Returning Home

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When someone returns home after an extended period with YWAM there are a variety of issues that may be faced including 'Reverse Culture Shock' or 'Reentry Blues'


Re-entry orientation (debriefing before leaving YWAM)
The time for evaluation, tying up loose ends, and gaining perspective of their time with YWAM is crucial to the way the missionary leaves.

The staff person should be sent out with ceremony, arrangements for future contact should be made, and a debriefing session on how to re-enter their homelands, should help reduce the culture shock that all missionaries experience in going home.


Debriefing falls into three categories:

  • Briefing those Selected
  • Routine Debriefing
  • Crisis Debriefing

"In Romania, of those visiting the medical clinic at the United States Embassy, eighty per cent of the non-YWAM volunteers are experiencing psychosomatic problems (often severe)."

1 Briefing Those Selected

Debriefing starts before the team ever leaves. If most resources are in this there will be less need for the others. "An ounce of prevention." The items in this section need to be included in the teams orientation.

The following must be covered:

  • team dynamics
  • cultural adaptation
  • culture shock
  • re-entry adjustment
  • goals of project
  • individual part in project.
  • information about country both good and bad

Role play that stresses the individual and then gives them the tools to deal with it is the best way of communicating some of the cross-cultural shocks and adjustments. Telling them that they will feel bad is not a self-fulfilling prophecy but a protection.

The above is known, in part, as stress inoculation and is highly preventative of later problems on the field or on return.

2 Routine Debriefing

If all the pre-outreach briefing is adhered to, then the majority of debriefing work is routine and consists of helping people adjust back home by giving them:

  • opportunities to talk with others about their experiences
  • opportunities to talk about (typically) feelings of isolation, disorientation and mourning
  • practical help settling back
  • what the nation is like now, the new community tax.... Also the spiritual life.
  • We must follow them up too and train the church to receive them.

3 Crisis Debriefing

This is necessary in the following three situations.

  1. The above has not been adhered to and the person breaks down on the field or on return through:
    • poor selection
    • poor orientation
    • poor pastoral support on the field
    • poor routine debriefing
    • poor support on return from the field
  2. The well briefed and selected person has been sent to what is technically known as a 'difficult circumstance'. This includes war zones, famine zones, natural disasters etc. The criteria is judged to be a situation which puts a person at significant risk of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. (PTSD, not PDTS!) Such people are best debriefed (or at least assessed) within 36 hours of returning to their home country with a five week follow up. Various agencies are now moving to the position that if this cannot happen the person or team does not go.
  3. The well briefed and selected person experiences an unexpected trauma.This includes:
    • Imprisonment
    • Hostage taking/kidnap
    • Rape
    • Attempted murder or very serious assault
    • Life threatening accident.

Again the person must be debriefed and assessed for PTSD 36 hours and 5 weeks post event.

PTSD is a crippling, potentially life threatening (due to suicide), psychiatric disorder. It has also been known as shell shock or battle fatigue. Treatment is required urgently if present. It is best thought of as an intense anxiety state which doesn't go away---ever. Without treatment within 36 hours of getting off the plane there is only a 20% chance of recovery. This accounts for the almost mysterious disappearance of the hostages immediately on their return from Lebanon.

If the person returning is in either category B or C a specialist must be notified immediately. Because of the serious nature of these, immediately in this case means the shortest possible time measured in hours and minutes.

For Returning Missionaries

We sent a letter of inquiry to a number of returning YWAM missionaries. The following was a typical response:

'Thank you. I am delighted that someone has taken up this need - it really is a big need... I've been home nine months now, and I'm just beginning to feel a little stable.

'It has been an extremely difficult time. I came home very tired, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, and I was looking forward to a time of rest. Instead I found myself in a new battle, reverse culture shock. I felt I didn't fit in. I felt I'd left my home behind in Thailand. Leaving the Khmer people behind was like a physical wrenching away from them and there was no-one here who had clue of the difficulties. I had no fresh vision from God for the future and I felt lost between two worlds.

'I know God's grace has brought me through, and when I cried to Him He brought peace. But I did experience hurt and bitterness that there was no-one there to help. That's why I'm really delighted at what you are doing.

