That was the word my friend used to describe their financial state of things. Perhaps hyperbole, but real emotion regardless. 6 months back from the mission field, they have struggled to translate their experience into meaningful employment. I could list their resume qualities without pause: ability to endure countless hardships for something they believed in, fluency in a second language, leadership of a cross-cultural team, establishment of camps, tournaments, and leagues aimed at evangelism and discipleship for multiple nationalities, complete renovation of a flat, development of a youth curriculum for two subject matters, educating three kids, driving in a mega-city, staying married, staying sane, continuing to walk with God...
I would hire them, wouldn't you?
But it's not happening. And they're not alone.
So many people in ministry returning to their home country struggle to transition careers. According to Marion Knell, author of Burn-Up or Splash Down: Surviving the Culture Shock of Re-Entry, says "The Reality of Reentry is that more than sixty percent of former missionaries returning home find the experience negative – even devastating."
When we returned to the States to re-tool, we lost 50% of our support (mostly churches). We knew if we were going to be in ministry for the long haul, we needed some serious re-visioning. So, while we were both in grad school, raising three kids, we pieced together a survival. I cleaned a house and a salon, nannied, participated in Microsoft user studies, and sold things on eBay while Chris tutored, hung long underwear at REI and got a work-study job. Can you believe it required more faith to live like that than it did raising ministry support for 10 years?
But I applaud those who know when it's time to leave and take the risk. Too many people are staying on the mission field because they don't know what they would return to or fear the very existence I'm describing. Too many churches and faithful individuals continue to support burned out and fatigued missionaries without realizing it and when they do, rather than ushering them home, helping them transition into a healthy next stage, they cut off financial partnership and redirect funds to another field ready family.
Our missionaries need wrap around partnership - during assignment preparation, while on the field, and in transition home. Good stewardship demands holistic care. Sending churches should be receiving churches as well. What would it have looked like if my friends' sending church had helped them plan, strategize, and transition back before they actually landed in America again? And what would happen if mission agencies had an exit department, coaching staff to make career transitions? Rather than keeping passionless staff while they secretly look for other options, what if they owned the burden of helping people identify God's best?
But perhaps the thing that is hardest, beyond the financial stress and question of calling, is the emotion wrapped up between the missionary and God. If all these friends I've watched return from the field since us are anything like me, they are wondering what in the world. What.is.the.deal? Why is living for God so hard? After all I've given up, all the sacrifices, all the crap, all the sorrow... shouldn't it be more joyful? If I'm actually seeking God, trying to live out my calling, following the crumbs... well, I thought it would be just a little easier.
But those are thoughts for another day...
For now, friend, where do you find yourself in these words?