Fr. Virgil Petermeier, OSC, a Crosier and returned missionary after over 35 years in Papua, shares his experience of From Mission to Mission as a participant in the 10 Day Re-Entry Workshop and how it benefited him in his transition back to the United States.
*As seen in the summer issue of Comboni Missions
The Hard Road Back
For Returned Missionaries, Home Is a New Assignment
Fr. Joseph Bragotti, MCCJ
One September I traveled to Denver to spend ten days with a group of priests, religious, and laypeople with whom I share a common life experience. We were all missionaries who served abroad and then “returned home.”
Well, you may say, what’s the big deal about returning home? And I say: It’s a bigger deal than the process of actually “going to the missions”! Let me explain.
When I went to Uganda in 1967, I expected things to be different over there —and they were very different. When I came back home, I expected things to be the same as I had known them—and they were not.
The country had changed, I had changed, my friends had changed, the Church had changed, the language had changed (when I left, the word turkey only described what we ate on Thanksgiving Day!).
It has been said that you never return home, but rather you rediscover home. It’s a shock and there is a name for it: counter-culture shock (CCS for short). The folks I met with in Denver were having a serious case of it. To make things worse, many of us witnessed enough violence to give us at least a minor case of PTSD.
Let me describe to you some of the symptoms of CCS.
I returned to Cincinnati with the bare minimum. After all, I was returning to the land of plenty. So the next day I went to the mall. I spent most of the morning there and…bought nothing. I was overwhelmed by the variety of choices, by the abundance of everything. How could I possibly pick a shirt, a sweater, or anything out of a thousand? I had to go back with a friend the next day.
I stopped at a gas station to fill up. Surprise! Gone were the attendants. They had the do-it-yourself thing now. I parked in a corner and observed customers for a good ten minutes before risking to make a fool of myself.
I visited friends. Grandpa had died and Grandma’s memory was a little blurry. With whom was I going to discuss world problems now? The adorable little kids I once knew had grown into pesky teenagers who hardly gave you the time of day. On the plus side, the pesky teens of years gone by were now reasonably well-adjusted young adults.
On my second mission tour I spent five years surrounded by indescribable violence. Safely back here, friends took me to a huge fireworks show. I hated it. Bang-bang noises made me jumpy and zip-zip noises made me want to duck. I still don’t particularly enjoy hearing fireworks, if I can’t see them. And I hated military uniforms with an irrational passion. I had my own near-death encounters with them and saw the mayhem, destruction and horror they left behind wherever they interacted with local people.
Returned missionaries face a lot of disappointments. We have stories to tell about the wonderful people we lived with, about the plight of the poor and the dispossessed, how they cope and survive, about what makes them poor and what could be done about it. Above all, we have stories of faith and hope, stories of human solidarity that defy belief. But most people, even friends, don’t really care that much. You are in the middle of the story and someone calls them on their cell phone. Your saga just went down the tube.
Perhaps you lived in a Church where laypeople are in charge and you are their shepherd, where human touch, friendship, and affection are the rule, where everyone knows everyone, where anyone who wants to talk to “father” gets to talk to father. And now you are back in a stiff medieval Church run by clerics, stuck in a mega parish where you have to dial six digits before you can talk to a human being.
Add to this the inevitable hurts of living anywhere —mission lands included. Add your own doubts and fears. The picture is rather dismal.
So it was that in the early 1980s a group of missionaries decided to do something about it. We founded a group which is now a national Catholic organization called From Mission to Mission (FMTM). As a first step, we devised a ten-day workshop on “Transition: A process of Death and Resurrection.” Experts in psychology, social sciences, and theology are called upon as resources, but they themselves must have been missionaries abroad.
We spend almost two days listening to individual stories. It’s a draining experience where things come out that you never even told your mother (especially your mother!) or your best friend. It is sacred ground where people can make peace with the past. It’s so overwhelming that we take a half-day off, just to catch our breath.
Then come the experts to tell the group where we stand today as a country and as a Church. It’s a primer on social analysis. Finally we bring in resource people who will help our charges figure out how they can redirect their skills and use their past experiences in the here and now.
We want these returned missionaries to contribute their wider worldview to their home Church and society. They are now missionaries to their own people. We like to think of ourselves as the thorn in the side of our society’s and of our Church’s complacency.
