One of the returned global workers I’ve come to know served in the Middle East. She lived and worked in a modern Emirate governed by Sharia Law. Still, the Emirate had a thriving Christian community and it was filled with expats from all over the world. The confluence of international people in this modern city made for a unique and colorful living experience. When she came back to the U.S., I heard the lament in her words, "When I returned, I just felt like my life lost a lot of richness."
One of the things this worker loved most about her host country was the ease with which she lived her daily life. The city was safe and easy to navigate. It had excellent public transportation and easy access to most everything she needed. A very different landscape awaited her upon reentry to the U.S., to a sprawling metropolitan city of 2 million people with an equally sprawling freeway system. One of her biggest challenges was just getting around. "I really hated driving. I missed the train and walkability of my host country."
This is a familiar sentiment among many returned workers. Nostalgia about the life they left behind, combined with sudden emotional and mental adjustment of reentry, is compounded by the question they all face, ‘How in the world do I navigate daily life?’
Meeting Practical Needs
Neil Pirolo gives a great example of this in his book, The Reentry Team,
"… your missionary has been hurled at jet speeds of five to seven hundred miles per hour from one continent to another in less than twelve hours to face the challenges of a metropolitan freeway system. He is driving a Ford Expedition at an outrageous seventy miles per hour, with cars around him honking for him to get out of the way! ‘You're going too slow!’"
Talk about stressful.
"Relying on the local church for travel, lodging plans, and fellowship has long been the norm for those sent out to deliver the Good News. Can the modern-day local church follow this model?"
Our care team experience has shown us that an integral part of reentry is meeting practical, everyday needs. Coming "home" is rarely permanent, but the essential elements of daily living remain. Even in the first-century church, this was true. On his way to Jerusalem Paul writes in Romans 15, "But now I no longer have any work to do in these provinces, and I have strongly desired for many years to come to you whenever I travel to Spain. For I hope to see you when I pass through, and to be assisted by you for my journey there, once I have first enjoyed your company for a while." (Romans 15:23–24).
John Stott relates that the word, assist (propempō) was a term used for helping missionaries on their way. The dictionary definition of propempō is to “help on one’s journey with food, money, by arranging for companions, means of travel, etc.”
Relying on the local church for travel, lodging plans, and fellowship has long been the norm for those sent out to deliver the Good News. Can the modern-day local church follow this model? Those of us in global worker care can take our lead from Paul's example. I believe we can address the everyday needs of our returned workers in a healthy way. But it requires the involvement of the whole church.
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
Unless your returned worker is in a city with an amazing public transportation network, they need to get around, and it can be a scary business. What are the possibilities?
Ridesharing – This service is usually easily accessible, and it is a good transportation resource.
Driver – Who is willing to serve as a driver to get your global worker where they need to go, especially in those first days of return?
Extra Car – Is there someone willing to share that extra car sitting in their garage?
Rental Car – Who in the church community can step up to cover the cost?
Car Ministry - It's rare, but ministries that provide cars for global workers do exist. Our care team is fortunate to have access to a car ministry associated with our church.
A Place to Lay My Head
Most global workers will need housing when they return. This is another area where close and regular contact with your global workers is important. Their housing needs must be assessed in advance, according to family size and anticipated length of stay. Because of Covid, this has been a bigger challenge over the last year as returns have been unplanned and more numerous.
Pray for those in your church community with a heart for global workers who are willing to share their housing resources. Reach out to those who have second homes, rental property, or extra space.
Over the years, our church has developed housing dedicated to returned global workers. Because of our location in a large metropolitan city and the number of workers in our charge, our housing is rarely vacant. We consider it to be one of the greatest blessings we have to offer in our global worker care ministry.
My Father's House
Do your workers know the rhythms of church life? Simple things like a schedule for church services, bible studies, and home groups are key for reintegration into the community. Be sure to include other resources like childcare and schooling options.
Do the church leadership and the church community as a whole know they are returned? Allow them opportunities to speak about their work to different groups within the church if they so desire.
"It is unlikely that any church budget or returned worker's support will cover all of the returned worker's needs. This level of care requires the involvement of the whole church community."
Is there an effort to mobilize them in ministry at home, if they are interested? Remember that your workers are endowed with a variety of highly regarded skills and years of experience. They are valuable additions to the life of the church.
It is unlikely that any church budget or returned worker's support will cover all of the returned worker's needs. This level of care requires the involvement of the whole church community. It takes a committed team of laypeople and church leadership to connect and support returned global workers. It will require a combined effort to raise the level of awareness in your local church about missions and the importance of care for your returned ones. And there is the added blessing of allowing the church community to engage their many spiritual gifts.
Finally, remember the example set by Paul in Romans 15. It is a story of sacrifice. According to John Stott, Paul turned a fifteen-hundred-mile journey into a three-thousand-mile journey in order to serve the saints well. Or, as another commentary states,
“In our modern age of jet travel, this does not seem like such a sacrifice. But all one need do is read the accounts of Paul’s ultimate journey to Rome when he is shipwrecked on the island of Malta (Acts 27:13–28:11), not to mention three previous shipwrecks, once spending a day and a night in the open sea (2 Cor. 11:25), to realize the cost of his decision. Such is the nature of a servant…. The next time we are asked by God to serve another saint or the church at large in a way that taxes our strength, we might only remember the apostle to the Gentiles who gave himself for others.”
Is your team and your church community committed to go the extra mile to give your global workers a healthy return?
Shirley Ralston (MA Christian Education, Dallas Theological Seminary) is a founding member of the Missionary Care Team at Houston’s First Baptist Church. She also serves on the pastor’s research team and teaches Life Bible Study to single young adults. Shirley and her husband Jeff now reside in Houston after several years living overseas. You can find her on Twitter and texpatfaith.org.