Most missionaries take a “furlough” or “home assignment” from time to time. This refers to a period of time that they are back in their passport country (back “home”, as some say). The reasons for the time away from their ministry can be many. Some people have concerns and wonder, “Why does that missionary really need to come back to the United States so much?” or “Aren’t they wasting a lot of money going back and forth?”
Here are some of the reasons that a missionary might come back to their passport country:
- Requirement by agency or mission – Most missions or mission agencies have a requirement or recommendation for their missionaries to return to their passport country and take a break from their current ministry from time to time. The amounts of time between these periods vary and the recommendations for activities during the time away are also different.
- Rest time – Missionaries need rest! Living in a culture that is different from your own is stressful and exhausting…even if you love the country you are in and the people you work with. Just communicating in a different language can take a toll on a missionary’s health and relationships. Reconnecting with family that they have not seen for years is an important component of this for them and their children.
- Visiting current supporters and churches – Missionaries need to visit the churches and people that support them. People expect updates about the ministry that they are praying for and contributing money to. Visiting people also makes the ministry more real to them and they will think of the missionary more often and remember to pray for them.
- Raising support – Missionaries need to raise more support. This means that they need to ask more people and churches to send in money to support their ministry. People can contribute monthly, weekly, yearly, or once in a while. Any contributions help the missionary stay on the field. Many missionaries are under-supported and have to return to the US to raise funds.
- Children’s needs – Some missionaries return for a home assignment due to a need of one or more of their children. This could be a child with special needs like deafness, autism, learning disabilities, etc. Many times it is hard to find specialized services in other countries. Maybe the parents are receiving training so that they can educate their special needs child once they return to their ministry. Missionaries may also return for a period of months to a year to help a child adjust to moving back to the United States for college or university. This period of transition is one of the most difficult for the missionary kid – moving to the US is not moving home, but to a foreign culture. Many MKs struggle to adjust and make poor choices during this time. Having parents near during this period may help ease the transition.
- Caring for ailing parents – Many missionaries have ailing and elderly parents back “home” in their passport country. When parents struggle with cancer, strokes, and heart attacks, the missionary may need to return to care for them for a period of time.
- Further training – Receiving training is an important aspect of most jobs, and missions is no different. Missionaries may need to do continuing medical education, maintain currency of their pilot’s license, receive computer training, learn new communication or evangelistic techniques, learn new teaching techniques or maintain a teaching license.
Now, I have to address the elephant in the room…. or in the back of people’s minds. Many people believe that missionaries are on vacation for the time they are in the United States, and some even think “Wow, I wish I could get a break from my job for that long!”. My family encountered several of these people over the years. As you can see from the above list, there are times of rest and recovery, but the majority of the time back “home” is spent working…just in a different capacity than when they are in their host country. Remember that when you see missionaries back in the United States. 😉
Although it may sound simple, one of the best ways to bless a missionary is to pray for them. There are many areas for which missionaries would appreciate prayer:
- Effective Ministry – Obviously, every missionary would like for their ministry to be effective and reach many people. They feel called to serve and have a passion for people coming to know God on a personal level. If their ministry is effective, it makes it easier for them to persevere in the work God gave them. They need wisdom to know when to share about Jesus and with whom.
- Safety – Missionaries serve in all different environments. Some live in relative safety, but others are constantly on the defensive, watching for threats. Some fear for their lives or their possessions, and others just worry about sickness and lack of medical care. Many times Americans are targets because they are perceived as rich, or just because they are Americans.
- Strength/Stamina – Missionaries do hard, frustrating work. Daily activities are harder than in the U.S. Things like cooking, laundry, and housekeeping all take extra time and effort. Houses are not airtight, and bugs and dust are pervasive. People are spiritually blinded and may not be open to hearing about God. Pray for both physical and emotional strength.
- Grow in Faith – Missionaries may not have opportunities to be spiritually fed. Many live in a desert-like spiritual environment where they serve as the only well with water for those around them. Pray they receive encouragement from God’s Word.
- Personal Friendships – Missionary life can be lonely. Working with people of another culture is hard and they may not ever be able to establish close friendships, especially if there are no Christians in their area. Their friends back in their “home” country are moving on with life without them and their relationship will never be the same.
- Kids – Most missionaries worry about their kids adjusting well. They want their kids to grow up healthy and emotionally well. The list of things to pray for the MKs is extensive and I will write another blog post in the coming weeks to give you more ideas.
- Health – Medical care in other countries is always different than the United States. Many developing countries suffer from a lack of doctors and hospitals. There are also many snakes, bugs, and diseases that are new to the missionary family.
- Host Country Government – Pray that the host country government would stay open to missionaries and the gospel. Pray that they make laws that facilitate people coming to know God in their country.
Want to be an even bigger blessing? Tell your missionary what you are praying for them. Write out a prayer that they can read to let them know your thoughts and prayers!
Are you having trouble getting your kids to want to learn about other countries and people groups? Do you wish they would care about others and be more generous?
Here are some inexpensive ways that you can use the recent Summer Olympics in Brazil to spark their interest:
- Color a map of Brazil together. Label Rio de Janeiro (where the Summer Olympics were in 2016).
- Create or color a flag of Brazil.
- Read a book about Brazil from your local library.
- Read a book about missionaries. Find one that includes people who have gone to Brazil, and talk about what kinds of jobs they have done. Missionary Kid Stories
- Play soccer as a family. Look up the rules if you need to.
- Make homemade lemonade/limeade from fresh squeezed lemons/limes.
- Make a Brazilian dinner (include rice and beans) by looking up recipes online. You can use the recipe from MoneySavingMom Crockpot Beans for how to make crock pot beans (so simple)!
- Put together a puzzle of the world. Find Brazil.
- Learn some Portuguese phrases together. Bom dia!
- Look up missions websites like JAARS http://www.jaars.org or Wycliffe (www.wycliffe.org) and search for articles about missionaries and mission work in Brazil. Pick some to read as a family. Sign up for updates from a missionary if you find one you are really interested in!
You won’t have to do all of these things to get your kids interested…just pick the ones that will work for your family! Your kids will already be excited about the Olympics, and you’ll be surprised how easy it will be to help the excitement carry over to learning about a new country and the mission work people are doing there!