It is very common for missionaries returning from their field of service to participate in what is known as debriefing. Debriefing is not necessarily counseling or therapy, but rather an opportunity for the missionary to process the realities of their time on the field with the goal of moving forward in a healthy way. Listening, understanding and empathizing are essential components of the debrief relational process.
Possible Debrief Timeline:
Rest – Take some time to rest upon re-entry. Allow time for the key components of the transition to come to mind.
Discussion – This is the time to begin unpacking the feelings, memories, life lessons, relationships, challenges and struggles that were experienced on the field.
Transition – The transition time focuses on re-entry, moving from unsettled to re-settled in several areas including, but not limited to; spiritual, emotional, financial, social, cultural, etc.
Self-Care – A time devoted to intentionally improving the way we treat ourselves in each of the above transitional areas. Identify and set obtainable goals.
Closure – Make sure any conflict is resolved, and that the exit was done as well as possible. Healthy goodbyes, including sharing how much the relationship has meant are important.
There will always be some challenges for the missionary coming back home. Don’t expect everyone to understand what you’re feeling. Many will find it difficult to understand the cultural changes, the reverse homesickness, and the feelings that are unique to missionaries returning home. Missionaries will struggle in their own ability to clearly articulate these feelings.
The important thing is to recognize the process and act intentionally. Make a plan to walk through the debrief process steps with trustworthy people, and trust in God to lead through the transition. He’s always at work equipping and preparing us for the next steps in our journey. Coming home is one part of that journey.