Home Again: Telling Your Story

By Chelsea Charles

You’ve just returned on home assignment. And the first thing someone asks is, “How was it?” (Or my personal favorite: “How was Africa?” “How was the Middle East?” etc. Hmm. I haven’t asked…all of them.)

Do I unleash the fire hose with my one hour spiel?

 Do I shrivel up? “Um. Y’know. It was good.”

You want to be positive. Relevant. Authentic. And you want your (currently oblivious) listener encouraged, i.e. not bowled over…without perpetuating global work myths: Every cockroach was so worth it! I shared my faith every day 46 times! Who needs sleep? Not me.

Know your audience

Some people genuinely want to know every detail of your trip. Tell me all about living in the sticks and taking bucket showers!

Many, if not most (try not to be disappointed), are just looking for the quick and dirty. Know who you’re talking to, and modify your story accordingly. Keep in mind that most people have not been deprived of Twitter or Insta on reliable, lightspeed internet for the last couple of years—i.e. American attention spans can be teensy, and they may not have the buy-in you do. They haven’t been through, and made it out of, the rabbit hole like you have, head spinning.

The one who stops you in the church hallway on the way to Sunday school is probably just looking for the highlights. We’re talking 2-5 minutes of great ministry stories and perhaps a quick one about something exotic you ate.

Have a longer version for the one who invites you out to coffee to talk about it. These are usually your closer friends or perhaps fellow global workers who are itching to hear about how work overseas is going. They may be interested in a 45 minute to an hour version—the heart version: highs and lows of ministry, life with others in close community, how God has moved your soul.

Be prepared for this to be slightly isolating: You were close to these people in the past, but your spiritual and physical paths have taken drastically different turns. Don’t let this keep you from pursuing a relationship. Just know it will take time to bring them along, and they may say some things demonstrating how little they understand you. It doesn’t mean they can’t understand; it just may take extra effort. (Editor’s note: If you’re dealing with this profoundly, you might see this blog post on choosing vulnerability.) 

You might have a shorter, 15-30 minute version for the ones in between. These may be family members at a gathering or someone you have a little extra time to spend with.

If you’re more of a planner or not good on your feet, feel free to journal out your story versions—which can be devotional in its own right. Choose a few pics—which are, as they say, worth a thousand words.

Don’t steal the show

Your friends and family had a life, too. While you may genuinely believe you had the most life change, this is an opportunity to receive their stories and love them well.

Some of them may look forward to talking with someone outside the drama—and you may find that in their mind, as a “missionary” (cue the heavenly music)—they’re seeking more of a pastoral take. Don’t always come back with a story about when you were in such-and-such a place. People may already feel intimidated by your “big life”, so be sure to listen thoroughly, not respond with too much advice or stories, and be a safe place.

Remember the main character

God’s been doing this—which affects what you tell, how you tell it, and the impact in can have. Don’t feel the need to overspiritualize, which can alienate, but let your appreciation flow naturally out of your true adoration for God. Think of a “loaves and fishes” approach: Share genuinely and from the heart, and anticipate God multiplying your story in other lives, for his honor.

Return the story God’s given you as a humble gift to the world, and who knows? You might just change it.

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