Home Assignment Blues

by Richelle Wright on March 24, 2014

I remember when I used to think that teachers had the best job in the world BECAUSE they had a whole summer vacation.

Many of my Nigerien friends think that that distinction actually belongs to missionaries on home assignment BECAUSE they have a whole YEAR vacation.

Halfway through our home assignment year, halfway through our fourth home assignment year, halfway through my first home assignment year with a parcel of teenagers, my response is “UGH!”

Eloquent, I know.

I also know that “vacation” is a definite misnomer, even if the blog, Facebook and prayer letter photos sometimes seem to contradict that statement.

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We’ve been on the road almost every weekend of the last three months. We’ve been in or traveled through nine different states. We’ve visited over ten of our partnering churches and have also caught up with some of our individual supporters. And our kids have mostly been back to school on time by Monday morning, every week.

Most of our traveling happens on the weekends. Friday evenings, after school lets out, are usually filled with high school games, school activities or visiting – sometimes just for fun but not always. Saturdays are times to clean the house, catch up on laundry, make sure homework is mostly done, tournaments and other competitions take place, big girls work their jobs, more visits with more people. Sometimes we need to leave on Saturday to get to where we need to be on Sunday. Sometimes we leave before the sun’s even up on a Sunday morning and the only life at our home church is the snow crew shoveling and salting in preparation for their Sunday morning services. Sometimes, not even the snow crew is out and about.

travelaftermath

Then usually sometime late Sunday night, our big green van rolls into our driveway, we tramp to the door through another fresh, not-yet-shoveled couple inches of snow – Michigan is our home assignment home and we’ve been blessed with a doozy of a winter – and:

  • some start directing half-conscious little ones to find pjs and toothbrushes and beds,
  • some start helping unload the paraphernalia that winter travel with nine necessitates as well as gifts and goodies from the church and other miscellaneous stuff that has made its way into the van, and
  • I head to the laundry room to make sure school uniforms will be ready for six different bodies in just a few short hours.

Then comes the scramble to make sure all big girl homework did actually get finished and didn’t get trampled by a snowy boot, that backpacks are accessible, no lunch boxes were forgotten and have rotting food remaining from the previous week. Yeah… that does happen around here occasionally more than I’d care to admit.

One by one, the biggers finally trudge off to tumble into bed, parents make sure doors are locked, lights are off and there’s at least a path through the mess to find the bathroom, no urgent emails arrived in our absence and no pipes froze… and then we crash, too – hoping we remembered to check if there’s milk for breakfast in the fridge.

exhausted

…all to drag our exhausted and starting to feel old bodies out of bed so that we can then drag the kids out of bed early the next morning –

  • setting bowels of Cheerios under noses in the hopes that they’ll eat and not collapse into them as they wrap in blankets and sit on the heating vents,
  • making sure they have their uniforms on both right side out and forwards,
  • verifying socks or tights or something on feet because boots get really (and I mean REALLY) stinky when these TCKs insist on some semblance of bare feet even in the midst of winter,
  • packing lunches,
  • stuffing their snow accouterments in a bag in case the wind chill will permit outside recesses, and
  • ensuring that both teeth and hair are brushed before

sending them off for the beginning of another busy week of school while still feeling like we are somewhere caught and lost in the previous week that never properly finished.

Even with that description, I must attest:

It’s all good. Seriously!

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We do, truly, love visiting those who’ve partnered with us as we’ve ministered in Niger. We delight in sharing what God has done and how we’ve seen Him work. It thrills our hearts to see how He’s continued working in the lives and ministries of our friends, families and supporting churches on this side of the ocean. And we never fail to be totally and completely overwhelmed by the generosity and genuine arms-wide-open love of God’s people as we travel around, visiting those we affectionately claim as “our” churches.

It is also hard and exhausting work.

It looks different than ministry while on the field, but it is still ministry. It is still work. It is NOT a year long vacation.

