There are many thoughts on missionary furlough or what some might call “home assignment”. I shared recently a condensed version of a great series of posts by Travis Snode on the subject that was helpful for us in preparing for our time in the States. We are a couple months into our furlough now, and have been able to experience already many of the benefits of our time here. There is, however, something I have learned that I wasn’t expecting.
During deputation (the time that a missionary raises their financial support for their family and ministry needs), a missionary meets hundreds of pastors, ministry leaders, and families while on the road. Some they connect with better than others, and relationships are often built. We have several families that we have kept in close contact with over the years that have been a great encouragement to us. In my opinion, deputation is great. Some might say the system is broken, and perhaps there are things that could be set in place to help the process, but I feel overall it’s the most effective way to get a missionary to the field.
The major difference I am noticing between deputation and furlough is the pastor/missionary relationship. Deputation, in many ways, is more like a first date. You don’t know what to expect, you’re nervous, you aren’t sure if this “relationship” is going to be a long term one or not, “will they ever call me again?”, etc. You might have anywhere from a few hours to several days with a pastor, leaving little time to get beyond the “so, where are you from, how long have you been here?” type questions. You end up leaving, not always, but many times, with a very shallow relationship. This isn’t intentional, and I cast no blame on either party, it’s just the way it goes. People are busy and distance doesn’t help matters.
For furlough, I am finding completely the opposite. If you are with a church that already supports your ministry, so much of the pressure is gone. You have already met, you know a bit about each other. They already support you, so you aren’t necessarily trying to convince them that you are a worthy candidate for missionary support. In a sense, you are able to have a much more meaningful relationship that I feel is beneficial for both the pastor and the missionary.
Just in our short time back in the States, we have been encouraged to sit down and talk with pastors that have supported us for a number of years. It has been refreshing to receive advice from them as they share their own struggles in ministry and their successes. We can let our guard down which allows a real bond to form and better relationships to be forged. We are able to help and be helped as Proverbs 27:17 teaches Iron sharpeneth iron; So a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.
As an overseas missionary, it’s easy to get the idea that you are the only ones that go through difficulties. You are the only ones away from family. The only ones struggling. The only ones facing the fiery darts of the devil. This is simply not the case. If furlough has done anything for me, it has opened my eyes to the reality that pastors and churches everywhere are in a spiritual battle. One that must be fought in the name of Jesus and by the strength of His Word. I am thankful for the friends the Lord has allowed me to make in so many places. I am grateful for these men sharing their heart with me, encouraging me, being real with me. I believe that if men in ministry can not have room to fail, room to make mistakes, room to grow, room to share their struggles with others without fear of being judged and cast aside, then we are in real danger.
I want to commit myself more than ever to pray for our supporters. To pray for these pastors and the churches they lead. To be a real “iron sharpening” friend. To not simply be a receiver of financial support and prayers, but to remember that we are all in this thing together. How selfish it would be to ask for prayers each month without offering them up for others in return. Our battle is not against flesh and blood. It is a spiritual battle. It is against the rulers of the darkness of this world. It is against spiritual wickedness, and we must fight this battle together.