houston’s First Baptist Church. She also serves on the Pastor’s Research Team and teaches Life Bible Study to single young adults. Shirley and her husband Jeff now reside in Houston after several years living in the Middle East and the South Pacific.

 

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Caring Through Connection

https://www.imb.org/2019/08/07/caring-missionaries-connection-three-cs/

Caring for Missionaries through Connection: The Three Cs

A perfect illustration of “out of sight, out of mind” is that of the missionary serving overseas. We have heard this refrain many times in our conversations with missionaries in our church’s care ministry. The Cambridge Dictionary describes it this way: “not able to be seen, and so not thought about. Problems in remote places can be out of sight, out of mind for many people.”

Although connection may be one of their biggest desires, it is also one of their biggest challenges. A missionary’s support network usually consists of their family, friends, and church community. These are the people who know and love them and understand their purpose and work. They are key to their well-being on the field.

Paul expressed this same sentiment in his letter to the Philippians when he mentioned being “fully supplied” (Phil. 4:18 HCSB hereafter) and joy in his renewed care (Phil. 4:10). In this way, the dynamics of missionary work have remained the same over the centuries. So church, as much as it depends on us, as we send we must also support, and support means staying connected. Here are three key elements to consider in staying well connected to your missionaries.

Consistency

Your missionary should hear from you on a regular basis. With today’s myriad of communication apps, this is easily done. There is no better encouragement (perhaps outside an actual visit) for a missionary than to receive consistent communication from their support network. Regular contact allows you to get to know your missionary really well, and it provides a level of personal security for them to be vulnerable and share needs.

Make it your goal to be so consistent in your communications that your missionary can echo the words of Paul: “I give thanks to my God for every remembrance of you, always praying with joy for all of you in my every prayer, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” (Phil. 1:3–5) That is the sign of an excellent partnership.

Community

Paul had a reciprocal relationship with the Philippian church that he highly valued, made evident when he said, “because I have you in my heart, and you are all partners with me in grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and establishment of the gospel” (Phil. 1:7).

This kind of relationship between the church and their missionaries can be a challenge, but there are practical, effective ways to make it happen. The following ways are taken in part from Mind the Gaps: Engaging the Church in Missionary Care by David Wilson.

  • Church-wide prayer gatherings
    With your missionary’s permission, include photos, profiles, copies of newsletters, and specific requests from your missionaries and their teams in the field.
  • Short-term mission trips
    Go where your missionary is serving. “As you might imagine, this is where people really discover the real stories from the life of the missionaries and their ministries. When you’re eating, traveling and serving together, it is a great partnership and time of bonding” (Kindle loc. 1471–1474).
  • Care team field visits
    These teams can be incorporated into short-term trips, or they can be separate ventures. “A field visit goes a long way to connect your hearts and build trusting relationships that show them how important they are to us. The visit opens up vistas into the challenges these tough soldiers are facing day to day for our Lord and we see it as critical to bridge the understanding and compassion gaps that can so easily exist with the miles, time, and differences in a foreign country” (Kindle loc. 1353–1354).
  • Introduction
    Have returned missionaries recognized in the worship services. In whatever way you can, make their presence known by putting together faces and names. This will bring them closer to the church community.
  • Care retreats and conferences
    This is an excellent opportunity for your missionaries to return home for a time of connection with the congregation and for rest and restoration. Involve the church community in planning and providing for this special time.
  • Group involvement
    Incorporate your small groups, Sunday school classes, youth groups, etc. Have them consider adopting a missionary. Their efforts do not have to be burdensome. Here are a few things any group can do.

    • Prayers: set aside time for praying for them and their needs each time you meet.
    • Photos: send one of your group.
    • Phone calls and packages: Know their birthdays and anniversaries, send Christmas cards and care packages. Read and reply to their newsletters. Let them know you have sincerely interacted with their lives through the experiences they’ve shared with you.
    • Preparations: if they are returning home for any reason, find out what they need. A welcome basket is always uplifting during this difficult transition period.
    • Participation: include them in your group time (Skype or in person).
  • Church resources
    Churches are usually well-equipped for meeting needs. Examples are access to counseling, housing, transportation, perhaps even a fitness facility. Appeal to the congregation for any professional skills missionaries may need like tax or legal advice.

With Care

Above all, caring through connection means a support network that is a safe place. This requires you to be careful. Many global workers serve in sensitive areas where communication may be monitored. When you have the opportunity, ask your workers the following:

  • What is their preferred method of communication?
  • What is the best time for communication with them?
  • What words should you use or not use so you do not inadvertently put them at risk?

Being a safe place also means a support network that is trustworthy, a place where your worker can be known and accepted. Look to Paul’s letter to the Galatians for how important it is for us to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:1–5). There should be a few people in the missionary’s circle of support who share a strong, trusting relationship with them. This is so issues related to emotional and spiritual health can be discussed in confidence and additional help on a more professional level can be pursued if there is a need.

Finally, consider holding an information session for anyone who is part of the support network for your missionary community. Training is key for a good missionary care ministry. Use this time to cover the three Cs of caring through connection.

“I am sure of this, that he who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6).

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Where Do Returned Global Workers Find Community?

Missionary Care: Providing a Place for Returned Missionaries to Gather

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12th Cave found at Qumran

Privileged to be a part of this project.