It is vitally important to be accountable to those who’ve been… who are… contributing to the ministry God has given us – be that contribution through prayer, finances or other means. We’ve committed to traveling as a family – and “our” people seem to enjoy visiting with and hearing from our children. They minister with us. God has worked mightily in and through them, and they are also greatly ministered to by many of the dear folk with whom we are privileged to collaborate. Other families make different decisions during their home assignment years and I totally get that. I also get that sometimes it would be easier for my husband to travel, to give the kids a break – and there are times we’ve made that choice. But most of the time, this is what obedience in this area of our life looks like for this family.

Lately I’ve been asking God what in the world He’s asking of our family, of my teenagers, of me.

In our earlier home assignment years, we felt we’d figured out furlough. There was a lot of traveling, yes. Somehow, although it was more physical work with younger children, it was much less traumatic and dramatic and exhausting than it has been this year with TCK teenagers. Getting them – and the rest of the family – out the door, with a sweet attitude makes some Sunday mornings feel more like guerrilla warfare… not preparing our hearts to minister or even just another daily parenting battle. On those mornings where defeat appears to be the family headline, we feel like horrible hypocrites even as we are seeking to be accountable to and minister to “our” support team… and wonder what in the world we’re doing anyways.

So I asked my big girls.

Their answers were similar, but here’s a paraphrase of what my oldest daughter had to say:

Mama, sometimes, I wish we could just be regular people visiting churches… but we aren’t. It really is the getting there, the getting started, another new – that is so hard. Once we are there and with the people, I’m always glad I went and mostly sorry that it was ugly and hard to get out the door. It is good to tell people what God’s doing in Niger. It’s fun to see old friends and people love on us. I just love the people especially the ones that are grandparents. Last weekend was awesome, even though I didn’t want to go at first.

We’ve still got a long haul before us: several more trips both long and short, many more partners both old and new to visit. But I’m just now starting to think we might actually thrive this home-assignment-accountability-reporting-raising-support-again-year… and probably at least survive our next trip… 

onthe beach

How does your family handle home assignment travels?

How do you thrive instead of just surviving? What works for you and your family?

What’s the hardest and/or best thing about visiting with and being accountable to your ministry partners? 

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About Richelle Wright

Disciple of Jesus, lover of God's Word, wife to one great guy, and mama of eight, Richelle has spent the past 13 years in Niger, West Africa. She and her family are currently in the throes of transition as they begin life and ministry (teaching, audio-visual production) in the Canadian province of Québec. |ourwrightingpad.blogspot.com|
  • The different practices of the various types of missionaries and foreigners fascinates me. Many of the people I know living overseas take year long home assignments every 4 or 5 years. Others are on a rotation that keeps them in country for about 3 years and then back to visit their supporters for a 6 month stint. Then you have the crazies (like us) who don’t have any set schedule for going back to the States. In the 12 years we’ve been here we have taken the whole family for a visit to the States: twice for 6 weeks and once 3 months. Confessing that makes me cringe. We might regret it when the kids are working through stuff as adult TCKs. But it is what it is. My husband and I have taken shorter trips back here and there for fundraising and to connect with supporters. I literally can’t imagine being away from Bolivia for a whole year; although, I have many friends who have done it. That may change when my little birdies start leaving the nest. But for now, during this season of life, our trips back to the States are relatively short.

    Bless you, Richelle, and your brood as you transition to your new assignment in Canada. I can see how valuable it is for your teenagers to process the process with you. It is evident that God is working in your family through this season.

    • Richelle Wright

      It really is “too each his own,” isn’t it?

      i love your statement: “We might regret it… but it is what it is.” Sometimes I think we get all caught up in making the “right” choices for our families – and there isn’t anything wrong with that. New information will always cause us to rethink whether or not the choice was right… and there’s no point in beating ourselves up if a direction later appears to not have been the best one.

      Sometimes God gives those light bulb moments moments where I know beyond a shadow of any doubt the direction He’s leading… other times, I’m just making the best decision I know how to make that I know falls within the parameters of what God allows. When new knowledge shows me that I need to change directions… I try to thank God and then move on forward. I struggle enough with sinfulness that I don’t need to beat myself up for mistakes… know what I mean?

