For months I've been taking an informal poll among global workers who are returning "home," asking them: What's the hardest part? The answer is always the same, by a margin of three to one.
I miss my community.
What expats, missionaries and humanitarian workers know is, being foreign all the time is exhausting. So, on the field, when you find a pack of dogs you can relax and be yourself with, you pack; sticking together through crisis, conflict, disappointment, rainy season, bucket showers, homesickness and bugs the size of your fist.
And what's built, even with people who drive you crazy, is intimacy, tolerance, trust and in many cases love. These people have seen you at your worst, and you're still part of the pack. Surely, you would never choose some of these nuts in a less intense environment, and some days, you really want to choke them, but on the field you get good at playing the hand you're dealt. Like well..."They may be loonies, but they're my loonies."
Also, in the best expat neighborhoods and missionary communities, there's a convivial summer camp vibe as everyone gathers to eat together in the dark, again, passing another power outage playing guitar and singing. Then it's somebody's birthday and someone made a cake with margarine frosting because it was all they had, and it was strangely delicious.
It's not unusual to feel like a better, freer version of yourself here; skipping down the street with a local friend, who's invited you to eat with her family, hopping puddles because you have a mile to walk and you don't want to get your shoes wet.
There is easy togetherness that occurs in cultures that place high value on human relationships. We respond to that because humans were designed to be together, but in the US, it's like we've found ways to make that as inorganic and difficult as possible.
No wonder people fear going "home"
Because when you get there, people are BUSY or at least pretending to be, with their noses stuck in Instagram. Nobody is around to chat or walk to the market or pray after a hard day. When you can round them all up for drinks - nobody wants to talk about the refugee crisis in South Sudan, because they're usually pretty ignorant about it, and nobody wants to look ignorant.
But that's been your world for years. What else are you supposed to talk about? Then you wonder if you really belong anywhere.
I know a nurse who's worked with lepers in the Republic of Congo for 20+ years, she's beloved in the community - but she is not Congolese and she never will be. She's Canadian. Can you imagine what it's like when she goes back to Canada? #HardJoy.
This is what Intermissionary is for.
We don't have a perfect solution, but we think it comes down to combatting loneliness by cultivating intentional communities. So for six days, we plunk a bunch of global workers down at a table, put food in front of them and say,
"What's it's like in that refugee camp?"
Then we shut up and let them talk, safely, among others who know how hard the world can be, and how desperately you can love someone who doesn't speak your language. Then we load them up with tools, so they can go home and get around their own tables with people they know and love. Rinse. Repeat.
If you have a missionary coming "home,"
BE READY FOR THIS!
Gathering around dinner, coffee, the farmers market, over drinks is the best thing you can do for them. Even invite other people over and just hang out together.
Do that. I promise you, it's the best way to love them as they find their way back again.