'A few people in YWAM have been very good and have been there when I've needed a listening ear, but I have found the 'short term' mission group who have to give themselves to a new group of students every couple of months make this difficult.'

Some suggestions from other returnees:

  • Put them in touch with others who have returned from a cross-cultural situation.
  • Have someone available for them, for prayer and counselling concerning the past time abroad, the present readjustment, and future vision.
  • Help all our staff to become aware of the difficulties people experience in coming home, and encourage them to be there for the people.

Don't leave it to the leaders only. Most YWAM leaders are busy and only have time for a brief appointment.

Guidelines for Outreach Returnees:

(These are recommendations for School of Frontier Mission graduates who have normally been on the field for approximately a year.)

  • Each returning student must spend one week here at the base, first.
  • They go through a sharing, debriefing process with two leaders. This involves a minimum of two hours of formal interview and prayer.
  • They each must write a report of their time on the field.
  • The initial welcome and hospitality is very important. SOFM leaders pick them up at the airport. They are really treated as special: flowers, gifts, and so on. They deserve it; after all, they are returning heroes!

Questions for Interviewing Returning Missionaries

One of the things we can do to help a returning missionary is to be available to listen as they share the experiences they've been through. This can be made more meaningful by asking the right questions.

The following questions are suggestions:

  1. On the field
    • What were a few of your most significant experiences on the field?
    • What negative experiences did you have?
    • What were keys for you to bond to the culture?
    • How would you describe your relationship with the Lord while on the field?
    • How were your relationships on the team?
    • Describe your relationships with the National Christians.
    • What things did you take unnecessarily?
    • What things did you wish you had taken?
    • How was your support while on the field?
      1. money?
      2. pastoral?
      3. letters?
    • How was your diet and general health?
    • What gifts or motivations did you recognize or develop?
  2. Better Preparation
    • Is there anything you wished you you'd known before going?
    • What would you tell someone else preparing to go?
    • How could you have been better prepared for language learning?
    • How could you have been more adequately prepared to handle the spiritual side?
  3. On From Here
    • In what way has your field experience reinforced your commitment to missions?
    • Are you committed to working as a long term missionary?
    • Where could you see yourself working as a long term missionary?
    • How will you prepare for this?
    • In what ways do think we could help you prepare?


  1. Using the above suggestions and guidelines, discuss how you could improve the way you welcome staff and students back from outreaches.
  2. Discuss the different questions you would use depending on whether they were returning from a short or long term outreach.


  • Initial Sources Barry Austin Pastoral Support Manual; Graham Fawcett Missions Manual
  • Re-Entry: Making The Transition From Missions To Life At Home by Peter Jordan
  • Change. Together. 7 Practices of a Lifestyle Missionary by Matt Whitlock
  • The Next 70 Days: A DTS Re-Entry Devotional by Tanya Lyons
  • An Online Community serving those who have left YWAM with online courses/communities/mentorship and more.
  • Other Re-Entry Resources What else do we know of that could be helpful?

DTS Students Returning Home


Now that you have been involved in YWAM DTS, there are certain adjustments you will face in returning home. Please take careful note of the following suggestions and prayerfully prepare yourself so you will be a blessing to your family, church, friends, and church leadership. These adjustments are common to all missionaries and short-term workers, both in YWAM and any other organisation.

A lot of those who work with YWAM are "short-termers". They are either people who have come to see if YWAM is for them, discover it isn't and return home; or someone who, having done a DTS, is returning home in preparation for a longer period with YWAM; or perhaps is with YWAM for two years or less. We are called as a mission to offer this service to the body of Christ. We are grateful to the Lord for all those He sends us for a short term outreach or training programme --- about 10,000 to 15,000 people each year. And we are privileged to be able to send these people to their church or fellowship. Obviously a person's whole life will not change in three months or a year, but such a short-term experience can be a very valuable contribution to one's life---both in vision for the lost and growing in God.

The short-term nature of many YWAM programs is something we believe the Lord led us to establish to help mobilise Christians for longer term service. We recognise that it is one way God can call people to long-term missionary service --- or confirm to them that they do not have a missionary calling! Staying with YWAM or going back to the local church are both privileges and callings from the Lord. As a mission it is our prayer that those who work with us for a short-term will be a blessing when they return home. Please pray that this will be true in your life as well!

