Why Missionaries Return Early

Why Missionaries Return Early

Why Missionaries Return EarlyAbout half of all cross-cultural missionaries return home without completing their first term or do not return to the mission field after their first furlough.


Here are the 10 most common reasons why so many missionaries return early.

1.  Cross-cultural incompetence

The missionaries sometimes, their spouses often, and their teenaged children typically lack the ability and/or the desire to learn and adapt to the local culture, including its language, mannerisms, food, hygiene, social norms, inefficiencies, technological deficiencies, concepts of time, responsibility, accountability and power distance, etc.

2.  Spiritual and/or emotional immaturity

Inspired by biographies of storied missionaries who baptized masses, as well as glowing reports from current missionaries, some new missionaries arrive in the field with high expectations, then become disappointed and demoralized when the expected harvest doesn't materialize, and lack the spiritual and emotional maturity to bounce back.

3.  Conflicts with colleagues

Missionaries tend to have strong personalities. The docile, follower types rarely uproot and move to challenging foreign lands. Cultural differences, misunderstandings, miscommunications, politics, power plays, jealousies, etc. lead to clashes between missionaries, as well as between missionaries and the mission board and/or the local partners or employees.

4.  Health issues

Contaminated water and food cause food poisoning, parasitic worms and amoeba, while mosquito bites lead to dengue fever and malaria. Stress and exhaustion weaken the immune system, lead to depression, and even trigger latent mental illnesses. In India and China, extreme air pollution causes hair loss, acne and respiratory illnesses. The lack of Western healthcare, especially for sick children, often lead to emergency repatriation.

5.  Inadequate schools for children

International schools are expensive and may be too far away. Local schools tend to be inadequate for preparing for American colleges, and the missionaries may be too busy to homeschool. Some return home intending to return to the mission field after their youngest child leaves home for college. Many of them never return, while those who do return have spent a decade of their most energetic years away from the mission field.

6.  Sexual sins

Single missionaries get lonely and seek companionship that leads to fornication, while married male missionaries fall for fawning female members of the planted church. The mission field isn't immune to the ravages of internet pornography.

7.  Family formation or expansion

When single missionaries marry and have babies, their priority often shifts from the Lord's harvest field to raising their children, preferably back home in safety and with family support.

8.  Family obligation back home

Elderly parents lose independence and/or become sick and require a caregiver.

9.  Sending church lowers or ends support

Churches in the West are ageing and emptying. Many are having trouble paying their pastor's salary or closing.

10.  Deportation

Government of countries hostile to the Gospel deport missionaries caught proselytizing, including to save face or to make a political statement.