To the Returning Missionary

You have walked with God in this place a long time, and He has walked with you. He has been beside you and inside you this whole time. The same Spirit remains in you and with you in your new place.

This place has changed you, and you have changed this place. Do not be distressed if you don’t understand everything that has happened and that is happening. Remember that the stories God writes are always long. They unfold over generations, not days or weeks or even months.

You have been here long enough to understand some of what God is writing, for both yourself and the people you’ve served, but some things may not make sense yet. Do not fret, and do not fear. The Father will show it all to you One Day. Until That Day, remember that you leave with our love, even as you live within God’s love.

Many years ago you came to this place as a foreigner, and the place you’re going now may also seem foreign to you. Everyone and everything has changed, including you.

So in the days and months and years to come, when you feel misunderstood, remember that no one understands your foreignness like Jesus, the One who came to the most foreign land to show his beloved creatures Truth and Light. He will understand your sorrows like no other.

You have seen so much change in your years here. Change in the people around you, change in yourself, change in the people you’re returning to. And you are tired. So tired. No one can work and live as long as you have and not be tired. Remember that Christ is your rest. (And on your journey, also remember to sleep.)

Circumstances change, and communities change, and in the end, He is all we have to hold onto. So don’t lose hope: He IS our hope. Hold onto Him, and remember that His love never fails. It will never fail you.

Though organizations may fail you, though supporters may fail you, though cultural acquisition may fail you, though years of experience may fail you, though people you love and invested in may fail you, though you may even feel you’ve failed yourself, still one thing will not fail you: the love of the Great Three in One will never fail.

And One Day, this squeezing in your heart and this aching in your bones from all these years and all these travels and all the years and travels to come, it will all be undone. Everything will be made new. Remember this.

You Remember You’re a Repat When . . .

Repatriation—to borrow a phrase from John Denver—is coming home to a place you’ve never been before.

In the hallowed tradition of “You Know You’re an Expat / Third Culture Kid / Missionary when . . .” lists, I offer my own version for repats. This is for the times when you’re reminded that your plug doesn’t always fit the outlet.

I wrote this list in my first year of blogging, with 91 things that remind repats that they’ve been out of the country for a while. As time goes by, more and more of them are happening less and less for me. But some will never go away.

Since I’m a former missionary to Asia who’s repatriated back to the US, much of my list leans in that direction, but I hope there’s something here for repats of every stripe (or voltage, as it were).


You remember you’re a repat when . . .

