Recently my husband, Chuck, and I conducted a five-day marriage retreat for missionaries in the country of Uganda. One afternoon, we divided the men and women. As the wives sat around a cozy circle, I asked them how churches could make life less stressful for them while on furlough. Eyes lit up. Defenses dropped. One woman half-jokingly said, " Just don't go on furlough." As with this young missionary wife, most found leaving their God-given ministries, uprooting children, and traveling back to the States tiresome but necessary for reconnecting with supporting churches. The ensuing comments were candid and eye-opening, a result of a week together in deep discussion about many issues of life, love, and ministry.
Here are some of the suggestions I collected for ministering to missionaries on furlough, along with a few from my own missionary daughter and her husband, who are currently on furlough from India.
Before your missionary comes to visit, make sure copies of his/her latest newsletter are available. Read the letter to the congregation so that the people are briefed on questions to ask the missionary and his family. Likewise, show or post family pictures of the missionary at the church so that members can recognize them when they arrive.Emphasize platform promotion of the missionary from key leaders in your church. Create a " buzz" about the missionary's visit. Consider practical ways to help your missionary. Financial support for many is based on the country in which they serve. They may come home to a higher cost of living and feel the deficit in their income. Ways you can cover expenses might include new car tires since the missionary must travel extensively to update churches, rent if a mission house is not available, groceries, cost of dry cleaning for that suit that is worn every Sunday while presenting the missionary update, gift cards (Walmart, gas, restaurant), and easy pass for tolls. You might even consider a National Park pass or other amusement gift to honor your missionary. Collect data on birthdays and anniversary dates before your missionary arrives. Perhaps your church would like to surprise the family with a party complete with gifts.Since the missionary family may be away from their home for a year or more, consider gifting toys or clothing you no longer use.Invite older missionary kids on an outing with your kids so that they do not feel so isolated.During the missions' conference, provide outings, such as bowling or putt-putt golf, for different age groups so that the family can connect on a more personal level with church members. Host a fun shopping trip for the missionary family. Give each member some " just-for-fun" money and brief them on stores to visit. Since furlough housing can sometimes be a problem, consider providing a mission home for the family. If the missionary family is homeschooling, consider providing curriculum needs and refer them to support groups in town. If the family is using traditional schooling, help them locate either a public or private school. Provide a resource list and a person to help them walk through it. Most missionaries on furlough are required to have an updated medical exam. Again, provide a resource sheet of available physicians with addresses and phone numbers. Buy the family a membership to the YMCA if that is something they have expressed interest in.Missionaries on furlough are on the road a great deal. With churches on both the East and West coast, my missionary daughter and family logged over 13,000 miles on their van in a little over a year's time. This did not include traveling to other churches once they were positioned at a home base. Consider gifting gas cards and cell phones.
It's sometimes easy to take our missionaries for granted, assuming all their needs are met—physically, socially, emotionally, spiritually, and financially. However, just like the rest of us, they are human beings with the need for companionship, encouragement, physical and mental renewal, spiritual uplift and financial support. Creating an environment that ministers to your missionary on multiple levels will go a long way in boosting his/her morale in the midst of a rigorous furlough schedule where the faces he sees change regularly and frequently.
Eileen Hinkle Rife is the author of the Born for India trilogy (OakTara), inspired by her single missionary daughter's call to India. She and her husband, Chuck, conduct marriage seminars in the States as well as overseas. www.eileenrife.com