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!
One of the most old-fashioned ways to bless a missionary is to send them a package. In order to do this well, it is probably best to first ask the missionary if it is ok for them to receive packages. They will be able to tell you any information that you might need to send the package in the best way possible. You will need to know:
- What can or cannot be sent to them
- How best to send it (Fed Ex, UPS, USPS, etc.)
- Any fees they may have to pay to get the package out of customs
- If it can contain anything regarding God, Jesus or Christianity
- What they may need or want.
There are a few things that are NOT good things to send. Do NOT send:
- Used clothing in outdated or poor condition. If you wouldn’t wear it, don’t send it.
- Baked goods (unless specifically requested). You do not know how long the package will be in transit, and the food may be stale or in crumbs by the time the missionary gets it.
- Old and outdated books and commentaries (unless the missionary knows about them and wants them). These are heavy and hard to ship. If the missionary has to pay to get things out of customs, they may have to pay more than they are worth.
- Outdated media. Those old VHS tapes and musical tapes that you don’t want…they don’t want them either. (And they may not have a way to even play them!)
The moral of the story is this: you can bless a missionary with a package, but check with them first!
Many people would love to help a missionary out, but do not have extra cash lying around to hand out. One practical way that you can help a missionary is to donate services to them. Maybe you own a small business or maybe you have a particular skill that can be useful to them. Even if you cannot donate the entire amount of a service, you might have a coupon for a particular service that would help them out a lot.
Here are some practical examples of ways you might help; use your imagination to come up with other ways that fit your skills and talents!
- Donate services for their car. Maybe they need an oil change or new tires. Maybe they need new brakes. Offer a discount if you have a car repair shop. Give them a free car wash.
- Offer to cut and color their hair. This is an expensive item that many missionaries do not treat themselves to regularly. If you know how to do this well, you can make them feel very pampered. (Just don’t walk up and say, “I can color your hair for you”! That might not be received well.)
- Donate airfare miles. Many people that travel a lot have these stored up. The missionary could use these to travel to churches in the USA or to help pay for a return ticket home.
- Offer to help fix their computer. Missionaries have IT problems just like the rest of us. If you are experienced with computers, you can be a huge help to a missionary with limited funds.
- Do yardwork for them for free while they are in the USA. This can be a huge timesaver and blessing to the missionary. This is also a great way to get your kids involved.
- Take pictures of them. If you can take professional quality pictures, your missionary would probably love to have some new, beautiful pictures of their family. They may need one to update their prayer card, newsletter, or blog.
- Offer free copies. If you happen to own a copy/print store, you can offer to make free copies of newsletters for them. Many churches might also be able to offer this service.
- Donate food. Do you own a restaurant, café, or food business? Treat them to a meal or two. Depending on the establishment, you could donate coffee, donuts, meals, ice cream, or cakes/cookies.
- Share your garden produce. If you’ve spent time and effort cultivating a garden in the summer, you probably have an abundance of produce. Ask the missionary if they would like some fresh garden food. Missionaries travel a lot, and it is a good idea to make sure they will be in town to be able to eat it.
- Do alterations. If you are a skilled seamstress or own an alteration shop, you can help a missionary alter clothing or hem pants.
- Tutor their kids. If you are a teacher, you could be very useful by tutoring their kids. Many MKs struggle to adjust during their time on “home assignment” and a tutor may be immensely helpful.
- Babysit. Offer to watch the MKs for a date night or for the parents to be able to attend doctor’s appointments, etc.
Depending on your skills and talents and what business you might own, you might be able to come up with even more ways to donate services to a missionary. Feel free to comment with other ways! Maybe you can come up with one that I did not think of!
As a former MK, I can testify that this is one way that you can be a huge blessing to a missionary family. Missionaries have limited budgets, and the money they get is frequently allocated to ministry needs and not so much towards things they want. Many missionary kids don’t have the same resources as the kids living in the United States.
Here are some practical ways to bless a missionary kid when they are back in the United States:
- Give them a gift. You can send one through the mail or buy them one when they are back in the United States.
- Give them some spending money. They probably have a list (or at least a few things) that they’d really like, but can’t afford.
- Take them out to eat. Listen to them, and get to know them personally.
- Encourage your kids to include them in parties, youth events, etc.
- Ask them on a play date if they are young.
- Offer to attend Sunday School or youth group with them. It is very intimidating to walk into a big group of kids and be the new, “weird” missionary kid. Even if they are back at their “home church”, it won’t be home for them and they will be uncomfortable. If they know you, you can help ease this transition.
- Sponsor them so they are able to go to a church camp.
- Host them if their parents are out of the country and they do not have a place to stay.
- Write a letter of recommendation for them if they are trying to obtain scholarships for college. (This requires for you to know them.)
- Buy them a gift when they graduate from high school.
- Throw them a “Going to College” shower. They may only have 1-2 suitcases of clothes to head to college, and the needs may be great. You can help provide sheets, pillows, a desk lamp, fan, school supplies, etc. This can be a surprise or you can ask the family what the MK’s specific needs are. You could even provide a gift card shower so the MK and their parents can go shopping and get what they need.