  1. Your passport is your preferred form of ID.
  2. You comment on how cheap gas is in the US.
  3. You ask your friends who they’re picking to win the World Cup.
  4. Your CNN web page is set on “International.”
  5. You ask the clerk at the convenience store if you can pay your electric bill there.
  6. You don’t know how to fill out taxes without Form 2555.
  7. You accidentally try to pay for something with the strange coins from the top of your dresser.
  8. You find out that living overseas is not the top qualification employers are looking for.
  9. You don’t trust your friends when they say they’ve found a “good” Italian restaurant.
  10. You think Americans are loud.
  11. You talk about Americans overseas and call them “foreigners.”
  12. You learn to stop talking about the nanny and groundskeeper you used to employ.
  13. You have to ask how to write a check.
  14. You forgot how many numbers to dial for a local phone call.
  15. You tell your toddler, “No seaweed until you finish all your hamburger.”
  16. You try to order fried chicken at Burger King.
  17. You check prices by converting from what a similar item cost overseas.
  18. People say, “football,” and you ask, “Which kind?”
  19. You don’t know how to respond when people say, “I bet you’re glad to be back home.”
  20. You prefer to hear news reports from someone with a British accent.
  21. You wonder why all the commentators on TV are yelling.
  22. You wish you’d brought back ten of your favorite kitchen utensil because you didn’t know it’s not sold in the States.
  23. You realize international students are your kind of people.
  24. You ask where you can get a late-model, low-mileage Toyota for around $2000.
  25. You turn on the subtitles on an English movie because you don’t want to miss anything.
  26. You ask the clerk at the video store if they have VCDs.
  27. You wonder if “organization” should be spelled with an s.
  28. You load up your suitcase and you try not to “pack like an American.”
  29. You stock up on Mountain Dew because you never know when it won’t be available again, and you check the expiration dates.
  30. Even though you own a house, you still catch yourself turning the music down so you won’t “bother the neighbors downstairs.”
  31. You stop bringing your bi-lingual Bible to church.
  32. You just smile at people who say, “So I guess you’re all settled in now.”
  33. You think the public schools are great because the teachers are all proficient in English.
  34. You read all your junk mail because it looks important.
  35. You don’t hang pictures on the wall in case you’ll be moving again soon.
  36. You still have unopened boxes shipped from overseas, and you don’t have a clue what’s inside them.
  37. For Christmas, you open up one of those boxes.
  38. You give up trying to decide which shampoo to buy.
  39. You’re invited to a bar-b-que and your first thought is “I hope they don’t give me the fatty part of the goat’s tail.”
  40. You hand the cashier at Wal-Mart your credit card instead of swiping it yourself.
  41. You put your hand lotion in 3 oz. containers just to drive to visit grandma.
  42. You’re frustrated that you have to ask for chopsticks in a Chinese restaurant.
  43. You have to ask what’s the right amount to spend on a wedding gift.
  44. You ask your friends to take off their shoes when they enter your home.
  45. People ask where you’re from and you just answer with the name of the city where you live now.
  46. You skip reading the Facebook posts of your former coworkers overseas because it’s just too hard.
  47. You just smile at people who say, “So I guess you’re all settled in now.”
  48. You stop telling stories about your old host country because people stop asking for them.
  49. Now that you’ve returned, your family members can tell you they didn’t know why you went over there in the first place.
  50. You go to the hospital for surgery and you take your own towels and gauze.
  51. Your high schooler is pulled over for a routine traffic stop and gets out of the car before the policeman approaches.
  52. You question the waitress’s math skills until you remember she simply added tax.
  53. You realize that Taco Bell isn’t quite as good as you remembered it.
  54. Your daughter calls herself an “African American” because she was born in Africa.
  55. You look forward to mowing the lawn, because you have a lawn.
  56. You say “here” and you mean the US, not the town you’re in.
  57. You take an umbrella outside when the sun is shining.
  58. “Made in Taiwan” labels fill you with nostalgia.
  59. People correct you when you pronounce foreign names the way they’re supposed to sound.
  60. You describe a city as “small” because it has only a million residents.
  61. You hear yourself saying at the dinner table, “Where’s the garlic?”
  62. You pull out the winter coats when the temperature gets below 70 degrees; or you pull out the shorts when it gets above 40.
  63. People who knew you before you left ask if you’ve “gotten that out of your system.”
  64. You get a bill from the doctor and you call to see whose clerical error made the amount so high.
  65. Glade’s “Ocean Breeze” scent isn’t any substitute for the real thing.
  66. You assume everyplace in the US has WiFi, just like in the city you used to live in.
  67. Wearing your traditional ethnic shirt isn’t as much fun now that you’re not going back again.
  68. You ask at the grocery store if they have KLIM powdered milk. When they say “No,” you ask when they expect it to be in.
  69. You buy three cartons of Hagen Dazs ice cream because it’s one third of the price of Hagen Dazs in your old host country. When you get home, your spouse reminds you it’s still too expensive.
  70. You reset your new computer’s clock to military time.
  71. You need to convert to the metric system to make sure of distances and temperatures.
  72. You get fully dressed to sit in your living room because someone may be peeking in the window.
  73. Airports feel like home.
  74. The thought of moving again sends you into a panic attack. But your spouse feels the same way about staying put.
  75. Your college-age children resent that you took away their opportunity to go “home” for the summer.
  76. You can’t remember why anyone would like pineapple from a can, the same for orange juice from concentrate.
  77. You understand why the restrooms in LAX have signs saying, “Do not stand on the toilets.”
  78. A friend sends funds to a scammer who sent out an e-mail saying he’s you, stranded abroad, and your friend believes it because, hey, you travel all the time and you’re always needing money.
  79. You shed a tear after finally eating the last package of dried fruit that you brought back with you.
  80. You do your happy dance when you find another package of dried fruit in the outside pocket of your carry-on bag a year later.
  81. You don’t know what to buy your parents for Christmas now that you can’t give them souvenirs.
  82. You cringe because you hear someone say she’s “starving to death.”
  83. You realize that all the documents on your computer are formatted for A4 paper.
  84. You tell your waiter, “I’d like my water with ice . . . if you have any.”
  85. You get nervous about buying tickets at the movie theater, because you forgot what the “rules” are.
  86. You still can’t drink water straight from the faucet.
  87. Your children are happy to see that the US has Costcos, too.
  88. You miss the familiar sound of the daily call to prayer . . . or a rooster crowing . . . or late-night traffic . . . or the song the trash truck plays.
  89. You show up at a party 2 hours late because you don’t want to be the first one there.
  90. You put your favorite DVD in the player and it says, “Region Unsupported.”
  91. You understand that some things just take a lot of time.

