My best friend Larry was a church-planting missionary in Spain when we met in 1990. He and his family were home for a year-long furlough. As we got acquainted, I learned that what many now call home assignment is part of the rhythm of missionary life. Dr. Don Sisk put it this way in a Ministry 127 blog:
Until recently, nearly all foreign missionaries would return to America for a furlough every four years. … The majority of the organizations would have a policy of a missionary spending four years on the mission field and one year at home.
Sisk says the technology that has made the world seem smaller has also changed the way many missionaries do furloughs:
With the use of the Internet and email, missionaries can communicate with their relatives and their sending church on a regular basis, which makes it unnecessary to report to every church during furlough.
He says the year-long furlough, with a broad agenda that included some R&R, has given way to shorter, more frequent furloughs focused on fundraising.
So what are some guidelines for how to make the most of these shorter home assignments? You might want to check out “10 Tips for Missionaries on Furlough,” a list compiled by Adam Young, a missionary serving in Russia. Young’s first tip reflects the shift to shorter home assignments:
Be careful about making your furlough plans too long or too often
I realize that for the great majority of missionaries this does not need to be said, but if you stay in America too long, it can be difficult to go back to where God really wants you.
Several of the other tips relate to the focus on fundraising, like this one:
If at all possible, schedule churches for your furlough way in advance
Many of the churches that already support you will be happy to have you in on short notice, but one of your major goals with your furlough should be to raise more support for your ministry, so that you can be more effective at what God has called you to do.
But Young also makes a case for including time off in your home assignment schedule:
Plan a good chunk of time for vacation at the beginning of your furlough
One of the major goals of your furlough is to get some rest and relaxation. If after having spent some months back in America you feel more tired than when you came, it will not be anybody’s fault but your own.
With shorter home assignments, you can feel pressure to spend most of your time raising money. But experience suggests that the greater goal should be to make you more effective in ministry. And that means taking time to refresh and recharge can be as essential as bolstering your financial support.