    • That’s almost exactly our “schedule”! 13 years on the field, two 6-week visits and one 2.5-month visit so far. I like to think that it gives our children stability now, and that should be a good foundation for them later. Or, like you say, it just is what it is. But it’s good for us, for now.

  • It’s so interesting to see how home assignment looks different for every missionary! The nature of my husband’s work doesn’t allow him to be away from the field for much longer than a couple of months. We try to go back every 2 or 3 years. Something that helped us on home assignment last year was take some time for a holiday with just our family for a few days before going back to England. It was really nice to not be “on” for a few days.

    I’d say one of the difficult things about home assignment is a lot of our supporters see us as confidants because we live outside the US and can’t spread rumours. We have the privilege of hearing everyone’s burdens and praying with them. I say it’s a privilege because we count it as part of our ministry, but at the same time it’s exhausting feeling like we’re bearing everyone else’s burdens as well as our own! Thank God we can give it all over to Him. 🙂

    Richelle, I hope the rest of your home assignment is fruitful and that your transition to a new field goes smoothly!

    • Richelle Wright

      Our first two term/home assignment cycles were shorter ones. For us, the expense of flying back and forth with a family our size meant we couldn’t afford that long term and then once kids were in school and that became a factor, it just was more complicated… Also, the bulk of our financial partners are churches. I’d love to hear others from Africa/Asia comment, too… Many of our South/Central American misso friends come back more frequently – is it more affordable, less exhausting without the big time changes, different expat culture?? We already know that working in Quebec will require a change in that term/home assignment schedule.

      We’ve also found ourselves in the confidant role – and it can be uncomfortable/exhausting and a privilege all at once. Go figure, eh?

      We did vacation on the way home this time – highly recommended from my perspective.

      Thanks for weighing in here!

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      I totally agree with you, Chrysti, about being everyone’s confidants. We had our first home service last year, and I admit it did surprise me. I especially find that it happens from other ministry people, not so much with “regular” supporters (we have a lot of families that financially support us, rather than churches). We feel it’s part of our ministry to listen to them and bear their burdens, and pray with them, but it can really wear me out emotionally. I have such high hopes and dreams for the Bride of Christ, and when I hear the same difficulties in the local church, over and over again, it can really get me down. I love the ministers, and the people they minister to, so it’s not like they annoy me or anything, it just makes me very sad. I call it the “ministry hangover” — how I feel after I’ve sat with fellow ministers in their pain. Not sure what to do about that but just rest and recover from it before attempting it again.

      • Richelle Wright

        One thing I’ve noticed in those situations… and what drains me so much in them because of my nature an idea person who loves to come up with potential solutions to problems… is that sometimes I think people talk to us because we are outside the problem and thus think we can offer some perspective… and that’s how the conversation starts… but then I become aware that really, what they want is someone to listen and hear their hurt and be silent. I have a tendency to want to respond more like Job’s “friends” and start searching for answers and reasons and solutions… and they just want to be heard, for someone to sit quiet and grieve with them… pray with them (sometimes). So I find I’m exhausted from hearing the difficulties, but also from fighting my own nature the entire time… I’m trying to prepare myself a bit more ahead of time for that potential.

  • Elizabeth Trotter

    Even though our home service was not nearly as long as yours, I can really relate to the exhaustion you are describing. One meeting after another, delving into deep parts of my heart, over and over again. As an introvert, that was exhausting. That was on top of the sheer physical exhaustion of travel. (Though again, yours seems much more hectic than ours, I can only imagine!) It was a very spiritually dry time (definitely NOT a vacation), though the irony is that each individual meeting was enjoyable in and of itself, and felt very purposeful. How is it possible for those two things to exist at the same time??!
    There are a few things we did, though, that were incredibly worthwhile, and helped fill us up in an otherwise empty time (we are pouring into others, after all, in those myriad meetings). We went to our organization’s leadership summit early on (required, but refreshing) and towards the end, we went to a prayer and worship conference (wow! gave me my word for the year, reframed everything I think about prayer). We also took one family vacation/retreat, and my husband and I took a few days off, away from the kids, which was SO good for us as a couple. It was good for me individually too, because it was during both those times that I was really able to rest. The in-between times were tiring, and at times trying, but I’m glad we had those “survival hooks,” and are definitely planning to do the same next time around.
    And I’m also glad we had that time with family and friends — for my kids to live with their Grandma for 3 months was invaluable for them and for her. And for me to get together with my best friend several times over those 3 months, that was so good for both me and her. I miss her, and she misses me! And because of email correspondence, it really felt like nothing at all had changed between us. Such a blessing!
    (And wow, when I started this comment, I didn’t know it was going to end up this long.)

