What to Say… And Not Say to Someone on Home Assignment

We have met so many wonderful people and had so many great conversations during our home assignment. We have been loved on, breathed into and cared for in so many ways by great people from coast to coast.

However, I know that is not always the case for workers on home assignment. It can be hard coming back. At the same time it can be hard for people in our home countries to know how to engage. They get tongue tied and are insecure in how to relate to “people like us.”

I share these things not to hurt anyone’s feelings. Honestly, I have said more than my share of insensitive things in my life. 

But,  in case you end up face to face with a returning cross-cultural worker, these are some conversations you might want to avoid…followed by some questions that a worker will feel encouraged by you caring enough to ask.

6 Conversations that deflate a Worker on Home Assignment…

1.I once knew a missionary in your country…followed by stories of how super successful their ministry was and never getting around to listening to the actual work these workers are doing now.

I understand that this can start as an attempt to find common ground with someone. However, it can end up making the worker feel like a loser while a person shares about how easily their friend assimilated and how they have been living vicariously through that person for decades.

2. Do you really think its safe there for your family…

This comment recently caught me off guard. It was asked as a very emotion filled rhetorical question in a setting where I had known the man for a total of 5 minutes. He said, “Surely you are not planning on taking a newborn into that country are you?” Now, if you are close enough to me personally to ask this question, then maybe its worth asking. However, if we have never met before and you are trying to give direction into my life, this question doesn’t work so well. It simply leaves me wondering, “Since when was the Gospel about safety?”

3. “I love what you are doing among the poor [or fill in the blank] , but it doesn’t seem like there’s much Gospel in there.”

Now, we all know of ministries that have lost their bearings and over time chose to remove any kind of Jesus markings from their identity. But may we give people the benefit of the doubt, especially when we’ve merely caught a small glimpse of their life’s work.

The Bible has a lot to say about serving people’s physical needs AND sharing the Good News in Word, too. For this to happen effectively in most settings (including in North America) it can take years just to get started and the fruit is not quick to be seen.  Let us trust the Sovereign One to bring His redemption in His way.

4. It must be great to be back Home in America where you can get everything you’ve been missing. Or, “Your children must feel so deprived living in a place like Ethiopia.”

The short answers here are “No.” and “NO!”.

Of course there are great things about returning to this place called America. The first stop for my one daughter and I when we return to the United States is Sheetz for a hotdog. Gross, right? But truthfully the things we miss about America are “simple things”, because the place we call “home” is 7,000 miles away. We miss a good salad, drinking water from the tap, hot showers on demand, ice cream, and yes…Sheetz hotdogs.

They love the place they call “home” and there are so many special things about it.

5. You guys are heroes. Somebody needs to be doing what you do, but I can’t imagine doing it.

I am just a very simple guy who has the great privilege of God calling him to another part of the world to partner in what He’s doing. I am no hero.  

The truth is that we all have our part to play and we all are missionaries in the truest sense of the world. While you may get the privilege of serving Jesus here among people that look like you and talk like you,  I get the privilege of serving Him among people that look totally different than me. However, we both are privileged to be in the place that He has called us to be.

Last one…

6. Do you really think that’s going to work? You know that place is a really hard place…

Let’s be honest. It can be difficult to be a believer anywhere. Jesus promised that in Matthew 10:16 – 20. “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.” But then Jesus also gave us a great promise, “At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”

Honestly there are many things that we’re not sure are going to work when we set out to do them. Many times I don’t even know how to measure whether they are a success or not. All I really know is that God is faithful to see us through. I also know that while our world seems increasingly dark,  Our God has a different perspective.  May we glimpse His perspective.

Whew. Glad we made it through those. Now, for some Positive Questions that you can ask a worker. And if you are a compassionate listener, watch for how life is breathed back into them!

Five Questions that Encourage a Cross Cultural Worker on Home Assignment.

1. How are things on the ground? (And then actually listen. A worker assumes you’ve forgotten about them and their work while they were away and that gets reinforced if you are tuning out. Be willing to listen. They are not whining, its just that things on the ground can be tough and indescribably lonely.)

2.How have you seen God move? What’s He putting in your hearts? (Most workers have some God stories, but they might be reluctant to share them since time has passed in your relationship. So ask them. And then sit back and watch their passion engage).

3. How are you doing with being back in The US (or wherever) since this no longer feels like “home?” (I know that person looks like the person you remember, but now they are different. They think differently and they are quite possibly having a hard time being back. Don’t take offense…its just that some things have changed in their hearts and minds.

4. How can we help and get behind you in your current needs? (This doesn’t always need to be money. Maybe you could provide some childcare, a meal or two, share your pool for a day…there are many practical ways to help relieve some pressure and give some respite).

5. What would you like prayer for? Can we pray now? (Many workers spend a good deal of time pouring out, but little time receiving. Commit to pray for them, but then pray for them right there. Spend some time soaking them in prayer on the spot.

So, there you go. Enjoy your conversations with the workers you know. Open up your home and your heart…and expect God to deepen your relationships.

8 Comments on “What to Say… And Not Say to Someone on Home Assignment

  1. Jerry – this is so helpful, and encouraging. Often people put the need to “connect” foremost and fail to consider what they’re talking about. Thanks for posting.

  2. Thank you Rick. We appreciate you guys so much. I love your hearts for the poor and seeing Jesus love made known among them!

  3. Thank you Often we grumble about what people say to us, but so rarely do we tell them what we would like te hear. We cant expect them to be mind readers, so we should explain why certain questions are much more helpful (to both parties) than others.

  4. Awesome post. Some of them made me laugh out loud.

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