RICHMOND, VA (BP) – Before I moved back to the U.S. after serving as a missionary for two years in South Asia, many people told me to expect a difficult season as I returned home. They told me I would experience reverse culture shock in a variety of ways.
Reverse culture shock is a common experience for many returning missionaries. And, speaking from experience, it would be easy to let these struggles paralyze “us” when we return from the field. However, our field experience -- whether it was two years or 20 -- has given us a tremendous opportunity to continue the work back home. Scripture holds a high view of the local church and gives us examples of how people like Paul and Barnabas equipped the local church for mission (Acts 14:24-28). Like them, missionaries can take their passion for sharing the Gospel and turn it into a desire to equip the American church.
Sharing the Gospel through shared experiences
Last Christmas, I invited a South Asian friend to go see Christmas lights around our city. Instead of going with her by myself, I decided to invite a fellow church member, Sarah, to go with us. During the evening, many doors were opened for Gospel conversations. Sarah shared the Christmas story and later elaborated on why we serve the one true God. Afterward, Sarah was overcome with joy. We talked about what a privilege it was to share the best news of all. She was reminded of how easy it can be to have spiritual conversations, and she shared her desire to make Gospel proclamation a higher priority. She was convicted that she had not taken full advantage of the Gospel opportunities with her own South Asian neighbors.
The Lord used that evening to challenge and encourage me in three specific ways.
Build relationships with the unreached in my city, share the Gospel with them, and bring fellow believers with me.
Jesus exemplified this methodology by bringing his disciples with Him as He preached the Gospel in word and deed. Believers can attend every evangelism class and training that comes along, but there is something about actually seeing another believer demonstrate Gospel proclamation that makes it click. I have found that my best evangelistic conversations have happened alongside another believer. Just as Sarah said, sharing the Gospel is not that hard!
Invite more of my believing friends into my relationships with South Asians.
Before we went to see Christmas lights that night, my South Asian friend invited us in for chai with her husband. We ended up staying a full hour before we ventured out. Sarah mentioned later how unusual that experience was for her. Her first instinct when we were invited in for chai was to say no. She didn't want to be a burden on the couple.
However, South Asian culture is very different from American culture. Although we may see guests as an inconvenience, South Asians see guests as an honor. Many Americans Christians fear stepping into cross-cultural relationships because they have not had a cross-cultural experience. As returned missionaries, we can use our experience to teach other believers about and invite them into our cross-cultural relationships. In doing so we help lessen initial fear and discomfort and increase a desire to build cross-cultural and missional relationships.
Believers experience great joy when we share the hope of the Gospel with someone who has not heard and is searching.
We are not merely saved from our sin. We are saved to make disciples of all nations. We fully live out the life God intends for us when we share the Gospel with the unreached around us. In doing so, we glorify God and experience the unique joy of joining God on mission -- part of the intended purpose of our salvation. This joy we experience can only come from our obedience to proclaim the good news. It is a unique and contagious joy.
I pray as missionaries come back from the field, they are burdened with the state of faith here in America and with the lack of joy many American Christians experience when they are not obedient to share the Gospel. It is an act of love toward your fellow believer to encourage and equip them to live on mission. I also pray that many more believers would choose obedience to the Great Commission for the glory of God and the sake of the lost around them.
Returned missionaries can use their unique cross-cultural experiences to equip the American church to share the Gospel with those around them. As missionaries come back from the field, I pray they will take advantage of this unique opportunity and allow themselves to be used in catalytic ways. I also pray that the Lord will raise up an army of American believers passionate about sharing the Gospel and making disciples of all nations starting in their backyard.
If you would like more information about serving as a missionary or simply sharing your faith through conversation, go to imb.org.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Emily Verlin is a missions minister at a local church in Tennessee. Previously she served in South Asia with the 2+2 program through the IMB and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.