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.
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
Accompaniment for missionaries at home From Mission to Mission recognizes the challenges missionaries face reintegrating after spending years outside of the United States
For 25 of those years, she served in the same small village of Kalebezo, where she built a health program from the ground up, serving women, children and people with chronic illnesses. The nearest hospital was 25 miles away.
“To go 25 miles usually took us two-and-a-half hours,” Sister Peg told Our Sunday Visitor. “Unless it was the rainy season. Then it took five hours.”
Sister Peg, now the director of her congregation’s mission institute, added: “It was rather difficult to leave this place after all the energy and commitment I put into it.”
How to Help
From Mission to Mission needs your support to fund its reintegration programs. Learn more at missiontomission.org/support-us.
She knew returning to her congregation in upstate New York would not be easy, but that did not mean she was prepared for the reality of returning home.
“I had been living in my own house in the village,” she said. “Now I live in an institution with about 150 sisters of various stages of life.”
Sister Peg is one of many returning missionaries — both those who spent decades of their lives working overseas and shorter-term lay missionaries — who find support and understanding in From Mission to Mission, a nonprofit that offers re-entry workshops for those returning from mission experiences.
Honor the experience
From Mission to Mission was started by returning missionaries, Julie Lupien, director, said.
“They were on a retreat, and they talked about how there were all kinds of programs to help you prepare for mission, but nothing to help you come back,” said Lupien, who served as a lay missioner in Zimbabwe and on the island of St. Kitts. “For many of us, coming back is the hardest part.”
Lupien did the re-entry workshop as a participant in 1991 and now is in her 16th year as director and sole full-time staff member. But when she first returned from mission, she didn’t think there would be anything to it. “I thought, ‘Well, that’s home. You just go home and start living again,’” Lupien said.
From Mission to Mission offers 10-day workshops a couple of times a year, recommended for those who have been on mission for three to 50 years. Weekend workshops, recommended for those who have been on mission for one to three years, were available three times this year.
“Our goal is to honor the experience, heal what needs healing and help them discern what God is calling them to now, because we are always on mission,” Lupien said.
“No matter how long they’ve been gone, one year or three years or 50 years, they adapt,” Lupien said. “When they come back, they often express something like, ‘I don’t fit here.’ For many, it can feel isolating.”
People also can feel overwhelmed by the changes that have taken place in their absence, and by the pace of life in the United States compared to the pace of life where they served.
“Many of them have been living in very rural areas, where even if they have access to technology, it’s nothing like here.”
They also might be shocked by the level of excess in the United States.
“It’s really hard to face that we have so much, and these people you really care about have nothing,” Lupien said. “It can lead to a sense of guilt for having left.”
Lupien said nearly everyone comes back having experienced some level of violence and trauma, either directly or by observing it and hearing about it from the people they served. Often, they haven’t ever talked about it before.
“They sanitized the version of what happened, either because they didn’t want to be sent home or they didn’t want to give a poor image of the people where they served,” Lupien said.
Readjusting to life
Lupien recommends that returning missioners wait before beginning the From Mission to Mission process — at least three months for those who served one to three years and at least six months and up to two years for those who served longer.
Sister Peg waited two years, in part because she had a broken bone in her leg that she was unaware of when she first returned, and that had to be treated.
“But I knew I needed to process everything on my own first,” she said. When she did go, “I found it very helpful. It was never rushed, but we covered everything. And we laughed a lot, too.”
Crosier Father Virgil Petermeier, who served in Indonesia on the island of New Guinea, also waited about two years to attend the workshop after returning to the United States. He went to the workshop in 2012 and was one of 14 participants.
“I really felt kinship with three guys who were retiring from mission in Papua New Guinea,” said Father Petermeier, who now is writing a history of his congregation’s participation in the missions of New Guinea. “It was important to be able to process our experience.”
Father Petermeier noted that he was the last American Crosier in the diocese, which was being served by more Indonesian priests, and that he was burned out when he returned to the United States.
“That place was my home,” he said. “When I left, I’d lived there longer than I lived in the U.S.”
His experience with From Mission to Mission, especially the emphasis on taking his experience on mission and using it in the United States, gave him the impetus to get involved with the Diocese of St. Cloud’s interfaith relationship with the Muslim community in Minnesota.
“Coming from Indonesia, I think I had a more positive relationship with Muslims,” he said.
Sister Peg said she found it hard to navigate relationships in the United States after so long away — “In Tanzania I just had to walk out my front door to talk to my neighbors,” she said — and needed to find a way to establish her identity again. “There, I knew who I was,” she said. “I had a rhythm of life.”
Father Petermeier said coming back to the United States “was like multiple deaths.”
“It was the death of my identity; the death of the relationships I had among the Papuans and the Crosiers there; the death of living in that multicultural environment,” he said. “For the first while, if people started talking about Papua, then I was just in tears. That was the twist. When I knew I was coming home, I did not figure in the grief thing.”
All types of immersion
From Mission to Mission also offers consultation and services for groups doing short-term mission or immersion trips, including partnerships between parishes in the U.S. and abroad, or medical missions. They try to make the experience the best they can both for those travelling and those receiving the visitors, and help those who travel integrate their experience when they return.
Joyana Jacoby, who served with the Good Shepherd Volunteers in Leon, Guanajuato, Mexico, from 2004-06, said part of what she did there was welcome those immersion groups. Later, she worked on the other side, coordinating groups from DePaul University in Chicago as they prepared for short mission trips.
“It was the best two years of my life and the most difficult two years of my life,” Jacoby said. “Everything that you’ve experienced comes back with you, and you’re a different person.”But her main work was being present and accompanying women in a sewing co-op, teaching English to grade-schoolers and working with girls in a boarding school run by the Good Shepherd Sisters. Those girls came mostly from difficult family situations.
She said she coped by spending a few months living with her parents in Wisconsin. While most people’s eyes would glaze over when she talked too long about the people in Mexico, they did listen, she said.
Attending the From Mission to Mission workshop helped her translate her experience into skills she could take to her next job, with the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Office for Immigrant Affairs, and then to DePaul.
It also helped to talk about the reverse culture shock she experienced. “You can read about what it looks like,” she said. “But it’s different to experience it.”
Michelle Martin writes from Illinois.