“So, tell me what life is like out there!”
“Can you summarise the work you’ve been involved in for us?”
Perhaps you have experienced this sort of question?
You’ve felt the calling to serve in another culture, uprooted your whole life, learnt a new language, gone through months, if not years, of cultural adjustment and, upon return home - people have questions about what it is like, how you’ve been doing! This is understandable, but often these questions come in contexts like standing at the front of the church, asking you to justify the money they’ve invested in you and explain all that’s been happening in just three minutes!
Or perhaps it manifests with a friend asking about your experiences, but just as you start to open up you begin to see their eye glaze over a little bit as they fidget and quickly move the conversation back onto their lives - all the life events and gossip you’ve missed whilst you’ve been away!
This can be infuriating, upsetting and tricky to handle. Of course, these people mean well, they love you as a person, but there remains the inescapable fact that your life is vastly different to theirs and, therefore, difficult for people to grasp in a short space of time.
How can we deal with this?
As with so many of the issues that can blindside us, it helps to be forewarned that this can happen. You may have waited for ages for someone to ask that opening question, so it can be very disappointing when their attention span in listening to your carefully prepared answer is so short. It helps to have prepared a short version of your experiences, maybe in a two-minute so-called ‘elevator pitch’, which might draw at least some folk out to ask more searching questions. But for the most part, you just need to accept that the questioner was most likely just being polite and not really wanting to listen to a lengthy answer.
It is really key that you decide ahead of time not be offended by the 3-minute rule or other thoughtless questions - like one asked of us: “How was your time in Thailand?”, when we had been working for years in Taiwan!
Don’t be disappointed - be intentional!
The answer to offence is not to have expectations that everyone in the church is going to want to hear your stories. But at least with your PACTeam, you will have a group of committed, loving friends who really do want the details and will give you a chance to share all that’s on your heart. They will be the ones to ask about “so-and-so we were praying for - what happened to them?” And you may also be invited to share in home groups and smaller missions groups, where the audience is likely to be interested and engaged.
Remember Who You Are Working For
It may be disheartening to feel all the incredible work you have been involved in is undervalued - but take heart from these verses:
“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain." 1 Corinthians 15:58
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” Colossians 3:23-24
Though you may be frustrated at people’s lack of interest, make sure to love them first and foremost. Remember that you may have a role to play in encouraging them in their own walk of faith. It is possible they have an idealised view of you as a ‘model Christian’, making them feel inadequate in their own life, which may feel ordinary or ineffective. Don’t be afraid to be honest about the struggles you’ve faced, or to see how you can spur them on in their own context.
Be aware in advance that these frustrating situations will occur. Ensure you think about this before your return home so you can prepare emotionally, and also consider how you will respond to different situations you may face. And remember, it is ok to be disappointed! The post-field journey (whether for a temporary or permanent return) is a tricky process to handle - but it is a process and will take time to work through.