Here’s a truth you may have never realized before. It’s something I have dealt with for nearly 20 years. My whole adult life has been lived outside my own country, and though I sometimes struggle to fit in to the country I minister in, I feel similarly in my own “home” country.

I am foreign. It defines me.

When a new missionary first gets to the mission field, it is obvious where home is. It is that place where you just left. It is the place where you grew up, went to school, got an education, discovered a church family, and formed your most important relationships.

But when you live overseas long enough, a strange transition takes place.

Your “home” country doesn’t quite feel like home anymore. When you “go home”, some of the same people and places are there, but life has moved on in your absence. When you show up for the so-called “home assignment” or “furlough,” you can not just pick up where you left off. You are a visitor. An outsider. A guest without a permanent role. Your close friends have made new close friends. Half the people in your home church only know you as a line item on a list of prayer requests. Some new technology, slang, or cultural trend has become common place… expect for you because you missed it when it first came out.

On the mission field, you said things like, “Back in my country….” but few local people in your host country could relate to your story. They listened politely but you knew they didn’t really understand. But that’s okay. You comfort yourself with the thought, “People back home would understand me.”

But strangely enough, those people back home who were sure to understand…. well, they don’t. Now that you are home, you are full of experiences and stories from the place that has become your second home. You say things like, “Back in my host country…” But, of course, whatever story you tell them about your host country is hard to relate to. The things that you really miss about your host country receive a blank stare, or a “That’s weird.” After your quaint tale is done, people go back to talking about the local sports team, the latest in national politics, or something else that you haven’t given much thought to in the past few years. It is not that they don’t like you. They do. They are glad you are finally “home.” But those “back home” people simply can not relate to your experiences “out there” in that country with the funny name whose people have even funnier (and unpronounceable) names.

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On “home assignment”, people say to you, “Isn’t it great to be home!” and you think, “Yeah, kind of.” Now that you’ve had a few of your favorite foods and seen a few old friends, there are fewer reasons to stay “home.” You start to miss all those things about your host country that you came to love. Certain foods, local friends, the ministry role that you were happily engaged in.

Home is no longer home. And sadly, that other place on the mission field will never truly be home either. Home is both places, and neither place, at the same time.

When at “home”, the missionary dreams about their host country. When in their host country, the missionary dreams about their home country.

Missionaries are forever caught between two worlds. They can no longer completely identify with the people whom they left behind in the home country. But they can never truly identify with the people in their host country.

Home is everywhere. Home is nowhere.

But that’s okay. There have been other travelers on this road.

“These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” (Hebrews 11:13-16)

While here on earth, we will always feel a bit unsettled and out of place. Missionaries and those of us living away from the place we grew up may experience that more than others. But someday, all those who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ will finally be home again.

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David Joannes
Founder/President at Within Reach Global
David Joannes is the co-founder and president of Within Reach Global, Inc, which serves the advance of the Gospel in some of Southeast Asia’s most difficult places. He is the author of The Space Between Memories: Recollections from a 21st Century Missionary. David has a love for language, culture, and creative writing, and for the last 20 years, he has witnessed God’s Kingdom established in forgotten parts of the globe. David lives in Chiang Mai, Thailand, with his wife, Lorna, and their daughter, Cara.
  • john appleseed

    Amen. And Jesus, the Greatest Missionary Ever, knows exactly how it feels to be caught between two worlds.

  • Holly Winterrowd

    “Home is everywhere. Home is nowhere.” You put into words precisely how I have felt ever since reaching adulthood. Thank you for writing and sharing this article!

  • Brick Heck

    On the other hand, feeling out of place in this world is exactly how every Christian should feel. Our home is the Kingdom of Heaven. This world, with all of its violence and adulteries, should never make us feel welcome.

    For the longest time I had American Culture confused with a Biblical lifestyle. After living overseas for over a decade, you realize that what was left behind was every bit as fallen as where you live now.

  • Samuel

    Great article. Missions is so tough and so many people don’t understand how deeply it affects people. This would be a great discussion for

  • Lorne Carignan

    This is true of most everyone who leaves their childhood home and friends, even just to move to another town or state. I have experienced this feeling many times. Relationships take time and commitment to develop and maintain. You can’t see people a few days out of a year or out of several years and expect to have any kind of “home” feeling, no matter where you are. You have to live with people, “put down roots,” so to speak. The longer you stay in a place, the more llke home it becomes. You CAN go home again . . . you just have to go home to STAY.

  • Hobbit

    I have lived out of my home country for over a decade, as a Christian tho’ not as a missionary. The longer I stay away the more foreign my home country gets:

    Once I used to believe, I was such a great world traveller
    Then I came home to a country that I couldn’t recognise
    When I asked it for a reason, it refused to even answer
    It was then I felt the Stranger hit me right between the eyes

    (apologies to Billy Joel :-), but he says it all too well)

  • Garth Moller

    I think this true, though exaggerated. I have lived for 25 years in the USSR/Russian Federation. My wife is Russian, and our language at home is Russian, except that I have always spoken English with the children. I am a pastor, and was the director of a Christian day school in St. Petersburg for over twenty years.

    But in the United States, I grew up in California, went to school in New York and Pennsylvania. You stay in any place long enough, and where you were feels foreign. Getting used to Russia took a little longer, but it was the same process as getting used to New York.

    I am, of course, speaking for myself. Not everybody acclimates easily, or at all.

  • Mrs. Webfoot

    You nailed it, David.

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