He used to be a missionary!” the woman whispered, pointing to the new pastor. The implication was evident. He was obviously a failure because he had not stayed and died on the foreign field.

The three-year military man comes home a hero; the two-year Peace Corps volunteer, a traveled practical idealist; the businessman returning from an overseas stint, an adventurer; the Foreign Service officer, a credit to his country. But the returning missionary is looked upon as a failure, though he may have given a dozen of his best years overseas in the cause of Christ.

As some of my young missionary friends prepared to leave the field for good, my heart went out to them. I knew what they would have to face at home. They could not say simply that “our health broke down,” or that “missionaries were expelled from the country.” Their reasons for leaving were much more complicated; they themselves could hardly express them.

While on furlough I tried to find out why many missionaries did not return to the field after their first term of service, or did not even finish the first term. Many of the former missionaries whom I questioned seemed to be attempting to cover up what others had conveyed to them: they were spiritual failures. Because of their defensiveness, I felt my study would have to be made indirectly.

One of the few sources of psychological studies of overseas personnel I found was a recent unpublished report of Peace Corps psychologists. I studied this material, on the assumption that the problems of missionaries were in many ways similar to those of Peace Corps volunteers. The Peace Corps findings underlie the analysis that follows.

Missionaries who give up and go home do so for a variety of reasons. I want to deal here with only ...

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