That’s what happened in Denver all those years ago, when just two of us “old hands” ran the program with the help of local experts. Now, the organization has grown and adapted to better serve the changing face of mission and to reflect our expertise in dealing with all kinds of transition, not just reentry. No matter how often you do it, every workshop is always a unique experience. Do we have all the answers? No, but we like to think of ourselves as wounded healers. God will do the rest.
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Dylan Salomone spent two years serving in Guyana with Mercy Volunteer Corps (MVC). He participated in the From Mission to Mission Re-Entry Workshop and shares how it helped him transition home to the US and translate the gifts of his time with MVC forward.
Sr. Carol Dwyer, SSND shares her experience of transition after her missions of 23 years in Puerto Rico and 9 years in Guatemala. Sr. Carol shares how the From Mission to Mission transition workshop helped her navigate returning home.
From Mission to Mission assists people in their preparation and processing of their cross-cultural, ministerial, and life transitions to continue their Christian call to mission. From Mission to Mission, originally known as F.R.O.M., was started in 1980 by missioners who had served around the world and, upon returning “home” found their re-entry the most difficult part of their experience. We became From Mission to Mission to reflect our belief that mission doesn’t end when you return to your home culture and in recognition that those who serve domestically struggle with re-entry as well.
Over the years more than just our name has changed. We have grown and adapted to better serve the changing face of mission and to reflect our expertise in dealing with all kinds of transition, not just re-entry. From Mission to Mission supports all who respond to their “Call to Mission”…no matter where they have served or for how long.
When I think of my recent experience of participating in the 10-day From Mission to Mission re-entry workshop, the image of an oasis comes to mind. Having left my ministry in Haiti just a couple of months before and having not yet discerned with any sense of certainty what my next ministry would be, the workshop was a refreshing life-giving place on the journey through a difficult time. It has provided me with the nourishment to continue life’s pilgrimage with a sense of renewed hope and positive energy.
Because I had participated in a weekend re-entry workshop with From Mission to Mission many years before, as I was packing up to leave Haiti I was aware that there were factors that would complicate my transition. The unexpectedness with which my work in Haiti ended created rushed and unsaid good-byes. There was not much time to anticipate or even process the reality that after four years and four months of living in Haiti, I was returning to the US, where I would have to face changes that had occurred in the life of my religious congregation among the other more typical challenges of re-entry. I knew my journey ahead would not be easy. It was consoling to know that From Mission to Mission might offer possibilities for support.
The workshop allowed the difficulties to seem a little less difficult and the grief to feel less painful. All of the information, prayer services, facilitated discussions and the formal aspects of the workshop were very helpful. When I think about it though, what really made the workshop for me were the other participants and the facilitators. Being with people who understand, who are or have gone through similar experiences made such a big difference in my re-entry process. I was with a group of people who understood, and while the specific details of their stories were different, their stories were familiar and inspiring. My life was enriched from hearing about their journeys and being in their presence. Laughing and crying together was healing. The compassion they provided helped me to expand the compassion I had for myself and to quiet the thoughts telling me to “hurry up, get through grief.”
During the re-entry process, as is common, I had the sense of not feeling quite at home anywhere, yet for those few days there was a sense of belonging and feeling at home. I am so grateful that I experienced this oasis that refreshed me and provided the energy needed to continue my journey from mission to mission.
Hello FMTM Friends,
I pray this New Year be filled with much light, growth and abundant joy!
I am thrilled to serve with you as FMTM’s new Executive Director. With your love and support, as well as the wisdom of those who have gone before, I am jumping in with both feet and my whole heart.
After serving in Chimbote, Peru for 2 years with the Incarnate Word Missionaries, I leaned on FMTM’s support as I transitioned back into life here in the US. I had been working full-time at Centro AMAR with women and children involved in prostitution and human trafficking. I had seen, heard and worked through many challenges and triumphs. I had fallen in love with the warm and welcoming local community and the way and pace of life, and leaving was painful. I returned home wrestling with an array of emotions.
I found it essential to connect with others who had been transformed by mission, who crossed borders and cultures, who had seen violence and poverty in a developing nation, and who had experienced community and hospitality differently. I needed help figuring out what was next for me. Nothing seemed as important, or as intense and needed as what I was doing in Peru. FMTM allowed me see beyond where I was and focus on how I was living in the present; FMTM helped me understand that true mission extends into all that I do no matter where I am.
