Homecoming Hazards

Life is full of ‘hellos’ and ‘goodbyes.’ Our relational contexts are constantly changing.  While we leave some behind, we fumble our way into new ones. A change in college, workplace or neighborhood of residence begins a journey into new relationships.  We function well in that new context believing ourselves to be relational geniuses, but then A COLLEGE or FAMILY REUNION occurs!

Why is that reunion so awkward for everyone? In some ways it appears as though nothing has changed – the old jokes return, the stereotypes, and the certain relational cliques all reconstruct instantaneously.  On the other hand, many things have changed – and I’m not just talking about that new belly roll or bald spot – people have literally grown up, experienced the challenges and joys of life.  This should be a stimulating and exciting environment. Often it is not.

Re-entering back into relationships after years of being away is an acquired skill. Some are better at it than others. The greater the length of time passed in another environment, the tougher it is to reintegrate back into former contexts.

Nothing illustrates this better than someone who has lived for an extended period of time in another country, as a missionary.

When one re-enters from living for an extended time in a cross-cultural community, the challenge of meaningful engagement with the new/old culture and its community presents significant hazards.

1. Alienation  – the tendency to isolate ourselves from others.

  •  We use excuses like:
  • “They will not understand me”
  • “It is easier to not attempt to explain myself”
  • “People appear so shallow in relationship, why risk exposing deep heart issues”
  • “I don’t think I can trust people like I did in the ‘foreign’ culture I learned to love”
  • “No one takes time to listen, why should I?”

Sometimes home cultures do not seem to represent the depth of relationships we were used to.  Re-building relationships back home is harder than it might appear.

A changed or broadened worldview is no excuse to alienate ourselves.

PROBLEM: this is anti-integration, the exact opposite to relationship building. 

SOLUTION: re-discover a healthy dose of curiosity, in everything and everyone.

2. Condemnation – the tendency to view everything wrong with our home culture, to compare it to the culture we just left…and get judgmental.

  • We feel ‘under-welcomed’ back home.
  • We speak down at the ‘rich.’
  • We preach against individualism, or apathy, or every evil imaginable.

Little things like the weather or sports allegiances become issues of debate and contention.

Our cynicism pushes others away, making relationships strained.

Our condemnation leads us to a sense of entitlement…we become a special case.

PROBLEM: pretty obvious isn’t it?

SOLUTION: re-envision potential for transformation in everything and everyone.

3. Become an expert – the tendency to lord our knowledge and experience over others.

We may be seasoned travelers or have lived abroad, but this does not necessarily make us cultural geniuses.

  • We throw out memorized stats on politics and history when no one asks.
  • We use butchered phrases to draw attention to our amazing linguistic skill.
  • With every hamburger or plate of spaghetti comes a story on how amazingly flavorful or unique food used to be.
  • We often dress in clothing from the country we left, snubbing our nose at local fashion.

PROBLEM: Inherent arrogance. Inability to listen.

SOLUTION: Wait patiently for appropriate moments to use your expertise and experience.

4. Denial of Reality – the tendency to relive past experience over and over again

  • We ask “who am I now?” What is my true identity?
  • We constantly attempt to recreate the past
  • We read and reread our personal journals
  • We take no delight in normal routines of life.
  • We feel guilty for forgetting names or allowing memories to fade.

PROBLEM: Inability to embrace reality. Depression is a real danger right around the corner

SOLUTION: We MUST champion the causes of injustice or oppression in the country we were graced to live.  Get the issues ‘on the radar’ of your friends and family. God gave you an experience for a reason. Use it – don’t waste it.

However, a good listening ear, thoughtful integration and patience go a long way to win back favor of old relationships and re-enter back after being away for a long season.

What dangers have you overcome through the process of homecoming re-entry?



9 Responses to Homecoming Hazards

  1. a lot of my experiences in TREK that come to mind have very little to do with my time in Germany; rather, i tend to draw from experiences from TREK training (because it was SO important to my spiritual journey with Jesus!). when working with the youth or in bible studies i found myself saying (too often) “well during TREK training…” the challenge was to find experiences here and now that our youth could relate to. this realization helped me see how God was working in my life and the community around me since returning from TREK. and of course the passing of time has helped, too. :)

    • Hey there Candi, yes it’s true that time helps. Glad to hear that you are learning the invaluable reality of God’s presence in your reality as the One who transforms you moment by moment to make an impact to those who are in your immediate sphere of influence. Jesus is great at understanding what youth need, model his love and grace. Call them to do the same. Easier said than done h’uh ? sam

  2. Hi Sam,

    You have offered some wise advice to those returning from missions and also to those of us who have taken study trips and may have returned to unmet expectations :) You want to share and use what you’ve learned – but the how and where doesn’t always happen. So, thanks for your words!

    I think what these experiences can also teach us, along with re-entry, is to become the person one can go to who is available, excited, and wants to ask questions and listen to what others have learned on their journey – to offer the meaningful engagement even over a cup of coffee. Those small gestures of caring to the one who has returned can mean a lot.


  3. Hey Sam!

    Thanks for putting all of this into words, a lot of these are things I have had to catch myself with in the last couple of weeks. Something that really helped me in my effort to not fall into your ‘homecoming hazards’ was realizing and accepting varying levels of interest in my experience. I tried hard to see when people I was sharing with had their curiosity satisfied and then didn’t push it any further! Also, I was very lucky to see that lots had gone on in the lives of friends and family in the last few months, so I was not the only one with exciting things to share. I have only been home for two weeks, so I’m sure that I will continue to learn about the fine line between using my time with TREK to build up people and programs, and making it look like I’m using my stories to build up myself.


    • Chris thanks for commenting. It is true tones has gone on in the lives of your friends and family. As you listen God’s story of what He is doing in you will be told. Keep following the Master.

  4. Hi Sam,

    Thanks for the blog post. As I have been back home for these two weeks and re-enter into relationships with family and friends and the church, I certainly have had to guard myself from the “hazards” that you wrote about. The big one that I work with is condemning as I realized that I do condemn at times, whether it is directed at the culture or the home church. One of the things that I learned from the debrief is treating the church with love and being a servant to the people because the church is the bride of Christ.

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