When we began raising support as missionaries to the United Kingdom in 2010, all we could dream about was the day that we would arrive to the field and get to work. The thought of returning to the States for furlough seemed like an eternity away, and even something that we didn’t look forward to. Some question if furlough is necessary at all, but as we prepare for our first upcoming “home assignment”, as it’s often referred to, I thought it would be helpful to share some of the great benefits of furlough. Travis Snode wrote an excellent blog series that I’ve condensed down to one post, that I hope you will find as helpful as I have.
Benefits for the Missionary
1. Furlough allows the missionary to rest.
God has created us to work but also to need to rest. In the very beginning, God shows us the order of a 6 day work week and a day of rest. The day of rest is not just about ceasing from labour but about spending time cultivating our relationship with God, the One in whom we ultimately find rest. As God told Moses in Exodus 33:14, “And he said, My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest.”
On the mission field, the missionary who is doing his job and working hard will find that he can grow very tired with the work. There are numerous church services, visiting mission teams, lots of sermon and note preparation, Bible institute/college, outreach, and the often time-consuming work of taking care of basic needs. The missionary has to work at investing in people, training leaders, and building a church usually from nothing, as well as keep in communication with family and churches in his home country. All of this combined with the the spiritual-warfare aspect of mission work can be very tiring and exhausting.
A furlough, if done right, should allow the missionary to get some needed rest physically, mentally, and emotionally.
2. Furlough allows the missionary to learn and grow.
On the mission field, the missionary often neglects his own personal growth and learning. He is constantly preparing material and teaching others, so he may not make the time to learn and grow as a person and a leader.
On furlough, the missionary should take the time to read, attend conferences, talk to mentors and spiritual counsellors, and invest in his personal growth.
3. Furlough allows the missionary to evaluate and plan.
Sometimes we are so busy working in the ministry that we don’t work on the ministry. Stepping back from the mission field is a great opportunity to evaluate what you have learning, what you have accomplishes, what mistakes you have made, what you would like to change, and what God future plans for your ministry might be.
The greatest need in world missions is not more money but more laborers. Men are God’s method for getting the gospel to the world. So if our laborers wear out, get discouraged, don’t grow and learn, or quit, the work will come to a standstill. That is why Jesus said to His disciples Mark 6:31 “Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat.” We must encourage those in ministry to take a furlough so they can return refreshed and the work can go on.
Benefits for the Missionary’s Wife and Children
Often men who are missionaries are very driven, very focused, and very diligent. They thrive on overcoming obstacles and accomplishing things. The idea of “abandoning the work” that they have “poured their heart and soul into” can seem horrible. Why would they want to take a step back and go home?
But often, the missionary’s wife and children, though they love the work and the field, need some time to reconnect with family. A woman is usually much more relationship-oriented than men, so seeing her parents and family is very important to her. If she has sacrificed by leaving them for several years to go to the field, it is not wrong for her to want to see them every couple years. (And men, it would do you good to visit your family as well.)
Children also need to grow up to learn that though they should put Christ first that family is important and to be valued. They need to be able to spend some time with grandparents, to get to know their cousins, and to profit from the investment of other family members in their lives.
Often, depending on the country the missionary is working in, the missionary’s family may need some kind of dental work or medical treatment. Things like life insurance, a will, retirement, and other details like this are important and should not be foolishly overlooked with the excuse that they are unnecessary because you are a missionary. You may be a missionary but you still have obligation to take care of your wife and children. If you don’t provide for them, you are worse than an infidel. On a practical level, if you lose them, you lose the ministry because you become unqualified.
Benefits for the Missionary’s Relatives
Benefits for the Missionary’s Supporters
One huge reason to take a furlough is to be a blessing an encouragement to those churches and individuals who have supported the missionary. Reporting in to supporting churches is a very Biblical thing to do. Acts 14:26-28 says, “And thence sailed to Antioch, from whence they (Paul and Barnabas) had been recommended to the grace of God for the work which they fulfilled. 27 And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles. 28 And there they abode long time with the disciples.”
Here we see that after Paul and Barnabas completed their first missionary journey that they came back to Antioch. The church at Antioch had sent them out, so they returned there and gathered the church together. They rehearsed all that God had done with them and how God had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. They stayed there a long time, and then eventually went back out on their second missionary journey.
