While not necessarily examples of missionaries on furlough, missionaries would do well to consider the purposefulness of communication from Paul when he was preparing to visit churches and individuals (Romans 15:24, 1 Corinthians 16:5 and Philemon 22). Upon examination, we see opportunity for two spiritual gifts in tethers of connection between missionaries and those whom love and support them.
Administrations (1 Corinthians 12:28)
Being the ultimate missionary manual, the Book of Acts is full of powerful and exciting examples of the Holy Spirit working gifts through His empowered people. Respectively, when the Lord dramatically used Peter to raise Dorcas to life (Acts 9:40), it is a far more exciting passage than Paul and Barnabas administrating the installation of elders in Lystra, Iconic, and Antioch (Acts 14:23). Similarly, planning a furlough may not be exciting or seem demonstrative, but missionaries need to pray for and rely on the seemingly humble gift of administration to purposely prepare. Like the appointing of the elders, missionaries will realize good administration relating to their furloughs will greatly expand the work they are called to.
How does administration work for furlough planning? A good beginning is a pre-field conversation between the missionary and home church around key questions such as these to determine when, and how often, to furlough.
- Is it important to keep any children on an educational schedule?
- Considering what goals are to be accomplished on furlough, then ask: how much time is needed to accomplish those goals?
- Are there certain times of the year ministry patterns, or weather, make it better to travel?
- Is vacation part of furlough, making it at least partially restful and refreshing? The other option is furlough is part of the labor and vacation happens in the host country.
- How much, if any, funds should be regularly set into a furlough account.
Answers to these questions will lead to a long term missionary furlough plan. The plan may be adjusted as circumstances change, but it allows for the pre-field missionary and home church to set goals and make financial plans. Here are three possible plans.
Whirlough: this is typically two or three weeks every year. This may be attractive for parents trying to keep children on a schedule or early phases of ministry where time away can be disruptive. Unfortunately it is very exhausting and likely difficult to meet with all the people and churches desired. The whirlough model may seem attractive, but most will find it ineffective.
Short: many missionaries find six to eight weeks every two years to be about right. Depending on the time of year, this length may be less disruptive to any children’s education schedules. While still taking considerable preparation, a short furlough tends to be a good balance for many modern missionaries.
Full: taking six to 12 months for furlough every three to five years is a tried and true pattern. While the logistics of housing and vehicles (both in the States and in the host country) are harder to deal with for this length time, there are certain goals which can only be accomplished in terms of months and not weeks.
Hospitality (3 John 1:5-8)
All Simon did was open his home in Joppa to Peter and it was used powerfully by God (Acts 9:43). While Simon can take no glory in the wonderful work which played out in his home, he surely had great joy knowing the traveling Peter was shown the Gospel of Jesus Christ has no partiality while staying with him (Acts 10:34-35). Because Simon used his gift of hospitality, his name and home are forever connected to the global expansion of the gospel and therefore is an example for those who support modern missionaries through their gift of hospitality.
Like all gifts, hospitality is primarily a gift of service to others. In context of the missionary furlough it is a gift of serving the Lord by serving His global ambassadors while they come Stateside. It is not only that the missionaries on furlough have left their home in their host country, but there is often a disconnect with their country of birth. In exercising hospitality, servants strengthen the tethers of connection with His global ambassadors and intimately join in God’s global plan. In encouraging hospitality, as Paul did, missionaries stir up gifts and help senders go deeper in their ministry to the nations.
While every situation will vary, hospitality may be best shown by simply asking the missionary how they can be served. If there is a Practical Care Team (sometimes called a Stephen Team) in place, many of the answers will already be known. Some missionaries may enjoy staying with others and sharing meals, others may find that dynamic more stressful. Some may want to stay with family, but others are praying for an alternative. Some may need rest and other missionaries may only be in your house to shower and sleep. Simply asking how to best serve the missionaries before arrival will add peace to people trying to accomplish set goals in a limited time.
Missionary furloughs are often wonderful times for God’s people to come together to use His gifts in unity. It’s a great time for those that have been called to go to significantly strengthen their connection to the ones called to stay, love and support them. For the ones called to stay it is a great time to use their gifts to purposely engage in God’s global endeavors.
Ed Compean, along with his family, served as missionaries in Kenya and Mexico for more than 12-years. He is now engaged in church relations and communications at Shepherd’s Staff Mission Facilitators.