Local Church and Mission Organizations Are Different

Remember that a local church and the missionary society have different callings and purposes, and therefore should not be compared with one another.

The tasks and functions of both are complementary to one another. The local church fulfills a role that a missionary society can never fulfill. It is the most basic structure to the whole Body of Christ and provides the teaching and pastoral care that are essential for the vast majority of Christians in the world today. It provides a spiritual home for all those called by God to be salt and light in normal society. Without the local church, there could be no missionary organisations, because local believers provide the prayer and financial support to fuel the task of pioneer missions and outreach worldwide. To be called by God to serve in a local church by being a faithful member and a faithful witness is a high calling from God and should be held in great esteem.

Too often a young person goes home after an exciting short-term experience where there has been daily prayer meetings, close fellowship with others who are fired up about sharing their faith on the streets and an intense spiritual atmosphere; they do not share his enthusiasm. It is then that the great temptation comes to compare the "drabness" of daily life in a local church with the"excitement" of "full-time work"

As you are getting ready to return home---be on guard! Don't compare the missionary experience with the local church. They have two different callings.

The world can never be reached by full-time missionaries alone! It will only be totally reached by those called by God to faithful service---whether that is on the mission field or in the factory and office. People in the local church have a special calling from God and it takes a lot of dedication for that kind of calling.

Sometimes it is easier to go away for a short-term experience than it is to stay and be a faithful witness at work or school. That takes maturity and commitment---someone who is dependable and consistent.

Obviously it is important to have special evangelistic outreaches but in the long run even missionaries do not have a steady diet of evangelism. If they are not the kind of people who can stick it out in a job five days a week, fifty-two weeks a year, they will not last very long as a missionary.

We have said all that to say that when you go home, it is fine to be excited about how God has used you on an outreach or what He has done in your life in a school ... but you should also ask Him to put a very special love and appreciation in your heart for those who have stayed home and been faithful there. After all, they have made it possible for you to go!

If you don't have that kind of respect and appreciation, pride may grow in your heart and you will only compare your experience with the "ordinariness" of your local church. You may also become critical and them begin to withdraw. Comparison can lead to pride, which produces a critical attitude and withdrawal, If, after six months at home, you are not working or going to school, and you have become a critical person, what good has you experience in YWAM really done you?!

The real test of the value of a short-term experience in YWAM will be if you can translate your experience into servanthood in your local church. Prove to your church that you can be a diligent servant, willing to do whatever you are asked with a joyful spirit. Prove to your family you are a changed person by helping wash the dishes etc. (without having to be reminded) and being faithful and consistent on the job. Then you are ready to hear God if He would want you to become a missionary!

When You Return Home, Don't Feed Your Church "YWAM-Soup"

Share what God has taught you, but be careful that you don't talk about YWAM so much that people get sick of hearing about it. Every organisation tends to use certain terms frequently. YWAM is no exception to this so be careful to explain what you mean if you start talking about "intercession" or "getting a word from the Lord", etc. God can use you to challenge others to go out on outreaches and your enthusiasm can be a great blessing, but give the glory to the Lord for all the good that was done.

Perhaps the Lord may call some in your church to work with a denominational programme or with another missionary organisation. Praise the Lord! We don't want to build YWAM, but the Kingdom of God!

Meet With Church Leaders

If your church does not have a missions committee or church leader responsible for helping you, adjust to being back home and integrating your experience into the church life, ask the Minister if he would appoint someone to meet with you on a regular basis. You will need the regular counsel of a wise and Godly person to help you as you work out what God has taught you while you were away in YWAM.

Also consider looking at some information on debriefing and see some of the things that will be helpful or even essential to you when you get home.

Return to the Same Church That Sent You Out

If you were thinking about changing churches before you went to YWAM, you have an obligation to the church that sent you out, particularly if they prayed for you and supported you financially. If, after a year of faithful service, and attendance, once you are back home, you still feel that you are to change, talk it through with the minister. If you don't do this, you betray the trust of the church and put YWAM in the position of appearing to be the cause of your leaving the church.