    • Richelle Wright

      It is a little mind-boggling that spiritually dry and enjoyable/purposeful all fit in the same sentence about the same time, isn’t it?

      Thanks for the great suggestions on what helped your family. We loved taking a vacation on our way home to provide that buffer and transition time between there and here where we didn’t feel like so may people were able to observe. So, we heartily recommend that – for anyone who can afford it – time-wise and money-wise.

      Thanks for jumping in to the conversation!

  • Julie

    Just before I read this, I was reading in Nehemiah and reflecting on what it means and what it looks like for our family to take a Sabbath rest. We have never had a furlough with kids during the school year, so we’ve been able to schedule a weekly day of rest in our calendars. But kids get bigger and school happens, so I’d like to know, how do you do it? How do you rest when school has one schedule and sharing at churches mandates another schedule?

    • Richelle Wright

      Oh Julie, that is something we’ve wondered and somewhat try to do… and I don’t think we do it well. For hubby and I, that rest day often tends to be Mondays… and I’d probably say the same for our kids… even though they are back in school. Hubby takes care of the kitchen work (which is a different/change in routine thing for him – and as long as there is some venison in the fridge, he enjoys cooking). We both try and take some time to relax and read and try and let go of the immediate recuperate the house after the disaster that I described above. Often we’ll try and lay down for a rest.That may be, partly, why it is Wed or Thurs. Wed afternoon seems to be that time for the rest of our kids – homework load is lighter, they often have friends come over and hang out in between school and our church’s AWANA program. Our two oldest tend to take Friday nights/Saturday mornings – hanging out with friends, visiting, resting up – because of their work schedules and high school activities. But none of that is hard and fast. We have to be flexible and able to change and adapt because it never feels like any two weeks are the same.

      We believe that a Sabbath rest is important – but neither one of us has felt convicted at this point to set it as a total family-all at the same time priority – rather making the time/opportunity available for each as it fits into our weekly schedule. Then there are some days when I wished we home schooled just so that we could do that. But that’s another post for another day.

  • Michele Massie

    As a pastor’s wife, how do I help? I know my experience is very limited, but I spent a little time overseas and on deputation of sorts. 🙂 I have many good friends that are missionaries. I want our home, our church to be a place that our friends can relax and feel comfortable. We, as a church, want to help our MK’s and missionaries. What kind of questions can we ask to prepare for ‘your’ visit, to help things be a bit easier? I often wonder how the kids and wife feel – sitting through the same presentation week after week. They always say they don’t mind, but I wonder. 🙂 Praying much for you and your family! And if you ever need a place to crash in Indiana . . . – Michele

    • Richelle Wright

      Michele, thanks for being willing to ask the question!

      As a mama – those churches who go out of their way to love on our kids, make them feel welcome and are interested in them and their experience and their life… without putting them on a pedestal or piling expectations on them, that has been huge. Those are the churches that we’ve left with our kids saying, “Why can’t we visit here more often.”

      Most of our churches are awesome about this and we almost always leave encouraged and thankful. I don’t know that anyone can help make the tired go away.

