Re-entry struggles in COVID-time

Door: Margriet Muurling

Chaos in my head. Chaos in my life. Chaos in my family. What to do? I am in transition! Due to the COVID crisis, me and my family needed to return to our home country earlier than planned. But what is my home country? There are many questions in my head? Sometimes I am sure about a lot of things and know this is the right step to go forward, but other times nothing feels sure, I only feel left with sorrows and lots of questions. I couldn’t say a proper goodbye to the people I loved and served for many years, due to the fact that we needed to leave suddenly. We don’t have a house yet where we can stay for longer period of time, thus we can’t make it a home yet. Our personal things are still unpacked. What about a job? What about schooling for our children, and will they ever make friends again? Due to the lockdown, it is hard to meet new people anyway, to go to church or to settle in and even to catch up with old friends and family. We are still on our own ‘island’, sometimes that feels at home, cozy and it gives us a lot of peace and rest, nobody is asking us to give any presentations of our work overseas, we are still in our own bubble and enjoying it! But other times we know we have to pick up life again to adjust to our home country or can I better say to a new country after many years away? There are a lot of mixed feelings and doubts. Even the question was raised: ‘Where is God in the midst of it?’ Sometimes I just don’t know where He is? How can this happen so suddenly anyway? Yes, we had planned to return, but not in this way. We wanted to prepare our goodbyes properly and we wanted to plan our return very well, but nothing has happened as we had hoped and planned.

These are just some of the feelings of missionaries that I often hear, as they are in the midst of a re-entry. Re-entry is a chaotic period in life of missionaries, but it makes it even more chaotic because of the COVID crisis. While I was writing this, I was thinking of the story of Daniel and his friends in the Bible while they were in exile. They were completely uprooted, snatched away from everything they knew. They didn’t have a home anymore. They had been taken away from everything they knew to a complete strange Babylonian Empire, now called Iraq. A new culture, new surroundings, new gods, new people, everything they knew was gone. Even their names were changed, they got new names related to new gods, which they didn’t know. Where is the God of Israel? They were displaced. Their lives were shaken because all familiarity was thrown away. A comparison can be made with lots of missionaries today when they return from the field so sudden. Questions are raised: Where is God? What about our ministry? We had a strong vision, but now it is gone? Transition in COVID time makes it even more difficult because you cannot connect to people in your new neighborhood, you don’t know how to find a job and how to connect to your church or join a new church.

Back to Daniel. If we read through Daniel, we see that in the midst of the chaos, God is with Daniel and his friends. He is not alone. God gave people on his path; you can read this in Daniel 1 verse 9: ‘now God had caused the official to show favor and compassion to Daniel’. This is very special to read, because God gave a person to Daniel who was not a believer, but he showed compassion to Daniel. Do we see the people who God gives to us on our path? Do we look for them? God gave Daniel and his friends also a mission in Daniel 1 verse 17: ‘To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds.’

When I came back from the mission field to the Netherlands many years ago, I thought I did not have a mission anymore, it is all over and it is all gone. The story of Daniel encouraged me a lot that my mission is not related to a special place, but it is related to wherever I go. God is with me and I can still serve Him. Wherever you are, sitting on your old-fashioned sofa in your temporary house, your mission isn’t gone. Yes, your mission has to adjust to a different place and to different surroundings with different people, but it is still your mission. God is still there, as he was with Daniel and his friends, He is also there with you and your family.

Re-entry means you are in transition, you are uprooted, all that is familiar and what you found so normal is no longer there. You thought you knew everything. You thought you still knew everything in your own home country, but had to discover it is not there anymore. You thought you knew God. You thought you had a mission, now it seems it is all gone. God shows us through the story of Daniel that it is not about God being yours, but that is about you being His child. God says: ‘You are mine!’ He is faithful. He is there and you can still follow His mission wherever you are. He will be with you.

It is very normal that re-entry brings many mixed feelings. Re-entry is a process of chaos in your head, a process of adjusting, and that is not always easy. We often want to do it quickly, because we want to move on. However, it is important to spend time dealing with your re-entry process. If you’ve been away for 5 years, the figurative distance is actually 10 years. You went one way for 5 years, but people in your home country went the other way for 5 years. It is very normal to experience chaos in your life! It is very normal that it seems you are living in a blur. It is very normal that you are feeling you live in two worlds. We didn’t even talk about the effects of social media, that turns the world into one big village. Some people might not even know where they are physically.

Take your time for this re-entry process. Allow yourself this time! Talk about it with people who understand or with people who have gone through these kinds of experiences themselves. Re-entry is a huge change; it is saying goodbye to things and people you have lived with for many years. Re-entry is a process of starting over. Re-entry is also a grieving process and that takes time. Take your time and don’t feel guilty about it. That’s the beautiful thing of the COVID crisis, due to the quarantine and the lock-down you are forced or maybe better, you are allowed to get some more time to adjust to your home (new) country. Make use of that time!