August 6, 2018
It is wonderful to have an amazing support system of friends and family members when preparing, completing, and returning from a medical mission … specifically your first one. Families are so excited to hear all about the trip, the work that was completed, and how the trip inspires you. There can also be a turn of events that you don’t expect that leaves you feeling a little disappointed when meeting your missionary at the airport and in the first several days upon their return.
Here is some advice for family and friends welcoming a loved one home from their mission trip:
Don’t be surprised if your family member appears to be less excited to see you than you are to see them. Remember, the ride back home is emotionally, physically, and mentally exhausting. Your missionary has more than likely been on a bus, waiting in airports, and or flying on a plane for days. The time difference can be enormous, and they have no clue of the date and probably the current time. They are not just suffering from jetlag and being sleepy, they are completely exhausted and the thought of making sense of any deep conversation is overwhelming.
Your missionary just left a piece of their heart in a far-off land and they are wrestling with the fact that they didn’t do enough. Seeing the comfort of a plate full of food, a warm cozy home, a plush car, etc. are all reminders of what they have, and an even stronger reminder of what others do not. The guilt is overwhelming and hard to bare.
Returning from a developing country is sometimes more difficult to adjust to than when you first arrived at your temporary destination abroad. Sensory overload is an understatement!
It may appear that your missionary does not want to talk to you about their experience. It may seem that you are having to pull details and conversations out of them. If possible, try not to ask hundreds of questions all at once. You will want to know what they saw, what they ate, what they did every day, who they met, but hold off just a bit longer.
Trying to wrap your brain about the missionary experience is absolutely life changing, however it is so very difficult to put into words the sites, the smells, and the overall experience. It is also so very hard to describe the amount of poverty and disparaging circumstances in which others live and thrive. The sickness is great and the challenges that remain are greater. How does one find the words to make you see things in their true light, especially when those back home have no idea what “poor” really means?
It sounds so simple, but how do you describe the smells? Your missionary may not know what that strong odor is that stays with them and on their clothes even after leaving the hospital. It may take some time to realize the smell you can’t describe was the smell of death that endlessly lingers in an open room. How do you put that into words? How does a missionary not only describe this smell, but how do they prepare you for this type of culture shock?
Your missionary is exhausted and overwhelmed; however, they will get back to their “normal” selves, with a slight twist that makes their normal self even better. Listen to your loved one when they are ready to talk. Let them tell you short stories and the funny stories as they are ready. They will get to the meat of their experience. They just need a little time to decompress and get back to the day to day of home.
Understand that your missionary needs time to hit Control + Alt + Delete and reboot. It is possible that you will see some tears, however your missionary will show excitement in remembering the smiles and the hope they witnessed with their new-found friends and loved ones abroad. Their testimony will move mountains and who knows, they may catch the mission bug and want to plan their next trip in the very near future. Even with medical challenges and challenges created by poverty, there is hope and there is success.
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