Originally published here in August 2012, edited for A Life Overseas.

ctCraig Thompson and his wife Karen, along with their five children, served as missionaries in Taipei, Taiwan, for ten years before returning to southwest Missouri. His experiences, as well as conversations with other cross-cultural workers, have made him more and more interested in member care and the process of transitioning between cultures. Craig blogs at

The Psalms: A Reentry Handbook

By Robynn Bliss

I remember hanging suspended upside down inside a squished cab of a pick up truck alongside the road. The ambulance arrived, and two paramedics stuck their heads in from either side of the cab. They told us they would have us out in no time, they inquired as to how we were doing, and then they asked if there was anyone they could call for us. We grimaced and glanced at each other. Ethel had grown up in Brazil, Denise’s parents were in Nigeria, and mine remained obliviously out of reach in Pakistan. There was no one to call.

prhThe summer before I had watched, with that horrible sinking feeling, my parents board the plane to return to Pakistan. I was of age. I had crossed that dreaded line that meant that I no longer went with them. I was stuck in Canada, far from them, far from my childhood, far from everything I had ever known. I was alone.

It wasn’t entirely true. I wasn’t technically alone. My parents had figured out a plan for that first summer without them. I had people to stay with, a church to attend, and I knew where I would be going once summer was over. I had relatives that loved me. There were plenty of well-meaning people to look out for me, and yet deep inside there was a place that shook with the reality that I was really on my own.

I cried a lot that summer. I grieved adulthood thrust upon me. I ached for my parents and the stability they brought. I missed Pakistan and the familiar, my boarding school and all my chums. My loneliness was so profound it nearly swallowed me whole. It was thick and tangible.

During this time Jesus reminded me again of the Psalms.  David often was separated from his family, his friends, his safety, his childhood, his familiar. He was often on the run, living out of a suitcase: a transient, a wanderer (a TCK?). He was no stranger to separation and grief.  Many of his journal entries reflect that. He wrote things like: “Morning, noon, and night I cry out in my distress and the Lord hears my voice”(Ps 54:16), “You keep track of all my sorrows” (Ps 56:8), “Come with great power, O God and rescue me! (Ps 54:1), “for you have seen my troubles and you care about the anguish of my soul” (Ps 31:7).

In the midst of David’s pain and uncertainty he knew that God was his fortress and his protector, his helper.  He understood that God loved him deeply and that God was with him in the midst of all the sadness. “The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. Thou they stumble, they will never fall for the Lord holds them by the hand” (Ps 37:23). ”Unfailing love surrounds those who trust the Lord” (Ps 32:10). I found comfort and camaraderie in reading David’s poems, his songs, his journal. He seemed to understand. He seemed confident that God would be with me too. It became my life line. During those first 2 years back I read nothing from scripture except the Psalms! David mentored me through reentry. He taught me how to depend on God in the midst of suffering and separation.

One day I was driving my little car across the Canadian prairie. Suddenly and for no apparent reason (I mean I wasn’t out of gas and there did appear to be oil in the car!), it quit! I had no idea what to do. I pulled to the side of the road and thought about my dad. My dad would know what to do! My dad had probably told me what to do at some point but I couldn’t remember what that was. And to complicate what always seemed already like a complicated life, my dad was off in Pakistan! I opened the hood and stood over it. The tears started running down my face. I felt the separation that was such a reality. And then I did what my mentor David taught me to do: I cried out to God. God if you are the Good Shepherd –the Expert on Sheep, and the Great Physician – the Expert on me…surely you know something about cars. Will you please come to my rescue? Will you please fix this stupid car?? I closed the hood, got back in behind the steering wheel and turned the key. It worked! God had fixed my car. God had been my Heavenly Mechanic, my Nearby Holy Dad. He had stepped in and helped me.

