This is not a post I intended to write, but missions seems to be something that is on my heart lately.
Perhaps it is because my oldest daughter is just finishing up a 10 week missions trip through Germany.
Rebekah posing as Maria (Sound of Music) in Switzerland
Perhaps it is because of the visit we had with the good people of Frontline Missions recently. Maybe because we’ve been viewing the Dispatches From the Front Video Series as a family.
But after all the wonderful email from missionary wives who answered my questions for this series (here and here) and the transparency in which they wrote, I only had more questions.
Many wrote of events that unintentionally discouraged them on furlough. And I wanted to know what we as a local church could do to encourage them and make their furlough a blessing.
Here are their answers.
Question 1:What way can the local church encourage you while you are home on furlough?
There are so many ways that local churches encourage us. Each church has its own personality and its own way of showing us love. Some shower us with gifts of money or gift cards. Some look for ways to meet specific physical or material needs. Some know us by name, ask us about people mentioned in our prayer letters, and assure us of their regular prayers. Many do combinations of these things.
There are lots of blessings. One is time spent with ladies’ who genuinely care about me and ask questions to learn my needs and then pray for me. One ladies’ group has blessed my heart as I have heard from them of their prayers for me. While on furlough, I had the privilege of speaking to their women’s group and then witness first hand as they took time to pray for each missionary. That means more than any words can say.
The best experiences we have had has been when churches/church families invite us to their “fun” activities – church picnics, youth meetings, ice skating, etc. It’s fun for our entire family, our kids form friendships, and we get to know the people who support us. One family even invited our boys to their boys’ birthday party.
Though we truly love to be with people during our journeys on furlough, sometimes it is refreshing to be able to have time to be together just as a family. Sometimes churches will put us up in hotels or in the houses of people who are out of town. This can be a great blessing to a weary, young family.
Opportunities to hear the pastor preach at the different churches that we visit. We come back from the foreign field very spiritually dry and enjoy the times to soak up the preaching of God’s word.
Early on in our furlough it was a special blessing to me, as a missionary wife and mother, to have someone who was willing to give me fashion advice. So much changes in 4 years and I found myself on this furlough wondering how all the layering pieces fit together to make complete outfits. I know it sounds silly, but it was a need and several people helped me out in this practical way!
People at churches who step out of their comfort zone and reach out in friendship to me when I don’t know anyone.
On our very first missions conference, we had three kids three and under. Well, every morning, our hostess let our kids get up, made them breakfast…biscuits with CHOCOLATE gravy!! =) ,and then played quietly with them so we could sleep in a little. It was HEAVEN!! Other hosts have done similar things, taking our kids outside to play or keeping them busy so we could study, work on the computer, or whatever.
Believers in churches gave materially, but even more important than the material things for me was the in the relationships that were built. They ministered the most to us by renewing or developing friendships with us.
I felt spoiled as a missionary to be able to visit with many friends who love the Lord and are intentionally rearing their children for the Lord’s glory. Seeing other moms in the trenches and gleaning from their experiences was an encouragement! We quickly bonded with other believers (young and old) who were faithfully serving the Lord where He has placed them. Having friends we can write to or Skype with while we’re on the field really helps remove the loneliness that tempts us.
I am not in the season of life to do this since I have small children, but it would be encouraging to be invited to some ladies’ activities (ladies’ retreat or other outings) while on furlough.
Some of our friends with older children were invited to send their kids to camp with the church’s teens. That would be a great way for the MKs to develop some good friendships.
Several churches ministered to us practically by helping us with clothing needs for our children. In one church, a friend told me about some great consignment shops in their area where I found some needed clothes for my children to stock up for the next term. In another church, several ladies in the church worked or volunteered for a consignment shop and let me look through some bags of clothes to see if there was anything that we needed. Being constantly on the run during furlough made it challenging to be in the right place at the right time to find sales, but the Lord really provided! I had a master list of what I anticipated needing for the next term for each child (trying to guess sizes was fun—what size shoe would my 6 year-old wear in 2015?!) and the Lord provided for all of those needs.
