Re-entry and Transition

by Gami Ortiz

I didn’t know coming back to the States was going to be more difficult than adjusting to life overseas. I didn’t know that the move would pose greater danger to our emotional, social, and spiritual health than our initial move to the mission field. But all my reading on the subject of missionary re-entry, alongside of my new personal experiences, tell me that the transition back is much more challenging.

It’s also the most neglected part of missionary care. Part of it is because most people (including the missionaries themselves) think they’re just going back home and they’ll resume their “normal” lives when they get there. Since this is the passport country, it should be just like going back home, right? However, the role of missionaries is one that forever changes them. They must adapt and embrace a culture that is not their own so that they can know how to best communicate the gospel and do discipleship in the midst of that new culture. In the process of doing so, they lose part of their original culture. Though they will never be fully integrated or one hundred percent part of the new culture, they are also no longer part of their own. They become a bridge between cultures. For that reason, they may feel more at home in the mission field than they would in their passport country, even though they don’t fully “belong” there either. In a sense, this is to embody the gospel message itself, which was initiated by God himself who came to us. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Jesus exemplified this model for missions.

If I’m being honest, it’s easier to just ignore the need for processing all the stressors of both living overseas and of re-entry. It would be easier to ignore the fact that I’m a different person than when I left. It’s easier to ignore the fact that my friends and family moved on in their lives without me here and are also different. It’s easier to ignore the fact that this culture itself has changed, and there are nuances to which I am no longer accustomed. It’s easier to just fake it and keep moving. But if I’m even more honest with myself, I know that ignoring these things will only complicate life further and has the potential of rendering me useless or ineffective in this next season—a season God has called me to.

Over the past month or so, Cathi and I have done some reading together on how to return well. Through that, we’ve come to the realization that in order to return well, we need help. Most people don’t feel the full weight of the transition until 4-6 months after returning, which is the window we are just now in. We need help from people who have walked this road before us and can shine a light on the path as well as the pitfalls of this transition. We also want to share the experience with those who are also walking through it now so that we can help each other.

All of this has led us to look for a missionary debrief. Much like a pre-field training for missionaries, this is the re-entry training, if you will. The word “debrief” carries certain associations with it. For me, as a former soldier, I think of mission debriefs after military operations where we would rehash what happened, how we did it, and the impact that it had. We often called it an “AAR” or "After Action Review." In a missionary debrief, it’s important to not only talk about what happened objectively but to also address the thoughts and emotions surrounding those events. And just as an AAR has a purpose, so does a missionary debrief. The objective is to be both refreshed and realigned for the new season of life and ministry. We need to be refreshed because the months leading up to our exit were chaotic and filled with stress; then the actual exit and re-entry was even more so. We were (and if we’re honest, in some ways, still are) physically, emotionally, and spiritually drained. We need to be realigned because we changed our posture, perspective, and behavior in order to be effective in ministry in Haiti. We need to adjust again in order to be effective back in the US.

All that said, the Ortiz family will be going to a missionary debriefing in mid-July with TRAIN International in Joplin, Missouri. There will be several other families going through re-entry there with us: there are 15 adults and 20 children signed up for that week, so we’ll have the opportunity to walk this out together with others as well. Please pray for us as we heal through refreshment and realignment so that we can be as effective as possible for the glory of God serving alongside all of you here at KSBC.