Brother Bede Baldry, FSC, De La Salle Christian Brother and former From Mission to Mission Board Member, shares his experience returning to the United States after being missioned to Kenya for eight years. Brother Bede talks about how the From Mission to Mission 10-Day Re-entry Workshop helped him understand that feeling lost during transition was normal, and that he could make sense of his mission experience and find “life after mission” by sharing his story. Brother Bede reflects on how experiencing the From Mission to Mission workshop helped him deepen his sense of connection with himself, his community, and the church.
Katie Mulembe is the Associate Director at Catholic Volunteer Network (CVN). Katie shares how CVN has partnered with From Mission to Mission from its earliest years, tapping into the expertise and wisdom of years of serving missioners and volunteers in transition. Katie highlights the partnership that CVN and From Mission to Mission have undertaken to bring From Mission to Mission’s expertise in transition to the world of short-term mission trips. Katie shares that what makes From Mission to Mission special is their relational and collaborative approach.
Sister Catherine Madigan, DC, a Daughter of Charity of Saint Vincent DePaul, is a returned missionary after nine years in Kenya. Sister Karen shares about her experience of the 10-Day Re-entry Workshop offered by From Mission to Mission. Sister Karen encourages other returning missionaries to take advantage of the opportunity to take time to reflect on where you’ve been and where you’re going by attending the From Mission to Mission workshop. “If you really want to reflect on your mission overseas, you will want to do it with someone who has also been overseas… to get to the heart of ‘how was I changed’ from this experience?”
Lara Torii served as a Good Shepherd Volunteer for three years in New York City, Malaysia and Thailand. When she returned, she participated in a From Mission to Mission 10 Day workshop. In this video testimonial, Lara shares how the experience helped her regain her focus and incorporate the values she had lived with intention during her years as a GSV into her life back in the United States.
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.