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.
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.
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.
…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!
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…
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?