Summertime! When the skies are clear. And the bees had done their buzzing. Flowers are ablaze with the colors of life. Planned vacations are now becoming a reality. Thousands of teams left their cheering congregations for a “summer of service”, doing everything from pulling teeth in a jungle village to delivering Bibles to people who have waited years for their personal copy. And each of these summer servants has enlisted a team of partners to pray, invest their finances in the Kingdom of God, and to give them a good reentry experience.
Will you be ready for their return? Will you meet them at the airport? Or wait until their first Sunday back at church? One missionary friend had a welcoming home team from his church waiting for him at the airport one day after he arrived home! Fortunately, his parents (though not Christians), had the time and date correct!
But don’t overwhelm him with a party at the airport. Give him some space. He is tired, probably jet-lagged, and wanting to get home. Yes, too much is also possible. It happened this way: My wife picked me up at the airport. My secretary, who had sent out my updates, was also part of the welcoming home group. After the hugs all around were over, she invited herself to our house to “hear all about it!” Several hours of debriefing later, at midnight, we “invited” this single lady to leave!
Make sure all of the necessary logistical needs have been attended to—before he arrives. He let you use his car while he was gone. Did you fill the gas tank? You house sat for him. Is there a pile of dishes still in the sink? Break it to him easy that his pet goldfish didn’t make it.
But most of all, be there for him to debrief—when he is ready to do so. Whether his experiences were wild and wonderful or mild and mundane, he wants to, but if not, he still needs to share on two levels: 1) “…they rehearsed all that God had done with them,” 2) “and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles” (Acts 14:27).
The “easier” of the two levels is to share all the great and glorious things that happened on the field—the building got painted, the VBS with 100 children was glorious, the Bibles were delivered. You will arrange these meetings ahead of time (with his agreement, of course). You will set meetings with different age and interest levels. You may ask, “Why? Wouldn’t it be better to share with many young adults—those who would most likely be ones who could go next summer?” Yes, you would expect for some to respond to a call to go out. But at this point, we are interested in a good reentry for the one who just returned. He needs to process what happened during the trip. If you set up ten meetings, all with young adults, he will have to process his experiences only once and repeat the story ten times.
However, if you set up just five meetings, but you have one with young adults, another with seniors, another with primary kids, another with high schoolers, and one with a civic club, he will have to process his experiences through the minds of those various groups. And this is good. “What did I do that can be understood by those little kids?” will make him really think. The civic club will have different interests. The challenge to high schoolers will have yet a different focus.
The second level of debriefing (mentioned first in the Scripture above), works best in smaller groups, possibly even one-on-one. What has God done in me? How am I different now? How has my worldview changed? What am I going to do differently? These are the questions you will help him answer. Let him take his time with these. They are not so easy to process.
On both levels of debriefing, it is critical that you help him process the good and the not-so-good that happened on the field. Extremely important! For, if all he can see is the good that happened on the field, there is a tendency to focus on the not-so-good at home. Conversely, if all he talks about is how bad everyone and everything was on the field, he will more likely focus on the good at home. He will then loose interest in missions and have a negative effect on others. Be there to help him keep in balance.
And when he has fully integrated his new self back into his home and church community, your work is over.
And if he would say to you, “I think God wants me to be a missionary,” you will hand him a book by that title! It will help him further process the issues of a longer term commitment. Thus, if that statement is but an emotional response to a great summer experience, the book will “bring him back to reality”. On the other hand, if that prompting to be a missionary is from God, the book will help him seriously consider the next steps on his venture of faith.