By Kim Frolander, Vineyard Missions Blogger
Coming home from a missions trip on a mountain-top “high” can be an exhilarating experience. Even more surprising can be the depressing aftermath, an unexpected crash back into normal life in your own culture. From science to experience, we discuss the varying symptoms of “normal” re-entry, what to watch for, how to prepare yourself and your team to ease into the transition, and how you can help friends returning from the field make their adjustments to living in a new normal.
Part 4: Processing Changes at Home
While we are away, life continues to move forward back home. From the death of a family member to the simplicity of a road being rerouted in your hometown - every change that takes place while you are away could potentially take a toll on you. It could be a tornado/hurricane/flood/fire tearing through your state, or a fast food restaurant being closed down, even a local or federal government or church/ministry scandal - all of them can affect you in some unusual ways if they happened when you were away.
It is strange, but as individualistic as we Americans typically are, we tend to process community changes as a group. We talk to others; we watch or listen to news stories and comment on them (online or in person); we make sure everyone has heard the latest update. We ask other people what they think or feel to help us grieve or rejoice together. But what happens if you don’t get a chance to process those changes in a group?
If you don’t have a real memory of the event, it can be hard to put it in the right place in the timeline of your memories. It can even feel like it never happened. When you only have other people’s recollections it doesn’t seem as real to you. This is ok if the change is that you missed Burger King being closed down because of a health code violation that put people in the hospital. Then you come home and swing by BK and it is closed. It is a little disconcerting because that change happened without you there experiencing it with your community. They now have a community experience in their memory that you don’t have, even though you are a part of them. So now, sitting in front of BK, you turn the car around and choose Taco Bell instead. Now you have a real memory and the closed store is a real part of your life experience. However regarding the lead up of the investigation and hospitalizations of sick people, you will only have other community members’ memories to file away in your brain, and the memory may feel a little hollow.
That is a fairly mild example of the cost of serving abroad for a couple of weeks at a time. But what if a parent or grandparent dies while you’re away? This change is not as simple as choosing a different lunch, and this type of loss can have a much more profound effect on family dynamics and how you are able to process the grief and loss.
If a national tragedy or emergency occurs while you are gone, you might need to do a lot more processing and “catching up” with your own grief (1) or loss while others may have a huge head start on their grieving process, leaving you no one to talk to or process with. Losses like these can contribute to a difficult re-entry, and are best reconciled when talked about - not just the missed events, but also how it felt to come home to those changes.
Some changes can be discussed in your debrief, others may take more time. So give yourself more grace and time to deal with the changes without expecting to just snap into place with the right words and actions at every turn. Talking about those changes you are experiencing, even the disbelief you felt at first, will help others see where you are in your process and help you begin correcting your neurological pathways with accurate memories and current circumstances of changes that took place while you were away.
Consider Jim Pool’s experience being in Africa when Billy Graham died.
I was recently on a two week trip in Ethiopia when Billy Graham died. It was interesting. I would sometimes see news reports about his passing on TVs in the hotel, and occasionally see friends posting emotionally on social media. But personally I felt very little connection to the news. I’ve always loved Billy Graham, and I’ve visited his Evangelistic Center at Wheaton. I’ve long admired his ministry. But I had very little engagement with his death, as I was so immersed in what I was doing on the ground on the trip and had so few people to process the news with. And now that I’m home, the news cycle has turned, and I’m having a hard time circling back around to processing the news and my emotions around the event. It’ll be something that I deal with slowly over time. ~Jim Pool, Renaissance Vineyard, Ferndale, Michigan
In the next part of our re-entry series, we are examining things that make for an easier re-entry. (Phew!)
- Carter-Kuylman, Carole. (n.d.) Grief curve. Retrieved from http://www.carolecartercounseling.com/griefrecovery.htm While we are not endorsing her practice, we are referencing her very good description of the Grief Curve in the photo.
Going With the Return in Mind: Re-Entry Resource Guide
- Part 1: Jet-Lag
- Part 2: Re-Entry is More Than Jet-Lag
- Part 3: What Contributes to a Rough Re-Entry?
- Part 4: Processing Changes at Home
- Part 5: Practices that contribute to a positive re-entry
- Part 6: The Short-Term Missionary Re-Entry Experience
- Part 7: The Long-Term Missionary Re-Entry Experience
Kim Frolander started attending Inverness Vineyard Church in Birmingham, Alabama in 1994. She spent two years as a volunteer/missionary in Jerusalem, Israel, and upon coming home, she trained with Bubba Justice and led missions at IVC for 3.5 years. Now she uses her experience and degrees in research and writing, (formally known as English and History) for curating resources for Vineyard Missions. She has authored eight books and recently founded a non-profit ministry, the Ruth Israel Initiative.