Since my time in Peru, I have been shaped by marriage and motherhood, working with survivors of domestic violence, young mothers working toward self-sufficiency, selfless social service providers, and for-profit and not-for-profit leaders who put people and mission first everyday. I am a learning leader and strive to continue to build a toolbox to do mission-based work well. With this toolbox and a heart for mission, I am committed to leading From Mission to Mission to its future. With your help, I hope to reach more and more people who need our expertise, to find home again within themselves as they navigate major transitions.
We have big dreams for expanding our support to missionaries going forward by allowing for greater access to our services through the versification of mediums and the addition of another staff member. Please reach out if you’re interested in getting involved by sharing your ideas or by taking a more active role as a volunteer on our Board, or as a general volunteer offering your gifts and skills in service to FMTM. It takes a village, and you are ours!
Here is to living mission together!
Peace and goodness to you and yours,
After a six-month search, From Mission to Mission enthusiastically welcomes Kelli Nelson as its 4th Executive Director
December 3, 2018
Dear Friends of From Mission to Mission,
We are pleased to announce the hiring of our new Executive Director, Kelli Nelson, who begins her tenure today!
Meet Kelli Nelson, the new Executive Director of From Mission to Mission. Kelli is from Minnesota and is a nonprofit leader and social entrepreneur dedicated to helping individuals and organizations connect to their missions, create meaning and impact, and do the good that they do well.
“FMTM is essential for those it serves, the stories and people it honors, our communities and this world.” – Kelli
Kelli came to know From Mission to Mission in 2012 after serving as a volunteer in Chimbote, Peru with the Incarnate Word Missionaries. From Mission to Mission allowed her to more deeply reflect on her life in Peru, and turn the difficulties of returning home into love in action. She has since dedicated herself to helping individuals and organizations connect to their missions, create meaning and impact, and do the good that they do well.
Kelli holds a BA in Literature and a Masters degree in Nonprofit Management from DePaul University and has done extended study in social enterprise at Stanford University. Kelli truly believes FMTM is essential for those it serves, the stories and people it honors, our communities and this world.
FMTM Board Chair, Michelle Scheidt shares:
“We are excited to welcome Kelli as the new Executive Director of From Mission to Mission. She brings a true heart for mission, a passion for the work, expertise in non-profit management, and so many great new ideas for our future.
I am confident that FMTM will continue to grow and develop under Kelli’s leadership; the organization is strong and ready to serve the emerging needs of the mission community. We look forward to all that lies ahead.”
Julie Lupien, who has served as ED for the past 17 plus years, and will continue with FMTM through December to facilitate the transition in leadership, is confident for the future of FMTM under Kelli’s leadership.
“I met Kelli at her re-entry workshop after she had returned from serving in Peru. Before the weekend was over I had already asked her to get involved in the work of FMTM, first as a facilitator and later as a board member. What I witnessed in Kelli was a passion for mission, a great appreciation for the culture where she served, and a deep respect, sensitivity and compassion towards the others in her group. I believed I could trust her to offer the care FMTM is known for. I knew her wisdom and expertise would be a gift to the missioners and volunteers we serve. I could already see that her vision and commitment to justice and mission would inspire others. I am thrilled that Kelli is the next director of From Mission to Mission.”
As has been the case since the beginning of FMTM, the From Mission to Mission office will move with its new Director to Minnesota. Please make a note of it:
From Mission to Mission New Address & Phone Number
200 5th Avenue NW #120696, St. Paul, MN 55112
We thank you for your support and prayers for Kelli, Julie, and the FMTM Board as we go through this transition.
If you would like to send your congratulations and welcome to Kelli, and thanks and farewell to Julie (before December 28, 2018):
200 5th Avenue NW #120696, St. Paul, MN 55112
303 Atwood Street, Longmont, CO 80501
The FMTM Board of Directors
Thank you for your prayerful support in this time of transition. Every prayer means the world to us!
by Sister Rose Elizabeth, OSU, Former Missionary, FMTM Board Member
I served in Chiltiupan, El Salvador as part of the Cleveland Latin American Mission Team. I loved the people and was so inspired by their faith. When I returned after 11 years of ministry there, I needed help readjusting to the USA. So, I participated in a From Mission to Mission (FMTM) Re-entry workshop which gave me renewed energy to serve. Many Cleveland priests and sisters who worked in El Salvador have benefitted from FMTM Re-entry workshops.
FMTM makes a difference for people who usually do not ask for anything for themselves.”
