We have all studied culture shock and reverse culture shock (adjustments on returning home). But there continue to be changes and unexpected events if one returns to the field for a second, third, fourth time. Every time it is different. You may be married this time, or have children at different ages, or be empty nesters. Your assignment may change. Even culture changes over time. Here are some thoughts for returning to the field.
1. Don’t just settle into the same routine.
Even if your assignment is the same, look and see what changes have occurred in your friends or ministry area. How has God been at work? Is there a new opportunity? Is there any different way your children can be a part of the community or ministry?
In successive terms. you will continue to learn culture and language bringing more helpful insights and also realizations of past errors. Apologize if you feel it necessary. Give yourself grace. Laugh. Remember the apostle Paul said, “I press on…”. None of us is perfect. Even in our own cultures, we make mistakes and learn new skills over time.
2. Give yourself permission to grieve loss.
Leaving family is not always easier the second or third time. Or it may be, but then it will be hard again when you have to leave your own children in your passport country. Sometimes ministry colleagues move on or pass away while you are gone from the field. Cross-cultural workers face loss in many ways, and it is healthy to find ways to say those goodbyes or express sadness.
You don’t have to always have a strong exterior. In a poor country, people may not feel they have a lot to contribute to a foreign worker. But when you are able to (appropriately) show an area of weakness, it gives them an opportunity to minister to you.
3. How can you express appreciation or honor upon returning?
Every culture is different but consider if it is appropriate to bring a gift for your local colleagues or the top church leader. Early on we did not think of these things, but now we always bring a small item for the staff we work with at the Bible College and for the Church Superintendent. It can be something small they do not usually buy for themselves like a bottle opener/screwdriver tool or a plaque for their office. It could be a book or a pack of pens.
A second thing I was not conscious of in my early years was my lack of public affirmation of local leaders. Several times a year in church conferences, the leaders would publicly express appreciation for our coming to work with them. I would say something polite and sit down. But I began to realize that I needed to reciprocate and tell them that it was an honor working with them and express something specific that I appreciate about their efforts too.
I pray today that whatever season you are in that God would “give you complete knowledge of his will…. Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better. We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need… May you be filled with joy.” (Colossians 1:9-11)