Today, guest blogger and missionary author Maggie Register shares her re-entry experience into the USA as a young missionary years ago. I am no longer considered a young missionary, nor will this be my first re-entry into the country where I was born and raised, yet in some sense my family and I will feel somewhat foreign.
I had no idea that upon reentry into the United States, I would experience culture shock. There was a sense of alienation. I felt “foreign.” I was shocked that I did not fit in with my family or with my church family. I was no longer only North American. Neither was I Chilean. I was shocked to realize that for the remainder of my life I would have a “third” culture, a blend. I was indeed a “foreign” missionary.
I was appalled at the materialism, at the super-abundance of “stuff.” I saw the abundance in stores jammed with products, in homes jammed with non-essentials. The mindset of everyone seemed to be to “acquire more stuff.” There seemed to be little desire to give—only to consume. Women’s conversations seemed centered on hair, jewelry, designer shoes, and bags.
I grieved at the superficiality, the shallow mindset. Friendships seemed shallow. Christians’ devotion to God seemed shallow. Christians’ prayers seemed shallow. Christians’ faith seemed self-focused.
The American church seemed almost a pseudo-church. There seemed to be little desire to reach out beyond the church walls. Where were the people whose lives were being transformed? Where was a congregation who received the Word and put the principles into action in their daily lives?
My heart broke to see the cultural decline—television content seemed more debauched, vocabulary on television more crude. People, in general, seemed more rude.
I wept at the provincialism—people seemed to think, “What world?” And their attitude seemed to be, “Who cares?” People were not interested in our experiences—the joys or the sorrows—unless we were “on stage” where people often seemed to listen out of religious obligation.
As missionaries, our lives and ministry had been integrated; our days motivated by compassion. Now I felt I had nothing meaningful to do—certainly no one wanted church services every night. I couldn’t have Saturday Bible clubs because we needed to itinerate. Even if there had been women’s onces, teas, what did we have in common to talk about? I had no women’s or girls’ booklets to write, no girls’ retreats to plan. I missed the sense of feeling needed.
I was desperately homesick for friends in Chile. I missed our missionary colleagues. I missed our Chilean friends. I missed the lingering meals where we could sit and talk and laugh, where sharing conversation was just as vital as eating the food.
And when itinerary began, I felt I couldn’t make real friends because we were in a different church every night—no one could know “me” but only my stage self. No one saw me cry or be angry; no one knew how human I really was.
I felt false because “on stage” my holy-self was demonstrated with wonderful stories from Viña. Missionaries never talked about the painful times. I dared not mention the pain of Temuco.
I felt like a plastic saint.
–adapted from Margaret Register’s memoir “No Place for Plastic Saints”