Book Review: Looming Transitions

Transitions are common in a missionary’s life. My wife and I have been missionaries for 41 years and are now in the middle of our 9th “Home Service.” Saying that transitions are common does not mean they are not difficult or disruptive. Transitions are never easy but there is light beyond them. Amy Young has written a helpful book, Looming Transitions: Starting and Finishing Well in Cross-Cultural Service, published in 2016. She writes from her own twenty year experience serving in Asia where she helped “hundreds of people adjust to the field and prepare to leave it” (back cover). She writes in an easy conversational style.

The Introduction and first two chapters give a clear and honest picture of what transitions look like. The author points out that the stress of transitions stems from the gap between our expectations and the reality along the way. Transitions affect us socially, physically, and emotionally.

Chapter 3, “Stay Grounded in Christ,” points to the importance of one’s relationship with Christ to provide stability through transitions. The author writes:

Part of finishing well is to stay grounded in something that will outlive this transition. Staying rooted in Christ while being uprooted in this chapter of your story is going to be a daily reorienting point in the story you tell. -38.

Chapter 4 illustrates in a variety of ways that “Laughter revives the soul.” Chapter 5 tells us that we need to “Accept that it’s going to be messy.” The messiness shows up in relationships, housing and possessions, finances, and weather. “Know yourself,” chapter 6, looks at time management, thoroughness of task completion, grieving style, and identity.

While there has been a lot of practical advice up to this point, there is a definite shift from chapter 7 on to provide detailed, practical steps for dealing with transitions. “Start early,” chapter 7 advises making a plan that will provide some structure in the midst of the messiness of transitions. She advises:

… make a list of everything you need to do and want to see happen in the upcoming months. Next we will transform your list into a plan. Start by dividing your list according to the following four categories: (1) paperwork, (2) personal belongings, (3) people, and (4) places and experiences. -89.

The author includes a lot of examples of how this plan has worked out in different situations.

Chapter 8 reminds us that “It’s not just about you.” Our transitions will affect many people around us and we need to reach out to help them process this transition as well. “Work out your grief,” chapter 9 gives practical steps for dealing with the sorrow that will be part of every transition.

The final chapter of the book focuses on “Your unique path.” Transitions are not resolved with a cookie cutter. This chapter includes discussions on “First time to the field,” “First furlough or home assignment,” “Returning to the field after a furlough or home assignment,” “Subsequent furloughs and home assignments,” and “Leaving the field for the foreseeable future.” There is no discussion about retirement as a transition, probably because that requires a book of its own. Each of these discussions concludes with a list of 5 questions to consider in planning for the transition. There are additionally 5 questions for high school graduates returning to their passport country to start college as well as another 5 for their parents. These questions are both practical and insightful.

This is a great resource for missionaries. Transitions are an unavoidable part of our lives that will be navigated more successfully by making use of this resource. It is not an autopilot but gives you the charts, prevailing winds and currents, asking important question so that you can make wise decisions as you sail through the transitions in your life. I recommend reading it before your next transition.

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