This is not a full book review of the book Re-Entry: Making the Transition from Missions to Life at Home, rather just some observations as I read through it.
This book was loaned to me by an older missionary couple yesterday. We were talking about furlough (the topic of a soon-to-be-released Missionary Talks episode). The book talks about some of the struggles that missionaries face as they go back to their home culture. While the book focuses on people returning permanently, it also covers missionaries who are only temporarily returning home, such as we will be over the next year.
Two things the book mentioned that I thought might be of interest to you have to do with relationships and misunderstandings.
Peter Jordan, the author, mentions that relationships will be different upon return home. Even though a relationship can thrive over distance, often the individuals are no longer as emotionally connected. Our emotional togetherness happens through shared experiences and just spending time with one another. The missionary and the friend back home have not only been living through different experiences, but through different cultures.
We have friends with whom we love to spend hours and hours talking. We would often spend 2 or 3 nights a week with one another talking into the wee hours of the morning when we were in town. We were very connected. While we still have a tight relationship with them, we have also not been a part of their lives for the last four years. When we got a chance to be with them earlier this year I noticed that other mutual friends were now filling in where we used to be. I became jealous of the fact that we no longer occupied the same space we used to. Of course it is silly to think that your friends are going to not change or build new relationships over a four year period.
But multiply this with every friend the missionary has, and you can start to see why re-entry can be stressful for the missionary. Things will never be the same as they were.
The other thing I wanted to point out is the matter of misunderstandings. The missionary returns home and comments about how things have changed for the worse, or how wonderful things are back home. Those who have lived through the changes won’t see it as starkly as the returning family will. They have had a chance to grow into the changes a little at a time.
Where we personally had greater frustrations were when we would mention some things that were so great in the US and then hear people complain about that very thing we found to be wonderful. We have to remember that others will never see things from the same light we do. Nor, will we be able to see things from their perspective.
One example of this is the variety of products you can find in the stores. When we go looking for something here in Mexico, a can of peas for example, we might find a can or two on the shelves. There will be no choice as to which brand you get. If they do carry them, they will only have one brand, and more often they won’t have any anyway.
Earlier this year when we were home for a few weeks we were amazed at how much people complained that Wal-Mart did not have the particular product the person wanted. Maybe they were looking for milk. Of course they want a particular brand in a particular size and fat content. When we arrived in Mexico just four years ago we could not get pasteurized, homoginized milk like we expect in the US. All the milk came in un-refrigerated liter boxes with expiration dates 6 months into the future. Now we have a choice of 2 brands of milk that resembles and tastes something like the milk back home.
I just have little sympathy for the person who has to settle for a different size (a gallon as opposed to a half gallon) or has to go to the store across the street to get the milk they want because the store they are in doesn’t have it. At least it is available relatively easily.
It would be easy for the missionary to become bitter at their friends and family for not understanding them, and the missionary is just as guilty for not understanding those back home.
I am half way through the book and find it very insightful. I am glad I have gotten a chance to read it and will probably write a review of the book in a couple of days when I am done.