A Personal Journey of Returning from the Mission Field

Uprooted

Over two years ago when I moved to Sinaloa, Mexico, I found myself trying to live with roots disconnected from everything familiar. I fostered, tended, prayed, and watered those roots, encouraging them to dig deep into this new place. I gained energy as I saw them become more deeply entwined, and I rejoiced as they drew their substance from the rich earth. My heart had found its home in this wonderful new place.

Then roughly six months ago, I found myself with the daunting task of taking a shovel to those roots I had labored so hard over. With heaviness, I re-transplanted myself back to the place where I came from. The plant had changed, and the soil that I had missed so much when I first moved didn’t seem to be as good as I remembered it.

 

A Hard Hello

A week before leaving Mexico, I tried to write a list of things that I could look forward to upon returning to Wisconsin. I managed to find four things, one of them being cheese. A few people from church sent me emails telling me they were praying for me as I said goodbye and made the transition to the States again. Because of this, I knew they were not expecting me to be excited upon arrival. I was greatly relieved.

Arriving at my parent’s house, there was a banner strung on the front porch with the words “Welcome Back!” with personal notes scribbled around it. I was very thankful it did not read “Welcome Home.” My heart wanted to bolt and run back to everything I had just left behind. Wisconsin was cold and foreign, and I struggled with calling it home. I still do sometimes. (This is further complicated by my recent move to Indiana. “Where are you from?” is a question I struggle to answer.)

 

Fighting Failure

In trying to process my return, all I could see in retrospect of the past two years were the mistakes I made and the things I wished I had done differently. I struggled to remember the cultural understanding and spiritual victories I had fought for and attained in my adjustments to life in Mexico. I needed someone to come alongside and remind me of things I had gotten right. But there were few who understood my life there enough to encourage me in this way, and I felt very alone.

This was coupled with the feeling that I did not know what I was doing in my own house (my parents had moved during those two years), my old town, and even in my own language (Spanish words were quick on the tongue and English wasn’t sufficient enough to express myself).

I felt like a failure everywhere I turned. I tried my hardest to be strong, to not make it harder on my family and friends because I did not want to burden them. I tried to keep the tears in check in front of them, but I would frequently retreat to my room to cry, gather my courage to face the world again, and set my face to hide what I was really going through.

 

Understanding the Goodbye

My faith in God was in shreds as I tried to understand why He brought me back to the States. In the effort to keep myself from imploding emotionally, I focused on other hurting people. I threw myself into anything that kept me from thinking about my ache for Mexico, my people, and my life there.

Even though I spoke frequently of Choix and the people there, I found myself holding back when speaking about them. When talking with those who asked the typical, polite questions, I learned to completely detach emotionally.

I answered questions in the pat way they were asked even though the answers were complicated and could be answered two different ways. Did I like living in Mexico? Yes and no. Did I miss it? Of course, but I knew God wanted me here. Did I know why I had to leave? No, but that’s because I was following the Lord in faith. It was exhausting trying to decide each time how to answer as quickly as possible to keep from boring my audience, while trying to stay honest.

 

Outside My Box

Part of my experience living in a different culture was that I started to question my own culture. While living in Mexico, I tried my best not to scoff at everything that was different from what I had previously thought was the norm. In honest efforts of discipline, I reasoned to discover if the difference was merely cultural (amoral) or if it was contrary to Biblical principle (sin). Determining this, I was then able to choose how to respond and think about the given situation.

I have carried this way of thinking with me back to the States. It’s not that I want to disrupt the church and cause trouble. I’ve been thinking outside the proverbial box and find it frustrating that others aren’t doing the same.

 

Following Him

As I write this, I know I’m still in the struggle of processing my two years in Mexico and the life changing impact they’ve had on me. While I have come to peace with people not completely understanding me, the reminders of this fact are almost daily. Having Jesus as my understanding friend has been my biggest comfort. I draw strength from remembering that He knows each struggle because He went through similar experiences. He Himself lived cross-culturally, left the people He loved in His “host culture”, and returned to His Father.

I have failed many times at following His example of doing this transitional thing in a godly way. This makes me grateful for His grace that covers me, and for those who have stood beside me during this time, not completely understanding, but cheering me on anyways. He is worth it all.

 

Helpful things to remember:

– Let a returning missionary know you’re praying for them (if you honestly are).

– Be sensitive to how they feel about returning, and do not project what you think they should be feeling. As a general rule, don’t refer to their return as a homecoming. Be quick to understand and acknowledge that they have another home somewhere else.

– Affirm them. Don’t mock them as they stumble around trying to use only one language again. Appreciate their efforts, even the effort to be sociable (there were days when it took all the courage I could muster to step outside to meet the world, even friends and family).

– Ask to see pictures of the people and places where they loved and labored. And be willing to sit awhile as they talk! Learn the faces and names. And keep asking about them.

Linda Linda Hershey lives in the beautiful mountains of Mexico. She desires that all people would know and serve God as He desires to be known and served. She loves to make people smile and can rarely turn down an invitation to a good discussion. When she is not cooking in the kitchen, you might find her learning Spanish, helping with children’s classes, or attending Bible studies. She also enjoys playing and writing music, and reading thought-provoking books.

5 thoughts on “A Personal Journey of Returning from the Mission Field

  1. Hi Linda, my sister and I were with you at LTO the night we passed out food in Manhattan.
    As I finished reading this article, I was wondering whether I would know this person from LTO…and it’s you–and it’s been two years! I have enjoyed reading your articles here from the very beginning.
    Thanks for being honest. I have been at Mountain View Nursing Home for almost 6 months, and this article helps me to know how to adjust here, until I return in the fall.

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  2. Thanks for your honesty. I find this topic of compassionately supporting a returning missionary is poorly understood among people who haven’t experienced it, or at least been close to someone who has. I experienced the agony of the decision to go, feeling it was the hardest thing I’d ever done…only to find a few years later that returning to my previous “home” was harder. Sometimes I felt confused about what was “home” and what was “mission field”. “But He giveth more grace….”

    It may often seem as if no one understands. Loneliness can be a tool of the devil, since it often includes a lie about how completely alone we really are; but God can also redeem it to fan the flame of passion for Him. And in many ways, I think the conflation of “home” and “mission field” is a healthy thing, since home — whether current, previous, or original — is always a field of service and missions; and because the ultimate, permanent, fully restful Home is still future for us.

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  3. Linda, Thank you for the great article and for sharing your journey. Some over a year ago, I returned from living in El Salvador for 1 – 1/2 years. I can identify with almost everything you wrote about. I also hope to someday again feel that life is whole and makes sense.

    One of the realities that makes it difficult in going back to what used to be home….is that family and friends, while still special, are not the closest people in your life anymore. The relationships build during a time of service have a special depth and meaning because that type of work and the challenges involved. It pull hearts together in a very deep way. So when we transition back to what used to be home, those who used to be close, we now struggle to even connect with. God made us as relational beings and suddenly when we really need support we feel so alone.

    But praise God for the friend we have in Jesus. It is because of Him that there is hope to keep trying and pressing forward in faith that the roads ahead will be smoother.

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