I will never forget the day I decided to spend two years living in Asia. It felt like that decision would determine the trajectory of my entire life. As I signed all of the paperwork, communicated with prayer partners, talked with my church leaders, packed my bags, went to training, and then boarded a plane, I couldn’t see anything past those two years. I was committed to and focused on the opportunity placed right before me.
For two years, I told stories to villagers and slum dwellers, taught university students, built relationships with young adults, prayer-walked neighborhoods, shared the gospel with shopkeepers, and discipled new believers. It was challenging, yet so rewarding. I lived each day intentionally, focused on reaching the people around me.
Before I knew it, two years had passed and it was time to return to the United States. That two-year commitment wasn’t that long after all, and I have discovered that God’s plan for my life is much bigger than that. Like many mid-term missionaries, I found that returning home was more difficult than going in the first place and the unknowns ahead seemed insurmountably greater.
What I Wish I Had Known About Coming Home
A key, but often neglected, part of successful mid-term sending is helping the missionary re-enter and adjust to their North American home while also considering their next steps. Reflecting on their experiences while anticipating the journey ahead is a difficult task. Whether you are a church leader, family member, or friend, here are a few reminders to share with your returning mid-termer as he or she begins the process of re-entry. These are the things I wish someone had told me when I landed in the United States.
A key, but often neglected, part of successful mid-term sending is helping the missionary re-enter and adjust to their North American home while also considering their next steps.
Live here with the same intentionality you lived with there. God’s plan is for us to glorify him with our entire lives no matter where we live. Always seek to grow in your knowledge and understanding of his Word. Never keep the Good News to yourself, but boldly proclaim the gospel in your sphere of influence.
Love the church and serve it well. The body of Christ raised you up and sent you out so you could be a witness among the unreached. Be thankful for the church’s love and care for you. Seek to live in fellowship and unity with your local congregation. As you’ve probably seen new varieties of churches and religious practices, be careful not to judge individuals or the church as a whole on surface-level observations and cultural preferences.
Teach your new skills in your community. Did you learn a new way to cook, a craft, or an art form? Gather a group of friends together and teach them how to do it. More importantly, did you learn a new way to share the gospel, build relationships, or disciple new believers? Teach your fellow church members how to do that too.
Learn to articulate why you went and what you saw God do. Tell your story well in order to praise God for the work he has done and to inspire others to join him in his mission. Share about God’s heart for all peoples and the ways he is working around the world.
Educate people on the culture you grew to love. You have gained a different perspective and appreciation for places and traditions most Americans will never get to experience. Share this perspective with your friends and family. Show pictures, share ethnic meals, talk about values and beliefs, and expose people to things that are different from their norm.
Find your people group in the US. Millions of refugees, international students, and other immigrants are living in our neighborhoods. This gives us an unprecedented opportunity to reach the nations in our own backyard. Your deep knowledge of culture and language can assist the local church in ministering to people here in the US. Don’t waste those skills.
Your deep knowledge of culture and language can assist the local church in ministering to people here in the US.
Realize that things have changed at home too. People haven’t been sitting around waiting for you to return. They have been living their lives, serving the church, working, and raising their families. Make sure you ask them what has happened in their lives. Take interest in the work God has done in and through them. Seek to learn and grow together in the new season.
Commit to long-term investment in your missionary team. Look for ways to continue to be a supportive and encouraging team member. Be an advocate for your team and your people group. Seek prayer support, tell people about the need, and mobilize others to go and serve in that place.
Seek the will of the Father for your next steps. Your journey has just begun. God has an amazing plan to orchestrate your steps so that you will continue to learn and grow in him and make his name known among all nations. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6, ESV).
Stefani Varner serves on the Church Initiatives team at the IMB. She previously served as a missionary in South Asia and is passionate about discipling people toward global engagement.