The Phaeacian sailors deposited the sleeping Odysseus on the shore of Ithaca, his homeland, to reach which he had struggled for twenty years of unspeakable suffering. He stirred and woke from sleep in the land of his fathers, but he knew not his whereabouts. Ithaca showed him an unaccustomed face; he did not recognize the pathways stretching into the distance, the quiet bays, the crags and precipices. He rose to his feet and stood staring at what was his own land, crying mournfully: “Alas! And now where on earth am I? What do I here myself?” (Homer, The Odyssey)
Even today after living in another culture for a while people reentering their homeland with its different culture may experience what Homer described Odysseus feeling nearly 3000 years ago. Furthermore, one does not have to be gone twenty years to feel this way. The change of geographical places is accompanied by a psychological transition that may take much longer than it took to move physically from one place to another. These transitions are experienced by anyone crossing cultures, including those in the military, the diplomatic corps, the business world, and the missionary force.
When making any change in life, it is good to take time to “process” the changes and see how they fit into your life. Nearly 4000 years ago Hagar was in transition when an angel of the Lord found her and carried on the following conversation (Genesis 16:8-9).
- Angel: “Where have you come from?”
- Angel: “Where are you going?”
- Hagar: “I’m running away from…” (she had been mistreated)
- Angel: “Go back to…”
This gives us a good outline of how to look at the changes in our lives: thinking about where we have been, where we are going, and where we are right now. Of course, we can not actually go back in time, but we can go back in our memories and think about what has happened and see where those experiences fit in our lives.
The first such recorded change experienced by Christian workers was not even a cross-cultural one, but Jesus took those workers aside to process what had happened. In Luke 9:1-10 (also found in Matthew 10-14 and in Mark 6), we have a summary of the first “reentry” after an evangelistic campaign. Note that Jesus
- called them together (v. 1);
- gave them power and authority (v. 1);
- commissioned them to preach and heal (v. 2);
- oriented them about what to take and what to expect (v. 3-5).
Then they went on their crusade (v. 6). When they returned, they reported to Jesus, telling him what they had done (v. 10). Of course, they did not report to Jesus because he needed to know—like your sending agency would want to know what you did while you were gone. They reported to him because it was good for them to review for themselves what had happened, and it was good for all of them to hear from each other what had happened while they were gone. Then Jesus took them with him to a remote place near Bethsaida , the beginning of the first “reentry retreat” or “transition workshop” (v. 10). It is good to take time to talk about what has happened to you, especially to talk about this with others who have had similar experiences.
The first cross-cultural reentry by Christian missionaries is recorded at the end of Acts 14. There we read about Paul and Barnabas returning to their “home church” in Antioch where they had been commissioned. They had completed their work during their first term, and they gathered their local church together to report what had happened. They reported two things (v. 27).
- First, they reported all that God had done with them. Note that they did the same thing when they arrived at headquarters in Jerusalem and met with the apostles and elders there for the first time (15:4). It is good to report to your supporters and those to whom you are responsible what God has done with you.
- Second, they reported how God had converted those of other cultures. Again note that they did this same thing when they visited from congregation to congregation as they traveled (15:3). It is good to report what God has done for others.
As you reenter your homeland with your “passport culture,” you may go through three stages.
- First is a period of “leaving” your host culture, a time of “ending” your connections there. This begins when you begin making preparations to travel home. Unfortunately sometimes people are unable to really “leave” things behind.
- Second is an “in between” period in which you do not feel at “home” in either the host culture you are leaving or in your passport culture into which you are entering. During this period, you are really a “homeless” person, even though you have a house in which to live. This begins when you actually board the plane to return.
- Third is a period of “entering” your passport culture, a time of “beginning” again to establish a life there. This period may continue for months, or even longer as you again come to feel more and more “at home.”
About the Author
Ron and Bonnie Koteskey are Member Care Consultants with Go International.
They have provided member care for missionaries since 1997.