FMTM makes a difference for people who usually do not ask for anything for themselves. One Re-entry workshop participant, who served in Chile for 50 years, had this to say, “This workshop has given me new life, more energy, a healed broken heart. I have a direction to go. It was critical for me at this time.”
Some missionaries have suffered trauma, been kidnapped, robbed, and lived through civil wars and revolutions. As a result, they come home with some heavy baggage. FMTM Re-entry workshops help them process their experiences and bring about healing.
One Re-entry workshop participant, who served in Chile for 50 years, had this to say, ‘This workshop has given me new life, more energy, a healed broken heart. I have a direction to go. It was critical for me at this time.‘”
Additionally, From Mission to Mission prepares volunteers for short-term mission experiences. We also currently help priests and religious brothers and sisters transition from active ministry to retirement or move to a retirement or nursing home.
Why am I telling you this?
I am a board member of FMTM and I offered to hold a benefit in Cleveland to raise awareness of how we serve returned missionaries and to raise funds. FMTM is trying to augment our staff to better care for the growing numbers of missionaries and volunteers who turn to FMTM for care, trusting in our expertise and support.
Some missionaries have suffered trauma, been kidnapped, robbed, and lived through civil wars and revolutions. As a result, they come home with some heavy baggage. FMTM Re-entry workshops help them process their experiences and bring about healing.”
How can you help?
Make a Sponsorship Gift. I ask you to consider making a sponsorship gift to the first annual benefit for From Mission to Mission. Sponsorship gifts help defray overhead costs and are critical to our ability to maximize the dollars raised in support of our mission: serving missionaries.
We expect upwards of 300 people to enjoy an evening of mariachi music, a lively auction featuring three vacation homes in Florida, heavy hors d’oeuvres, an open bar, and more.
Our fundraising goal for the ¡FIESTA! is $35,000. We hope we can count on your sponsorship toward this goal. Please consider making your secure, online gift by clicking the ¡FIESTA! image.
Click the image below to make your secure donation via PayPal.
If you have questions, please contact us. Thank you in advance for considering being a part of the ¡FIESTA! with your sponsorship gift for the benefit of missionaries.
Our fundraising goal for the ¡FIESTA! is $35,000. We hope we can count on your sponsorship toward this goal. Thank you in advance for considering being a part of the ¡FIESTA! with your sponsorship gift for the benefit of missionaries.”
June 1, 2018
Dear Friends of From Mission to Mission,
Julie Lupien has informed the Board that this will be her final year as Director of FMTM. After 17 years of service, Julie has discerned that it’s time to move on to something new. We are grateful for her service and sad to see her depart, and we are also excited for her as she explores other possibilities in her life. Julie’s departure will bring a dramatic change for FMTM; she has been everything to this organization.
Julie has done a wonderful job during her long tenure. She has been able to tackle anything that came her way and greatly expand the FMTM programmatic offerings. Along with being the main program and administrative person for FMTM, Julie has also been the heart and soul of our organization. Over these 17 years, she has accompanied people, both lay and religious, as they embarked on mission, or returned home from their mission. She has presented at conferences, led small group retreats and sat with individuals as they have shared their remarkable experiences of their mission.
Transitioning back to life in North America can be very difficult for anyone who has served in mission, either overseas or domestically, especially when one has been gone for five decades or if they have suffered a personal trauma. For hundreds of missioners, Julie played an integral role in their processing, healing, and re-entry. These contributions were honored in October 2015, when Julie was the first recipient of U.S. Catholic Mission Association’s Pope Francis Mission Award, recognizing her lifelong commitment to mission (captured in image).
“I have been blessed to serve as the Director of From Mission to Mission since 2002.The missioners and volunteers we serve care about the people of the world and have taken risks to live what they believe. It really is a privilege to walk with these amazing people during a challenging time in their lives. It’s a wonderful feeling to be a witness as they honor their experiences, find healing for the hurts they still carry, and celebrate the people who have changed them forever. I give thanks that we are able to help re-ignite their spark to continue to live mission wherever they go.” – Julie
The FMTM Board is beginning the search process for a new Executive Director and planning for the future growth of the organization as we continue to adapt to the changing field of mission. We are thankful for Julie’s support as we move forward with the transition process. Please see details for the ED position announcement and job description here, and share it with those in your networks.
We thank you for your support and prayers as we go through this transition. Julie’s shoes will be hard to fill; the Board is optimistic about identifying candidates with a heart for mission, who are eager to journey with transitioning missioners.
The FMTM Board of Directors