One family thought of my son when they were getting rid of a scooter their son outgrew. My son couldn’t believe someone just gave him something like that!
A family passed on their car seat for one of my children. Spending money on car seats and boosters for all of the children to only use for 1 year in the US would have been a huge cost. Several people loaned baby items for the 3 months we were going to be stateside since all of our baby things (maternity clothes, baby clothes, car seat, pack and play) were across the ocean.
The first few days back in the USA were really challenging. It was much easier for us because someone contacted us ahead of time to find out what practical, every-day items we needed (and even what brand we liked!) when we arrived. Not having to stop at the store on the way home from the airport for diapers, deodorant, shampoo, soap, etc. helped after our 35 hours of traveling.
We feel special when people ask knowledgeable questions about current prayer requests. One dear prayer warrior actually sends me a note card with dates (almost every single day!) and specific requests jotted down. I sometimes get teary-eyed realizing how faithfully she has loved and prayed. Sometimes the pastor could help with this (or a special missionary representative person) by making announcements, such as, “Many of you folks know our missionaries in ______(name country) They have been there for __ years…their kids are growing up!. Their oldest son is a rising senior. How many seniors are out there? You know, maybe you can get to know their son, ______(name) when he is here in two weeks……”
We feel special when people relax and laugh and include us. It is much nicer when people initiate saying hello to us, instead of making us do the “outreach”. On our mission field, we are always the ones “initiating”—-it’s nice to have smiling folks welcoming us and introducing themselves to us.
What was an encouragement to me was when church folks that we worked with
in church and were good friends with before just treated us like human
Question 2: What is unintentionally hurtful to you? What discourages you?
Coming for a meeting and finding out that the pastor is gone. We love to deepen our relationship with churches during our visit and that is more difficult when the regular leadership isn’t there.
What I found to be most unintentionally hurtful to me on furlough was how our home church wouldn’t really allow me to serve while we were there. I know they wanted to make me feel like an honored guest, but it felt like they thought they couldn’t trust me or didn’t want me to be involved.
It is unintentionally hurtful when supporting church members don’t know who you are.
When some of our strong churches seem to be compromising some of their convictions and we come back and don’t know the songs that they are singing and find it hard to worship in the services.
When a supporting church doesn’t know anything about us in advance. At one church, the pastor approached us minutes before the service and was asking us information that he was jotting down quickly on a little card. “You are serving in _________, right? You have how many children? How long have you been there? etc…..” I was dumbfounded that if nothing else, he didn’t even bother to consult our prayer card or prayer letter before we arrived. I suppose I over-estimated the prayers and simple INTEREST that our supporters would have for our ministry.
What is discouraging to me is how people would comment to me about how much they sacrifice to give to missions, sort of putting me on a guilt
trip for ‘taking their money.’
When we first arrived back to our homechurch on furlough, there
were so many families that immediately asked us to come over to their
house when we had time. So when we contacted them to set a time, only one
of the ten or so families had any time to meet with us after all. The one
that made the time was a real blessing.
The complacency we see toward holiness, in general. As we have tried to encourage our kids to “stand alone” on the mission field for standards that their public school friends or young-believing friends may not understand, we have always felt confident that “in our churches” our kids would not have to stand alone. Our last furlough was a huge blow. Not only did we rarely find teens choosing the high road in music or dress, but now our own teens argue, “Well, at ___________ church all the teens wear that or listen to that.” Instead of support, American teens have contributed to our battle to instill the pursuit of holiness.
We returned to one of our churches (as the scheduled missionaries for that evening). As I was trying to find out if there was a nursery/children’s church provided for our youngest, the pastor’s wife approached us and asked us if we were visiting for the first time that evening. I realize that we do change (and age!), and that probably our visit to the church was not foremost in her thinking, yet I still remember that pang. This was the pastor’s wife. I suddenly felt like the term “supporting church” was misleading. Support? Her comments left me a little shakey—wondering if at any moment I could break through thin ice, because there was really no underlying support at all.
