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. 😉