Coming Home Wounded
30 Jul 2018
It’s always difficult moving back home after living overseas. There are books written about how hard “re-entry” to your home culture will be, with long lists of the challenges to be faced. Some returning missionaries have time and space to prepare for the rough ride ahead, but others find themselves touching down hardly knowing what has happened. And just like soldiers returning from battle, not all missionaries come home in one piece. Some return seriously wounded.
There may have been a violent event, a natural disaster, a problem with visas, or with local authorities leading to a sudden and unwanted expulsion. For some there are serious health issues, or abusive situations they need to be removed from. Sometimes there are soul crushing conflicts with other team mates that are never resolved. Missionaries live in the real world and experience what life throws at them. It takes a toll.
Serving God in another culture might look like a grand adventure, but it can also be a high-risk vocation. That’s why when we are preparing missionaries for service we talk openly about counting the cost. What will this call of God cost you? Have you felt the weight of it in your hands? Do you understand what you are saying yes to?
Over the past 6 months I have been impacted by the reality of this cost on some of our long-term workers. Watching them return to Australia battle weary, discouraged and finding life difficult. They are strong, faithful, godly men and women who have been living in difficult places under stresses I can only imagine. But they have come home with some part of them damaged, whether physically, mentally or emotionally. Maybe it will heal, or maybe they will need to learn to live with it. I wonder, was this one of the costs they weighed before they left? Had they imagined returning weaker?
How do we reconcile this? Should we stop sending people to share Jesus with those who do not yet know he died for them? We only need to look into the face of Christ to find the answer – Jesus is worth the cost. He is our pearl of great price, and we sell everything we own just to have him in our lives. We do it for him.
Paul knew first-hand the great cost of missionary service. He tells us in 2 Corinthians 11 that he was flogged, stoned, shipwrecked, hungry, and cold. Yet in the next chapter he tells us what God spoke to him:
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
God’s grace is healing balm for the wounded. Weaker is not lesser. In fact, God can do more through our weakness than he can when we are strong (and often fighting him for control).
And what about us: the mission agency, the church, the friend, the family, the supporter of the missionary coming home wounded? What do we do? We welcome, we show respect, we give value, we give them time, we encourage, we listen, and we watch in awe as God does something wonderful in them and through them.