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This post is written by a CRCNA missionary who serves in a sensitive location.

We were visiting the third church in three weeks. On this Sunday, as many others, we had our three children in tow, ages six, three and five months. We had negotiated nursery during the first service so that we could greet that congregation, and were preparing to greet the congregation in the second service before sharing more details about our ministry at a luncheon. There was some time to relax between services and I was watching the two older kids while my wife Bettysat down with the youngest. A well-meaning acquaintance (whose name I remembered, but Betty did not) came up to her enthusiastically saying:

“Hey, how does it feel to be home?”

Betty (ever the honest type): “Well, it doesn’t really feel like home.”

The acquaintance, after recovering: “Oh. So, how does it feel to be on vacation?”

Betty: “Well, it doesn’t really feel like vacation either!”

Betty later felt sorry for being so brutally honest with this well-meaning gentleman. At the same time, it would be beneficial to have a look at some of the assumptions he brought to the encounter along with other assumptions and insights into what summer visits can be like for missionaries.

What is the time at home and what is it not?

1. As Betty said, our home country feels increasingly less like “home” to us. In any time of absence, places change. New roads are built, favorite restaurants and shops are closed. In our case, we had thrown ourselves into language and cultural immersion so that our host country was feeling increasingly familiar. Many friends had moved on in their relationships and seeing us was not as important as we hoped it might be. Our children were either born overseas or were very young and did not remember the US; they had to learn to adjust to new expectations. I remember distinctly that we needed to frequently remind them that “in America, toilet paper goes in the toilet, not the waste basket.”

2. Time in our home country is not a vacation. There may be some time of relaxation, (hopefully) but it is largely work. That is why most organizations now refer to this time as “home assignment” rather than “furlough” or “home leave.” We are given assignments. One of those assignments is to rest and recharge, but we are also expected to connect with supporters, promote our ministry and that of the organization, possibly do additional fundraising, meet with organization staff (in another part of the country), and do a round of medical checkups (which can be exhausting in the complicated and unfamiliar US medical system).

3. Returning “home” may not be the joyful relief that you think it is. Part of growing up as an American is the perception that America is the best country in the world, that Americans are the happiest people, and that the rest of the world is striving to be like us or come to live with us. Living overseas showed us that the world is much more complex. We have enjoyed living outside of America. Part of adjusting to a new place is finding things you like, and we found them! We also served on an international team with people from Europe, Australia, Canada, and South Korea who would sometimes ask “Why do you do things like that in America? We don’t think we would like that.” Over time, we understood their perspective. The result was that, although we enjoyed seeing family and friends, we did not feel a great sense of relief to return to America. Sometimes we were happy to return to our new home! 


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