How to Care for Missionaries Upon Reentry


No missionary has ever come home because their job was complete. They may return to help children transition to college or to care for aging parents. Some return to take jobs with their sending church or a different ministry position. Some come home grateful and satisfied at all that they saw God do, while others are broken and hurting due to their perceived failure.

How should churches care for returning missionaries?

Every situation is unique, but it’s still worth considering that question. After all, missionaries aren’t super saints. They shouldn’t be placed on inappropriate pedestals. At the same time, their experience is different than the family who just moved to town from a different state for a new job.

Our care for returning workers offers a wonderful opportunity to serve those who have given so much for the sake of the gospel. In the process, we can learn how to serve our neighbors as well.

Paul’s missionary experience is summarized in 2 Corinthians 7: “Our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn – fighting without and fear within” (7:5). In 2 Corinthians 11, he lists the trouble and hardship he faced including shipwrecks, beatings, imprisonment, exposure, and more. When you add the reality that he gave us that list in the context of defending himself to a church he was struggling to lead into maturity, you get a sense of the pressures and difficulties of missionary life.

Thankfully, few missionaries today endure the same trials as Paul. But the mission’s task and the reality of living cross-culturally does irrevocably change every missionary. The constant pressures of life in hard and dark places affect us. Sometimes, we don’t even realize how until we’re back home. I’ve been known to joke with friends, “I may look like you and sound like you, but I no longer think or respond like you.” This produces some fun and surprisingly deep conversations about what it’s like to live in a strange place. Like most returning missionaries, we all yearn for relationships with people who understand who we are and what is churning deep in our souls.

With that in mind, I want to direct us to 1 Corinthians 16:10–11 as an example of how Paul encouraged the Corinthians to serve Timothy. Paul writes, “When Timothy comes, see that you put him at ease among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord, as I am. So let no one despise him. Help him on his way in peace, that he may return to me, for I am expecting him with the brothers.”

In these verses, Paul makes three requests of the church and gives two purposes that he hopes will result from their service.

Request #1: Put him at ease.

Most missionaries will return with some practical and perhaps even financial needs. Their major appliances were the wrong voltage and their car was not worth the shipping costs, so they’re starting out here fresh. What should you do? Make sure missionaries have everything they need to get settled in their new home. In other words, put them at ease. Help them, as quickly as possible, to arrive at an established, normal routine where their everyday needs are met. I remember asking people to order for me at restaurants because the menus were so overwhelming that I struggled to make a decision. The things you don’t have to be revolutionary. In fact, small acts of ordinary kindness often can make the most progress in building friendships.  

Request #2: Let no one despise him.

Missionaries are weird. They live in a weird place, eat weird food, and speak a weird language. Actually, that’s not true! But many people think it is.

In reality, missionaries are just normal people with slightly different experiences. We’ve spent a season stripping many things from our life that were either hindrances to the gospel or simply unrealistic for our present context. Because of this, we have new ideas of what’s “normal.”

We’re all tempted to label different things as lesser things. But rather than looking down on others’ differences, we should consider how our returning missionaries can help us better understand how to rightly get the message of the gospel to our neighbors and friends.

Request #3: Help him on his way in peace.

The missionary’s return home will one day pass from conversation and memory, but their obedience to the leadership of Christ in their lives will continue. Now that they’re in a new place, they’re likely seeking to discern how to be faithful in this new context. What ministry will they participate in? What influence can they have among the lost? How can they build up and strengthen their local congregation?

Purpose #1: He may return.

Paul wanted Timothy to return and help him after his visit to Corinth. We don’t know what the Lord will provide in the coming season of our new friend’s life, but we do know that our sovereign Lord has a wonderful plan and purpose for all these events. How can we walk with them in a tumultuous time of transition and uncertainty with wisdom and discernment?

But for now, we are here with them. So let’s consider how to help them prepare for faithful service in this different context, even as we are mindful that they may not fit neatly into any of our current ideas.

Purpose #2: I am expecting him.

Every Christian is an exile and stranger in a foreign land. We’re all seeking a city whose builder and maker is God. We’re all expected to be about the mission of the church in sharing the gospel. When a returning missionary comes into your life, let them see you giving yourself to the work of the gospel faithfully in your context. That’s the greatest encouragement you can give and the best way to care for others in gospel work.

Denny Crosby

Denny serves Reaching & Teaching as Access & Deployment Manager. A graduate of Southern Seminary with an M.Div, he spent 8 years with the IMB serving in Bangladesh and Thailand managing different platforms to support IMB workers and seeking to reach Hindu peoples. For the last seven years he has worked as a General Contractor based in Atlanta building apartment communities. Denny and Lisa have been married for 24 years and have three kids with only one left in the nest. They are members of Mount Vernon Baptist Church.

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