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Beyond Reverse Culture Shock Introduction

I’m a World War II history nerd. I have watched almost every documentary out there on this time period. As the largest conflict in history, with some of the most extreme displays of evil in human history, it is filled with stories of heroism, innovation, sacrifice, patriotism, and so much more. It took place in a world that I cannot comprehend as a millennial. It’s fascinating, perspective-building, chilling, and awe-inspiring.


Unfortunately, many of the WWII heroes did not fare well after the war as they re-entered their home countries. What we now call post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) ruined the lives and families of many WWII veterans. Children of these veterans would often say, “Dad never talked about the war, but we knew it affected him.” This lack of processing and choosing to keep their experiences to themselves caused many veterans to struggle to connect with others, to experience regular nightmares, and to encounter judgmentalism from those who couldn’t handle the inconveniences of traumatized soldiers. Many of these men lost their wives, their families, their jobs, their minds, and, for some, even their lives. 


While there are innumerable and incomprehensible reasons for why re-entry is such a struggle for veterans, the issue at the core is most often trauma. Post WWII there was very little understanding of trauma—what it is, what its effects are, and how to overcome it. Thankfully, doctors and psychologists have begun to understand the effects of trauma on veterans and have taken a very different approach to trauma that has improved the re-entry process for those returning from war.


While the experience of a missionary may not be as traumatic as the experience of a returning soldier, many missionaries have experienced real trauma at some point on the field. Whether it is a dramatic one-time event, culture shock, or the built-up exhaustion of living out of one’s culture for many years, trauma is a common feature of cross-cultural ministry. 

Trauma is a mental roadblock to accomplishing the goal of re-entry for the missionary that has experienced it.

As missionaries re-enter, they may struggle to join back into regular church life. They may feel distant from the Lord. They may even struggle to lead their families. This can be an unexpected experience for church leaders and church members as they help missionaries re-enter. We think, “They have been missionaries—they, of all people, should be doing well! They are back in their own country. It should be easier for them now.” Sadly, we can be quick to bring judgment where we need to be curious and open ended with our timelines and expectations for them.


Trauma is a mental roadblock to accomplishing the goal of re-entry for the missionary that has experienced it. Cookie-cutter processes for re-entry, with set expectations and timelines that are one-size-fits-all, do not work for those who have experienced trauma. Those overseeing the re-entry process need to stay flexible with the time, expectations, and pathway for re-entry as missionaries settle back into their community and their church.


As sending churches, we need to consider these things as our people return from the field. Do we give them enough care, financial support, and time to help them process and overcome trauma they may have experienced? Do we consider alternative pathways for re-entry to meet the needs of our missionaries that have experienced trauma?

Those overseeing the re-entry process need to stay flexible with the time, expectations, and pathway for re-entry as missionaries settle back into their community and their church.

Shonna Ingram, founder and director of “Re-Entry Experts,” has written an article for Upstream to help us understand what trauma is, its effects on the re-entry of missionaries, and how churches can be helpful to those re-entering with or without trauma. 


Shonna, has identified three non-linear stages of re-entry that returning missionaries go through:


  • Return - encompassing the nine months prior to departure from the field and the first six months back in the home country.

  • Restore - encapsulating the space between the overseas missionary experience and the transition to what comes next, usually spanning six months to two years.

  • Rebuild - extending approximately two to five years after the return, integrating into the home culture, and determining how to show up in this next season.


Each of these stages requires a recognition of where the missionary is and lays out particular steps to help them walk through their re-entry process based on their experience of trauma.


Members can download this resource on the Upstream File Share.

Non-Members can buy this article for $1.99 on our Resources page.

 

Mike Easton is the International Program Manager for Reliant Mission. Prior to that Mike was the Missions Pastor at Cornerstone Church in Ames, Iowa, for eight years, where he got to experience the ins and outs of being a sending church. He served on staff with Cornerstone 2006 to 2022 in varying roles–from college ministry to pastoral staff to being an overseas missionary sent from Cornerstone for two years. Mike is the Director of Content for the Upstream Collective. Mike, his wife, Emily, and their four kids continue to live in Ames, IA, and serve at Cornerstone.

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