      Sometimes, staying in a hotel instead of with a family gives us a bit of space and a mini vacation, especially when we’ve been doing a lot of traveling. Or a special activity on the way there or back – after checking to make sure it fits with their schedule. One of our churches arranged a winter sleigh ride for us in the afternoon after our time with them. Instead of asking if they need housing, meal, etc.,… offering feels less like we are demanding something else (i.e. One of our church families has asked if they can take you out to pizza… type idea). In our case, my husband isn’t a preacher – he produces audio visual programs and that is his ministry. So instead of expecting him to preach a sermon (which he does do and does well – although his kids can also preach his sermons right along with him), let the pastor of the church do that and allow us to focus on sharing our ministry and testimonies of what God has done. Instead of assuming what ministries the family can be involved in (i.e. instead of making a statement like “We’d love to have your family do special music”), ask how the family likes to minister. Mini mission conferences have been great for us this time, where the church hangs out together all day or Saturday night then again Sunday morning through early afternoon, giving us the time to travel home and not get there after dark… Those are a few ideas that pop into my head.

      Does that help?

      I’d love to hear other ideas from other missos as well…

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      Hey Michele, this is an awesome question! Can I just tell you the things people did for me last year that were wonderful? (Of course I’m only one person so my opinion on what’s helpful might be different than other peoples.) I LOVED it when people arranged babysitting for us so we could go out for coffee or a meal with another couple (usually that couple is a supporter, but more than that, they are friends). It’s nice to do that without worrying about our kids. I also LOVED it when I could do something just with the ladies, no kids, no husband, no worry about kids. One lady at a time, or more than that. The pastor’s wife at our supporting church took me to her adult ballet class, and we had fun together. I loved going to ladies’ Bible studies. Anything you can do to let the missionary wife connect with other women is great. 🙂 Also, I have to say, some of our best times were with people who made us laugh. We do a lot of serious talking on home service — it’s nice to be with people who just want to have fun, play some games, do something light, etc. Funny people are a balm to the soul. We need them on home service! I also agree with Richelle below, sometimes it’s hard to be in someone’s home. When the people we stay with are either 1) really good friends so it doesn’t feel weird to be in their space, or 2) they have really nice private guest room(s), it makes it easier. I will say, though, that the one thing that could be of help practically, is always offering to let people use your washer and dryer. I always feel weird asking, but sometimes we just HAVE to use the laundry! And if the missionaries are still jet lagged, try to remember to let them go to bed early, and talk later. I know you want your time with them, but sometimes when we’re still jet lagged, coherent conversation is really hard to come by, but we feel like we can’t tell anyone that we really need to go to bed. Hope that helps, and thank you so much for caring. People can always tell when you really care about them, so don’t worry too much, and the details will work themselves out 🙂

      • Richelle Wright

        More great ideas, Elizabeth… I hadn’t even thought about it from that perspective. Thanks for weighing in with these.

  • Marilyn Gardner

    Oh what a hard one for me to read….It took me right back to 16 years old – churches scattered across New England – new youth groups with kids unaccustomed to anyone with different eye color, let alone different everything. I hated it so.so.much. Until the day when one kid invited me to go shop lifting….true story this. Finally I was not looked on as a strange insect. It makes for great stories now, but I was sure glad when my parents let me stay home some weeks. It’s a hard call. But it’s like you write to Michele below – if churches had extended a hand to us, made us as kids feel welcome instead of weird, it would have made all the difference. As an adult I think my parents did a great job of trying to make it work, make it special and to this day I love peppermint icecream because a special treat was stopping for icecream way past bed time. But I appreciate more than you know what you are trying to do and how you are faithfully seeking how best to do it.

    • Richelle Wright

      Shop lifting? Really? I literally laughed out loud… although I don’t know if I’d do the same if someone invited my kiddos to do the same! I’d love to hear that story!!! Please do tell.

      So agree – it is a hard call and sometimes we muck it all up and I know that. We’ve made a few exceptions this past year for our two older girls… a birthday party for a friend, overwhelming homework weekend, etc…But that alternative is hard, too. Wondering if the girls are okay when we are several hours away… when they come home to a dark house at night and we aren’t back yet… and then explaining it to the pastor’s wife and wondering what she thinks… I keep hanging on to the fact that Jesus said following him would be hard and not to be surprised in that.

      PS I’m starting to think it is your personal mission to be encouraging to me… because you always are. Thanks for these words. In the midst of another awesome but also awesomely exhausting week, I needed them.

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