How To Care For Your Missionary On Furlough

Furlough is not a vacation time for missionaries; it is long and hard work visiting with supporting churches.

Furlough is an emotionally exhausting, painful, wonderful, whirlwind of joy and stress. Most missionaries do furlough wrong and they need your help to save them from themselves. It is important for you and your church to hear from your missionary and share in how God is being glorified in far off lands. It is also important for you to embrace your missionary partners and help them heal so they can live to serve another term.

 

You are a friend, family member, supporting church or prayer warrior for a missionary and they are about to come back to the US for furlough. To you it seems like they must be thrilled to be back “home” and their furlough is going to be one huge vacation. Now is the time for you to realize furlough is hard and you are indeed your brother’s keeper.

Scripture tells us to bear each other’s burdens (Gal 6:2), pray for each other (Jas 5:16), receive one another (Rom 15:7), serve each other (Gal 5:13), and be hospitable to each other (1Pet 4:8-10). We are to love one another. And, this is taught to us repeatedly throughout the Bible. Jesus commanded us to love each other (Jon 13:34-35). Paul taught it (Rom 13:8, 1Thes 4:9), Peter instructed it (1Pet 1:22) and John stressed it (1Jon 3:11, 4:7). If you appreciate the sacrifices your missionary is making for the kingdom, love them while they are on furlough.

Not Super-Christians

Many people act like missionaries are super-Christians. Most missionaries swallow their pain so supporters don’t think they are a bad investment. But, your missionaries are struggling. Missions is hard and it takes a spiritual, emotional and physical toll on missionaries. Don’t let their sinful pride tell you any different.

Encourage you missionaries to meet regularly with a pastor or counselor while they are on furlough. Buy them a dinner coupon and take their kids for the night so they can go out and repair their marriage. Set up play dates with their kids to help them be kids. Instead of expecting your missionaries to come over your house for dinner, realize they are doing that dozens of times on furlough and offer to bring pizza and a movie to them.

Offer Logistical Help

Start off with the understanding that your missionaries are in culture shock and they forgot how to live in the US. Think about what it takes to live in the US if you don’t live there. Your missionaries don’t have a place to live and hotels are expensive. They don’t have a car and rental prices are outrageous. Their phone doesn’t work in the US. Their clothes are out of date and they are embarrassed. If they have a temporary home it likely doesn’t have internet, yet supporters still want updates.

What about when they come visit your church? Have one person volunteer to champion their visit. Without the missionary being forced to ask, organize a private place to stay, group meals, church activities, recreation and down time.

What about those long-term things nobody thinks about. Have a financial planner or attorney sit down and volunteer to help a missionary plan for the future. Ask them what they are doing for retirement, a will, kid’s college funds, health insurance, voter registration. How are they managing paying taxes? Do they have a place to store family photos and legal documents? How are they schooling their kids and do they need help? These things are complicated if you live in the US, and are frequently neglected by missionaries who live thousands of miles away. A common result is that a missionary who comes off the field after serving for years finds their life in a mess. Don’t let your missionaries be forced to suffer long after their service on the field is complete.

Help Them Rest

God wants us to rest. In fact, he commands us to rest (Jer 6:16, Mat 11:28-29, Heb 4:4, Rev 6:11). But, the reality is, furlough is far from restful for most missionaries. Often times furlough is just as stressful as on field ministry. Schedules, travel, presentations, training, support raising and reverse culture shock. Oh dear Lord, “Let my people go!” In times of candor you will hear many missionaries admit that they can’t wait for their furlough to be over so they can get back on the field and relax.

Imagine being a missionary on furlough. It doesn’t seem like a lot. All they do is show up in your church and preach and share and talk to 100 people and go out to lunch with the missions committee. Well, they also drove hours to get to your church and will drive hours to get back. And, there is the fact that their kids are tired of sleeping in a new bed every week, and strange food, and always being on their A-game. Well, then there is road weariness, and you don’t see it, but their fighting with their spouse, and money is low, and they forgot everyone’s names. Oh, and they do that EVERY weekend in a new location, for their entire furlough.

Weather they admit it or not your missionaries need help resting. Ask them the hard questions about rest, vacation and spiritual health. Help them fund a vacation. Send them on a spiritual retreat. Buy tickets for them to attend a Christian conference. Help them to get out of their routine.

Furlough is an emotionally exhausting, painful, wonderful, whirlwind of joy and stress. Most missionaries do furlough wrong and they need your help to save them from themselves. It is important for you and your church to hear from your missionary and share in how God is being glorified in far off lands. It is also important for you to embrace your missionary partners and help them heal so they can live to serve another term.

Mike Pettengill is a full-time missionary serving in Equatorial Guinea with Mission to the World. He previously served seven and a half years as a missionary in Honduras. To learn more about the Pettengill’s work in Honduras visit Pettengill Missionaries.

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