The reality of His nearness waxed and waned during those early years. Often God through His tender Spirit eased the pain of the separation and He was my helper! Other times it was still so very hard and I missed my parents and their expertise on living very keenly.

“O Lord you alone are my hope. I’ve trusted you, O Lord, from childhood. Yes, you have been with me… My life is an example to many, because you have been my strength and protection…. O God don’t stay away. My God, please hurry to help me… I will keep on hoping for your help. I will praise you more and more…. O God you have taught me from my earliest childhood, and I constantly tell others about the wonderful things you do…. Let me proclaim your power to this new generation, your mighty miracles to all who come after me…”Ps 71: 5-18


(Previously published on Communicating Across Boundaries and in Traveling Without Baggage, a Christar publication.)


Robynn Bliss is a proud Canadian who spent her childhood in Pakistan, married an American, and went on to live, work, and raise a family in India.  She is co-author of the book Expectations and Burnout:Women Surviving the Great Commission and writes at Communicating Across Boundaries every Friday.

Coming Home (through & to war zones)

Walking with Batwa of Burundi // Photo Credit: Tina Francis
Walking with Batwa of Burundi // Photo Credit: Tina Francis

Two weeks ago I was in transit from Burundi (East Africa) to the United States. The news flashing across multiple media outlets – CNN, Al Jazeera, BBC – highlighted the Israeli incursion into Gaza, the advancing of ISIS in Iraq, the confusion around the downed Malaysian airline in Ukraine and the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

I boarded my plane aware of other passengers, hoping none were travelers from West Africa. I reminded my daughter to keep her hands to herself, the transmission of Ebola on my mind. As I watched the interactive map in flight, I prayed about the outbreak of violence in Libya and Gaza while we split the difference and flew through Egyptian airspace. I moved through the skies with awareness we dodged war zones on our way home after our Burundian summer.

I’d only be home for a set of days before I’d be reminded of the systemic injustice and racism that still resides in my homeland. The shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer sparked cries for justice and showcased the community’s sense of marginalization. In my own country I witnessed nightly broadcasts of protests, militarized police in riot gear, tear gassed crowds and looting on American streets. Another war zone, it seemed.

What stood out in my mind with clarity – there is deep injustice here and there, at home and abroad. No place is exempt from oppression, disenfranchisement, tribalism or the need to cry out for justice on behalf of the dispossessed.

As people who travel to help others, who move across borders to defend the weak and champion justice overseas there remains the challenge to see and stand for justice at home. If we are blind to our own inequities, our dulled discernment diminishes our capacity to advocate for justice elsewhere. If we cannot stand alongside the vulnerable in our own neighborhoods then our work abroad reveals us to be altruistic adventures and not consistent peacemakers.

My personal challenge as a community development practitioner in Burundi is to bring the same eyes, the same ears, and the same commitment to justice back home with me. Yes, I see the vulnerable in Burundi, the Batwa people pushed off their land and living without protection. I hear the cries of those impoverished and homeless, as their homes were washed away with unexpected flooding one rain-soaked night. I watch with great concern as another election approaches and the majority maneuver to keep power. But when I return home I must work to bring those same sensibilities home with me and not allow my advocacy to go on furlough.

(Am I the only one who sees this as a challenge for practitioners who reside abroad and move in and out of our home country?)

Coming home has reminded me, I always travel with the prophets and their imperatives to pursue justice. Wherever I am, I’m called to stand alongside the brokenhearted. I am invited to walk with the oppressed and work for liberation. I’m exhorted to work for economic justice and equity for all and to embody God’s reconciliation wherever I am, at home or abroad.

Isaiah’s words ring in my ears: “You will be called repairers of the streets where people live…” I pray this is the testimony of my life whether I am in Burundi or the United States or anywhere in between. I hope I will have eyes to see injustice and ears to hear the cries of the vulnerable wherever I reside, always ready to do the work of emancipation. Justice knows no geographic boundaries.

Wherever we are, at home or abroad, let’s run hard after justice.


Do you see injustice as easily in your home country as abroad?

Is there the temptation among us to allow our advocacy work to ‘go on furlough’ when we are stateside?

What is your most unexpected re-entry struggle or observation?

Kelley Nikondeha |  community practitioner in Burundi

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