I was blessed to have people do several of the above things for me. I had a “Going to College” shower that was a huge blessing, both to me and my parents. My parents wanted to provide for all the things I might need before they left me and drove thousands of miles away, but they did not have the budget for it. Our local church sponsored a shower for me, and I was able to go to the dorm with all of the basics that I would need for my freshman year. It was a huge relief!
I also had a few people that gave me money over the years to spend on things I might want or need. One man wrote a letter of recommendation to help me get a scholarship for college. One sweet lady took me out to lunch (by myself) several times. Our family knew her, and approved, of course. It made me feel very special that she would invest time in me!
I hope you have been inspired to think outside the box today! How can you bless a Missionary Kid? Let me know if you have other ideas!
There are lots of benefits of being a Missionary Kid (MK), and each MK could probably give you their own opinion of what those benefits are. I could probably come up with a huge list (some funny and some serious). One day I’ll have to do another blog post with a long list. For now, I’m going to tell you four big benefits of being an MK.
Getting to travel is one advantage to being a missionary kid. If you like to visit different countries, sample different types of food, and see exotic places, this is the life for you! Some missionaries have to travel for several days to even arrive at the place where they will live. Some visit different countries due to the type of work they do, and some travel extensively within the country where they serve.
Learning Other Languages
Most MK’s speak, or are learning, at least one other language besides their mother tongue. Some speak 4 or 5 languages. This will greatly depend on the country where they live and amount of languages they are exposed to. It will also depend on each kid’s ability to assimilate a new language. Let’s face it…some people pick up language much more quickly than others. Kids tend to learn very quickly and can have a native accent. Sometimes, people may not realize that the MK’s are foreigners because they speak so well in the language of the country where they live.
Meeting New People
This is great if you are an extrovert! Missionaries are constantly meeting new people, whether this is in the country where they work, or back in the United States while traveling to tell about their ministry. An MK will meet tons of new adults and children and will learn how to establish a connection with new people in a short amount of time.
Adapting to New Situations
MK’s are some of the most resilient people. They spend a lot of time learning to adapt to new situations, and they become very good at it. They can usually quickly identify how to act in order to fit in, and may be viewed as reserved at first. This stems from the need to assess a new situation and decide what behavior is expected.
Obviously, there are many more benefits that could be put on a list, but these are some of the main ones. Feel free to comment with your own ideas and opinions. What are some other benefits?
Missionaries visit many churches when they are back in the United States on home assignment. Some organizations help set up church visits, but many missionaries have to arrange their own visits to churches during their time in the US. With so many missionaries out there and a finite amount of churches and money available, it can be challenging for a missionary to get an appointment to talk with a missions committee or present their ministry in a church.
This is where you come in! A pastor is more likely to schedule a time to talk to a missionary or have them present their ministry to his church when he knows that some people in his local congregation know the missionary and believe in their ministry. Personal connections go a long way! What can you do?
- Find out when your missionary will be on “home assignment” or “furlough”
- Find out from your missionary if they would like to come to your church or if they would like you to ask about it
- Find out when your church has a “Missions Sunday” or if they allow missionaries to present at other times
- Approach your Missions Pastor or Lead Pastor with a proposal to have the missionary come. Be prepared to discuss your missionary with them and promote them. They might agree to a meeting with the pastor, a presentation in a Sunday School class, or a presentation from the pulpit. You never know!
- Have your missionary’s contact information available.
- If a meeting time is not possible, ask your pastor if your church provides for missionaries needs. Be prepared with one or two specific ideas of needs your missionary will have while in the US.
While this may seem like a waste of time to some or pointless to others, you would be surprised how much this can help! My family was able to visit many churches because of a local connection. Although not all of them were able to support us financially, some gave a one-time gift, and some joined as prayer partners. This was invaluable to my parent’s ministry.
Can you contact your local church leadership and advocate for a missionary? I challenge you to give it a try!
One of the main ways to bless a missionary is to write to them. Writing an email doesn’t take much time or effort, but can be a huge morale boost to a missionary serving abroad. Many missionaries are lonely for friendships. They also experience loneliness for the families and friendships that they left behind. Hearing from someone from their country of origin might just be what they need! And you don’t have to be eloquent or to be a great writer to do this!
If you are a new person to them:
- Introduce yourself and fill them in on who you are, who your family is, what your job is, etc. They will enjoy getting to know you, even if only through an email.
- Let them know how you found out about them.
- Ask questions about their ministry or their family.
- Ask if they have specific prayer requests or needs.
- Find out when they will be in the United States next, and plan to meet them in person.
If you already know them:
- Just tell them what has been going on in your life.
- Remind them about your job, family, etc., in case they might not remember.
- Fill them in on important news from their home church or home city. They may have not heard that a certain person moved away or died.
- Tell them if local people have received awards.
- Let them know if you saw their family member doing something important or great. You can help them still feel connected to where they came from.
Even if you don’t have a lot of time, you can still send a quick note. Just tell them you are thinking about them and praying for them. Let them know you appreciated their last newsletter or mention something that they wrote about. They will appreciate knowing that someone actually read their letter, and this will encourage them a great deal! So, get out there and write!