Same Tank, Different Water

“Wow this is way harder and more stressful than I thought,” said a TREK participant last week after returning home from a 10 month long cross cultural short term mission stint.


I’ll bet that is what my new clown fish (Nemo) was thinking as I introduced him to the new tank (at least that’s what his beady eyes told me).

My tank was as immaculate as I could make it. A beautiful bow front 70 gallon salt water aquarium, retrofitted with as many gadgets as I could afford to create a diverse and balanced ecosystem. Keeping a mini ocean so small required daily tinkering and adjusting. Think about it, the ocean is the most stable environment in the world; the salinity of the water at a beach in Vancouver is almost exactly the same as the salt water off the coast of Scotland.

My favourite part of having an aquarium was adding new tank mates, but it could be at times a little stressful.

As always this fish was transported in a plastic bag wrapped in newspaper to protect it. The temptation is to simply dump the fish into his new home and hope for the best. Unfortunately doing this can turn out to be the slow death of Nemo. There are many factors which lead to this sad kind of shock; I’ll spare you the science of it all. But consider the difference in temperature, ph balance, and the salt concentration to name a few. There is only one way to ease the stress on little Nemo…you quarantine him.

You do this by floating the bag for an hour or more.

Then, as time goes by the temperature equalizes. Another little trick is to add a ¼ cup of water from my tank to the bag holding Nemo every 10 minutes. This helps the fish adjust at a reasonable pace. At the appropriate time, I scoop the fish out with a net and release him into his new home, leaving all the potentially contaminated water from the store behind. It works like a charm.

The process takes patience and it is a superb metaphor for re-entering your home culture after returning from a foreign one far away.

When teams of young adults return from living overseas, it is critical that time is given to process life change and all that happened. The longer they were gone, the more pronounced the re-entry stress can be. For this reason, a guided re-entry retreat is incredibly valuable.  It is helpful to consider the retreat as a slow re-introduction to elements of ‘home’ in thoughtful and controlled amounts. The goal is that short-term participants leave ready for the new environment prepared with strategies and habits to stay strong in Jesus.

For more on re-entry principles, check out this post “Homecoming Hazards.”

Coming back from your cross-cultural mission trip, what did you find helpful as you re-entered?


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