It’s happening right now, in real time, live, in the hearts of international cross cultural missionaries all over the world who are visiting home for the holidays.
They themselves struggle to articulate the unique array of emotions bombarding their spirits. They feel bad for thinking the things they do. They question the validity of their emotions. They don’t want to come across as jaded, or snobbish, trivializing the struggles of family and friends in their hometowns. But their minds are elsewhere.
They wish they could just be normal, be truly “home” for the holidays, be satisfied to break bread with their family and friends without having to contemplate the crushing needs of their overseas mission field.
But try as they might to “be all there” in their home countries, they know that it is impossible to flip a switch and turn off their passion for those they have come to love across cultures in the promised land where their mission field lies.
Read more about this struggle at Why Missionaries Can Never Go Home Again.
It’s the dichotomy of the missionary venture: trying to be all things to all men wherever they are, like a chameleon, ever changing, ever shifting identities while seeking to rest secure in the true identity of how God has created them to be.
The holidays bring an added layer of complexity to an already difficult transition for cross cultural missionaries. Here’s a few reasons why they struggle to be home for the holidays.
HOME IS AN ELUSIVE CONCEPT
The moment a missionary moves from her country of birth to the mission field, a shift takes place. It is less about geographical coordinates than it is about a sense of belonging. She doesn’t feel completely “at home” on the mission field, and may begin to ruminate about her hometown. But the moment she arrives back on the soil of her birth country, the same strange sensation of being foreign wherever she goes still exists.
Perhaps this is simply the deeper transcendent notion of all Christians—that we are just passing through, on our way from here to there, going to our true home. Being “home” for the holidays is a limbo game of living in between cultures while finding true identity in her true status as a citizen of heaven.
She had different expectations of what it would be like to be home for the holidays. She would tell her family and friends about all the amazing things that God has been doing in and through her. Instead, a large portion of her time is spent trying to comprehend her place, where she belongs, who she is, where her identity lies. Coming to the full realization that, yes, “home” is an elusive concept for the cross cultural missionary because none of us as believers are truly home yet, will be a huge lift in the success of her long term missionary venture.
THE LACK OF RESPONSE
Cross cultural missionaries have experienced things that many people back home can never begin to understand—things that are near impossible to articulate. My missionary friend, Robert Reid, explains it like this:
“It’s like we’ve gone to Mars and just returned! People have watched a movie about Mars at one time, and they’re trying to relate. But it’s impossible to describe what Mars is truly like for someone who’s never been. So there exists a difficulty for missionaries to relate their experiences and for people back home to connect on a deeper level.” – Robert Reid
The missionary finds it frustrating when his family and friends don’t seem to connect with his passion. Perhaps it’s not that they don’t care, it’s just that they do not share the unique experiences that he has gone through, and so there is some sort of disconnect. He recalls recent experiences on the mission field—language learning, persecution, cultural differences, a sense of simply not belonging anywhere and searching for the elusive concept of “home”—and he hopes someone will simply sit and listen. The key to his victory will be through finding a sounding board for this thoughts, getting debriefing, and learning to rest in and with God in the unique calling to the missionary venture that he has received.
SEEMINGLY TRIVIAL NEEDS
Felt needs are real. Let’s get that on the table before we proceed any farther. The things that friends and family are undergoing are important within their hearts and minds. And the missionary knows this. It’s just that he too has many deep emotions brewing in his spirit that very few can relate to. He wants to talk about the orphans that he been loving, the underprivileged children he has been pouring his life into, the college students that are getting saved at his outreach center, the poor communities he has walked among for years, the little girl who recently died whom he tried to help with medical care. But his conversations are cut short with what sound to him like trivial topics.
It is easy for him to become frustrated when local needs seem like they don’t compare to the needs he has seen overseas. His challenge during the holidays will be to listen to the felt needs of his family and friends, and find one or two close friends or family members whom he can pour out his heart to. Though the conversation may not be professional debriefing, it will be paramount for his wellness to express and release his emotions of recent life situations on the mission field.
These three reasons why cross cultural missionaries struggle to be home for the holidays are by no means exhaustive. The struggles are real. The longing for the sense of belonging wane very little over the years of the long term missionary venture. But there is hope. There are practical ways that you can help care for your overseas missionaries while they are home for an extended period of time.
For all of you missionaries who are home for the holidays: may you be comforted and encouraged that you are not alone. I am experiencing many of these strange sensations at present. I feel your heart. There is a deep well of passion for the lost that you carry within you. Don’t let it die out. May you be reminded that God hears your heart, knows your struggle, and is there to bring true comfort and wholeness wherever you are.