Here are some benefits of furlough for the missionary’s supporters:
1. Shows gratitude
It is easy for the missionary to take for granted the faithful prayers and support of God’s people. When he returns back to those supporting churches and gives an update on the ministry, he can express his appreciate for their faithful support. Paul was very grateful for those who sacrificed to make his ministry possible.
He says in Philippians 4:10 “But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again…15 Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only. 16 For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity. 17 Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account. 18 But I have all, and abound: I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God.”
2. Encourages supporters to continue
Sometimes, out of sight, out of mind happens when it comes to missions support. Prayer letters, email updates, and social media are great tools to keep your ministry before your supporters, but there is nothing like the personal touch.
When supporting churches see you after 4, 5, 6, even 7 years, they are encouraged by the updates, the souls saved, and the work going forward. Your visit can help them to see that their investment is not in vain, that fruit is abounding to their account, and that they should keep on being faithful.
3. Connects the missionary to new supporters
Just as things tend to only get more expensive in your life, so they seem to only get more expensive on the mission field. Inflation, exchange rates, family growth, ministry growth, lost support, and other factors can cause a missionary to lose as much as 25% of his support in one term. If he does not replace that lost support and raise additional support for future needs, he will soon get to the point where me has to come home from the field or endure great hardship on the field.
Many missionaries I meet are living on the same amount that they left for the field with many years earlier. They are limited in how they can provide for their families and what they can do in the ministry because they simply do not have enough support. You can only cut so many things before you must increase your income.
Furlough is a great opportunity to go to new churches and to seek to raise new support. Missionaries should make it a goal to get into new churches so that they can be able to continue to be effective on the field for many years to come. Churches should also be willing to have in missionaries on furlough and take them on for support. It makes no sense to send out a missionary under-supported. If he is good enough to send to the field, then he is good enough to give enough support to do actually be able to do the ministry and make a real difference.
4. Reminds supporters of the need and their responsibility
Finally, furlough benefits the supporters because it reminds them of what it is all about. A missionary on furlough should help connect them to the field, to the need, to the people on the field, and to their responsibility to reach them for Christ.
Sometimes, churches can lose sight of why they are doing what they do. They can wonder why they are sending “all that money” oversees. Furlough is a good opportunity to say, “It is worth it, keep on giving, keep on praying, you are on the right track.”
Benefit for the Missions Work
First, when the missionary goes on furlough, national leaders are given the opportunity to really step up and lead in a much greater way. All throughout a missionary’s ministry, he should be training leaders and allowing them to lead. When a missionary begins to prepare to leave, he has a reason and motivation to get many leaders in place to do things while he is away. When the missionary does leave, the national leaders have to step up and do many things that they might previously have relied on the missionary to do. As long as he is there, there may be this unwritten rule that things will always just fall back on the missionary. When the missionary is physically absent, others have to step up. In Acts 14:23, the Bible says, “And when they (Paul and Barnabas) had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.”
Second, when the missionary goes on furlough, the local church gets stronger. Most likely, attendance at the church will go down, but in this time of transition, it will become obvious which of the folks in attendance are really committed. The members will have to band together, take up the slack, and come to terms with why they are really a part of the church. Are they there for the missionary or for the cause of Christ? The church will also develop confidence and trust in other leaders in the church. They will see that God is using men from their own country to make decisions, preach, and lead the church. This is a crucial step for the church to become indigenous.
Third, when the missionary goes on furlough, more laborers can be recruited. On almost every mission field, the harvest is greater than the missionary can handle on his own. While he travels to churches and presents the need, he can recruit laborers to come help him. He should be training national workers, but he can also invite others to get involved in short and long-term mission work. We see that every time Paul and Barnabas went back home they returned to the field with other labourers to help them – Silas, John Mark, Timothy, Titus, etc.
Fourth, when the missionary goes on furlough, he has time to plan for the future. Furlough is a great opportunity to reflect on what has been accomplished, what needs to be accomplished, and how best to accomplish the task. When the missionary returns to the field, he will hopefully have a better idea of what he wants to accomplish and how to work smarter and more efficiently. Sometimes, missionaries get so bogged down in day to day activity, they don’t really plan and reach out. Furlough should be a time to think about how more churches can be started, more men can be trained, more countries can be evangelized, and more laborers can be sent out. If a missionary can develop a better plan for reaching the world while on furlough, then the furlough was a huge benefit to the work.