Rhonda Miska, who co-facilitated two re-entry retreats at Franciscan Mission Service this January, talks about the importance of the re-entry process on returning missioners.

Co-facilitator Rhonda Miska singing during morning prayer with returned missioners Catherine Giller and Nora Pfeiffer, both of whom served for three years in Bolivia.

When I explained to my friends and my community members that I was taking a sabbatical from my work to assist in leading re-entry retreats for returned missioners, the response I received more than once surprise. “A re-entry retreat for people returning to the U.S.? Really?”

Everyone knows that moving overseas isn’t easy. Adapting to a new culture, learning a new language, becoming accustomed to new foods and different lifestyle – all of these are challenging, and most everyone recognizes that. However, often it is assumed – even by missioners themselves – that returning to the US is relatively easy. After all, it’s coming home, right?

In reality, the transition period from overseas mission to life back in the US presents many unique challenges. Missioners don’t return to the same home that they left – there have been shifts in the culture, in social and political trends. For these missioners, with the new translation of the Roman Missal, even the language of the Mass wasn’t the same!

Furthermore, relationships have changed as loved ones have married, moved, graduated, changed jobs or made other shifts. Moreover, the missioners themselves have undergone growth and changes while living in another culture. Then there are the practical questions: where to live, what work to do, and how to live out reverse mission in the US.

This is where the re-entry retreat comes in. Our January retreat included eight returned FMS missioners: Joel, Lynn, Tim, Cecilia, Nora, Catherine, Bryce, and Sandra. Prayerfully reflecting on saying good-bye, grieving the losses, celebrating the accomplishments, giving thanks for the spiritual growth each experienced, acknowledging the disappointments, sharing stories of the people and places the missioners had grown to love , and looking ahead to living out reverse mission were all elements of our time together.

The returned missioners and their retreat facilitators after the closing Mass pose with a few objects missioners brought to represent their service abroad. From left to right: Nora Pfeiffer (2010-2012, Bolivia), Rhonda Miska, Lynn Myrick (2010-2012, Bolivia), Joel Vaughn (2010-2012, Bolivia), Sandra and Bryce Bradford (Zambia, 2010-2011), Cecilia and Tim Marcy (South Africa, 2010-2012), Catherine Giller (2010-2012, Bolivia) and Kim Smolik.

The returned missioners – some of whom knew each other very well, and some who met here at the retreat – built community over our two weeks together. Throughout the retreat, the missioners shared stories and found resonance in each other’s experience.

Often, missioners would respond to another’s sharing, by saying “I hadn’t thought of that, but when you said it, I realized it’s true for me, too.” Telling and hearing stories with those who had walked a similar road brought clarity and insight.

FMS lay missioners seek to practice a “ministry of presence” and to accompany people in the host country while on mission. I am grateful for the opportunity to have offered a “ministry of presence” and to have accompanied these eight extraordinary men and women as part of their re-entry process.

Rhonda Miska served as the co-facilitator for the FMS and Finca del Nino re-entry retreats held in January at Franciscan Mission Service’s Washington, D.C. headquarters. She holds a MA in pastoral ministry from the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. She serves as community coordinator at Innisfree Village, a lifesharing community with adults with intellectual disabilities in Crozet, VA. She served as a Jesuit Volunteer in Nicaragua from 2002-2004, and remembers well the challenges of her own re-entry to the US.