Over the past few years, Faith has seen a number of our young adults go overseas on short term mission trips or on Youth With A Mission (YWAM) discipleship courses ranging from a few weeks to 18 months. As a church, it is important to realize the unexpected struggles young people can face when they return home so that we can support them through their re-entry.
Many of us have had a camp or retreat experience where there’s been a “mountain-top” experience with God. These experiences often include a sense of community and shared experience. This experience is intensified for missionaries or YWAMers who spend weeks or months together, united daily in community, prayer and ministry. Stephen Wright explains, “You go from having intentional relationships 24/7 to not having any at all [when you go home]. We know what part of our day is scheduled for spending time with God, but post-YWAM, it’s like you’re on your own to find your own way.”
After her year with YWAM and then 8 months in Guatemala with Hope for Home Ministries, Julia Murray says, “You’ve changed, you’re more emotional, compassionate, caring, and more understanding of families in hard times.” Stephen agrees: “You’re different than everyone else around you and they [your church friends] may or may not have changed, but things are different.” When Stephen returned home after YWAM in England, Faith felt like a new church. He’d already been at university for 4 years and then he came home to a new pastor and new families at church. “It didn’t feel like ‘my church’ anymore,” he said.
Julia says that the best advice she got before returning to Canada was that she was going home, not going back. You can’t go back to the way things were before or the person you were before your time away.
What can the church do to help our young people and missionaries adjust to life at home again?
Pray for them.
It’s hard to see wealth and waste when you’ve experienced the poverty of a developing country. Sometimes it is harder to adjust to culture at home than the culture to which you went. Pray for their adjustment and the confusion they may be feeling. Pray for their future plans.
Avoid certain comments.
Comments like “How was your vacation?” “How was name of country?” “I’ll bet you’re glad you’re home” are uncomfortable. Ministry overseas is challenging physically, emotionally and spiritually. They may be grieving the loss of friends and ministry, and home might not feel like home.
Share what God has been doing in the church and in your life while they have been away.
God may seem much more real and near overseas where He may have been a constant source of strength and comfort. When young people come back, it may not be obvious that God is working in people’s lives or in the church because the miraculous may not be so evident at home.
Talk and listen.
Understand the range of emotions that the young person may be feeling and that they may not even be able to articulate their feelings when they first come home. Allow them to talk without offering advice or judgment. Ask about defining moments, the friends or work they left behind, or their best memories. Allow for tears. Avoid asking about future plans as it may be overwhelming to think about a new life at home.
Encourage them to find a routine or schedule to connect with God.
**Thank you, Julia and Stephen, for your honesty and vulnerability in helping us to understand your experience returning home.
Please pray for members of FCC who have been, or are presently overseas: Julia and Stephen, Austin, Tristan, Stephanie in Guatemala, Odie and Mark Goddard in Paraguay, and their sons, Anthony, Connor and Spencer.