Question 3: What do we need to understand about furlough and what is most often misunderstood?
They find joy in serving on the field with us, but furlough is a different story — riding in a car all day, getting all dressed up, and going to a different church every week (sometimes 3 in one week!), is pretty stressful for a kid! When churches or individuals take our children into consideration as children, it makes for one happy mama!
There is a hard balance between getting us involved (so the church folks see us, hear us, and know our hearts) and just allowing us to recharge our spiritual batteries and simply worship with you. On our mission field, we are the pastoral staff, music staff, youth ministers, custodial manager, children’s ministry managers, guest house managers, special event organizers, etc. (Obviously we do work to share these various roles, but the ultimate responsibility is on us). I feel so exhausted as we juggle it all—–and really yearn to just REST. Sometimes, with your good intentions of allowing us to have exposure to your people, you unintentionally add to that exhaustion. I honestly don’t know the balance, though. Perhaps we share testimonies? Perhaps we can have a meal or two with your church folks? We typically start furlough very tired from the preparation and ministry planning. Then, we do the church circuit—sometimes doing Sunday school, children’s church, and Todd preaching. Of course, this is coupled by the exhaustion of traveling every few days. By the end of our furloughs (which we make short because of ministry demands on the field), we just can’t wait to get back to our “busy” life at home!
We (missionaries) feel so much pressure to say and do all the right things, as we are dragging our families across the country, forcing them to keep a smile on their face. Our last furlough we learned a valuable lesson about not trying to please everyone who asks you to come to their church, their house, etc.. We ended our furlough spiritually, physically, and emotionally exhausted.
As the mother of 4 young children, I think the one thing that I wish more people understood was how hard it is to raise, train, and discipline the children when we’re constantly on the go. My kids are in different churches every week and are often worn down from travel. What a blessing it is to have another mother come alongside of me to encourage me, when she could just as easily look down on the things my children are struggling with.
–I’ve had several people say to me in the last 3 months that it must be nice to be able to take a vacation for such a long time. Furlough is not vacation! It is a blessing in many ways, but in the end we’re more than ready to be back home…in Cambodia!
First of all, furlough is not a 6 month, 9 month or 12 month vacation. During our last furlough, we visited 52 churches in 10 months and traveled well over 30,000 miles. I have heard us compared to church planters. That is not so. We live in a foreign country and speak a foreign language. A flat tire can be a major crisis when you don’t know who to call or how to handle it in the country you live in. We have been away from family and loved ones for years, no holidays, no birthday celebrations, reunions etc. It’s not a complaint. The Lord gives grace and we willingly make the sacrifice. But it is hurtful when people dismiss us as though we don’t have feelings and longings because we are missionaries.
Furloughs are a are high financial strain for missionaries. We still pay rent back home. We foot the bill to fly to the US every 3-4 years. We have travel expenses (vehicle, food on the road, sometimes hotels, housing, etc.). God has always taken great care of us, but little things are appreciated (snack bags for travel days, asking about housing needs between meetings, gift cards, etc.) Our kids also feet the “pull” to get a few new clothing items in order to “fit in” with American kids. We have been given hand-me-downs that were “no obligation” but “take what you want”—-it was WONDERFUL!
Don’t feel the need to entertain us 24/7. We want to fellowship and get to know you, but we are often tired! I remember being soooo thankful for a host family that said, “We take Sunday naps. Don’t feel obligated if you guys don’t, but you won’t see us for about 2 hours!”… Also, long restaurant times for missionaries with small children, especially right after church times….ummm, please don’t.
Isn’t this great to know? One thing that I’ve learned from this series is to ASK your missionaries what would be a blessing to them and their traveling family. What did you learn? Share in the comments!!