Daniel B. Wallace

My old friend and classmate at Dallas Seminary, Randall Price, was on the expedition that found the first Dead Sea Scrolls cave in over 60 years. Although no manuscripts were discovered, such were apparently there at one time. Thanks, Randy, for your part in this discovery and your continuing labors in archeology! See the article here:

Two other friends, Jeremiah Johnston and Craig A. Evans, sent me a link to a news post they did on this discovery. Here’s the link.

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Rightly Dividing Our Love for Country and Love for the World. Great Read from John Piper: Should Christians Be Patriotic

http://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/should-christians-be-patriotic

Living among other cultures intensified my love for my own country. But it also clarified the difference between the love I feel for my homeland and the love I have for my brothers and sisters in Christ from all around the world. John Piper’s article adds some valuable perspective for this July 4th weekend.

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Great Read on Diversity from Dr. Mark Bailey, President of Dallas Theological Seminary

http://www.dts.edu/read/the-lord-loves-diversity-bailey-mark-l/

boroko farewell

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Total Openness: The Wrong Solution (Encouragement: The Unexpected Power of Building Others Up, by Larry Crabb)

Is sharing more than self-centered expression?

Not long ago, my husband and I were traveling in Australia. When Sunday came around, we found a place to worship. The pastor, a guest speaker for the day, was a gifted communicator. He was funny, passionate, knowledgeable…and very open. But his type of openness made me squirm. His illustrations were uncomfortably revealing and sometimes very unflattering reflections about his family, members of his congregation and other influential people who revolved around his sphere of influence. His rhetoric was a strange mix of personal confession and mean sarcasm about his own spiritual immaturity and those he considered less spiritually mature. There was no hint of humility (except for the false kind) and his message was interspersed with a lot of coarse joking. I kept thinking how mortified and hurt I would be if I were the object of a story being told by this pastor to a room full of people. I left feeling discouraged, unsettled, and even a little angry.

We westerners value freedom of expression. That desire to divulge is also evident in church culture. I think that’s what I experienced with this church (along with a heavy emphasis on entertainment). Usually openness is couched with good intentions in order to promote community, authenticity and transparency. I find it especially prevalent in millennials and it’s something I admire. I think it’s evidence of their distaste for hypocrisy. But when does openness become a bad thing?

“When we gather together, we are to experience the reality of our common heritage. But we have cheapened the idea of sharing to the point where sharing now means to exhibit ourselves rather than to demonstrate Christ to one another.” (Encouragement, p. 47)

My worship experience this particular day highlighted some important principles from Encouragement regarding transparency within the body of Christ.

  • Sharing for sharing sake, or to gain the attention and acceptance of others doesn’t always promote spiritual growth. Emotional honesty should take place within the framework of commitment to God and to other’s welfare. This is true koinonia (p. 45).

“Biblical and theological foundations are of little value unless real people in real places come to know and love Jesus in his relationship with “Abba” God as the Way of Life, and that is “life together.” [i]

Openness, authenticity and transparency are all great attributes, but they are better when tempered with sacrifice, self-discipline and obedience. (p. 48)

  • If all we focus on is expression without restraint, our relationships will run shallow, missing the shared spiritual growth that God intends for us. Our relationships require real commitment to enter into the hard areas of life with one another. (p. 48)

“We much catch the idea that time spent with one another can somehow enrich our relationship with Christ, in much the same way that two mature children feel closer to their parents after discussing with each other how much their parents mean to them. Relationships with one another can be enjoyable and fulfilling and they should be. But the basis of our fellowship is our shared life in Christ.” (p. 49)

How can I experience a Christ-centered level of fellowship with all my brothers and sisters in Christ?

  • Never speak hard words to someone or about someone unless your love for that person has formed a vision for who they are to be in Christ. Ask yourself, “Are my feelings for this person generated from love and a pure heart?” “Am I motivated by a desire for them to change for my sake – or for their sake?”
  • Don’t confuse vulnerability and authenticity. Think of them this way:

Define vulnerability as making something known to another with a spirit of entitlement that obligates the other to respond well to your concerns. In other words – Is it all about me?

Define authenticity as making something known to another that reveals where you are on your journey toward Christ-likeness and invites (neither expects nor demands) another to walk together with you toward a mutual goal of maturity.

With those definitions in mind, pursue authenticity, not vulnerability, in what you choose to share. (p. 51)

I don’t really know what motivated this person to be so mean, but it occurred to me that maybe he was preaching from a layer meant to protect him from rejection. I think his efforts to be entertaining were an attempt to be accepted, something we all crave. Sadly, his biting humor and sarcastic jokes came at the expense of his loved ones and those he’s called to shepherd in their Christian walk. The result was that he was the center of attention, not Christ. And that’s the crux isn’t it?

I realized that we all have that weakness, in one way or another. He was no different than you or me. We can be motivated to do and say some crazy things when Christ-likeness takes a back seat to worldly approval. It helps me to remember that the only one I really need to fully express myself to is God Almighty. Expression solely for acceptance is wrongly motivated. (p. 52)

Is Christ-likeness really at the center of my sharing or am I seeking attention, pity or just a place to vent frustration?

We don’t need to be funny, we don’t need to be the smartest person in the room, or the hippest. We don’t need to be an attention-seeking open book. We do need to be aware that we are self-centered creatures living in a fallen body in a fallen world. It colors everything we do and say. But we have the Spirit of the living God who gives us the ability to truly love…to honestly evaluate what others need to hear from us as we seek to build one another up with mutual affection.

“And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24–25, HCSB)

[i] Icenogle, G. W. (1993). Biblical foundations for small group ministry: an integrative approach. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

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