Which of these 3 barriers are tripping you up?

In his book Upstream, Dan Heath explores how to solve problems before they happen. Basically, when you are upstream you have different—better—options than you do downstream. Downstream you are forced to react to situations, whereas upstream you can anticipate and, in some cases, mitigate problems.

Many organizations have “home assignment” or “furlough” policies. About a year ago at Global Trellis I asked the question, what would an upstream approach to home assignments, furloughs, or sabbaticals look like? Is an upstream approach possible for a sabbatical? Or a life in ministry? It is.

However, according to Heath, three barriers can get in the way of an upstream approach:

1. Problem Blindness —  is the belief that negative outcomes are normal or inevitable. Phrases like “that’s just how it is” or to put a Christian spin on it, “that’s part of the call.” While it’s true that there is a cost to the call, too often we play that card without really thinking through if it is a cost or a result of problem blindness.
 

Sabbaticals are only for pastors or professors.

Home assignments aren’t really restful.

What a waste of my supporters’ money! I should be on the field.

2. A Lack of Ownership — occurs because many individuals or organizations are too overwhelmed or under resourced to move upstream. At Global Trellis, we want to be part of the solution and have pledged to be part of preparing you to function upstream when you can. 

My organization doesn’t have a plan for my home assignment, they just said I have to take one.

Sabbaticals are only for research, so this doesn’t apply to me.

What will supporters think of me? What will I tell them I’m doing?

3. Tunneling — occurs when people are juggling a lot of problems, they give up trying to solve them all and adopt tunnel vision. A clue that you’re tunneling is when you feel a sense of scarcity. You might feel that you don’t have enough time, money, supporters, teammates, options, or even favor from God. Tunneling forces you into short-term thinking. As Dan Heath said, “In the tunnel, there’s only forward.”

You have no idea how many churches and supporters I need to visit.

I already feel strapped for time! I cannot add a course to guide me through my sabbatical on top of it all.

I have a whole year . . . what’s the rush?

The Sabbatical Journey Course was created with these three barriers in mind and is available twice a year. The doors to the course will open on September 9, 2021 and you can notified when the Sabbatical Journey Course is available here.

While we might experience problem blindness, God never does. God will use the time you have for your home assignment, furlough, or sabbatical. He sees you, and loves you.

Photo by Heidi Fin on Unsplash

How to Make Missionaries Cry: Ask Them How Their Vacation is Going

Imagine this scenario:

You get up at 5 am on a Sunday morning. You wake your groggy teenager, who protests loudly and grumpily enough to put everyone in the house in a bad mood. You rush around to get everyone out the door by 6 am so that you can make a two hour drive to arrive at church at 8. When you arrive, your five-year-old pitches a fit because he doesn’t remember this church and is scared to go to another new Sunday School. You hiss bribes and/or threats into his ear, because you are on display and need to make a good impression.

But you put on your happy face and start shaking hands with everyone in sight. You’ve visited this church before, so you remember a few names, but many more of them know you. You wrack your brain to recall names, jobs, children as 26 people greet you. You are ushered to the front row to be ready for your seven-minute presentation, which took you hours to tweak since you’ve never previously given one that is exactly seven minutes. After the service, you are taken to an adult fellowship class where you are asked to give a 35-minute presentation. During these presentations, you are expected to give a public account of how you spent your time and your money during the last three years. 

After the service, a friendly face shakes your hand and asks you, “So, how is your vacation going?”

And you want to cry or howl or kick something.

Honestly, friends, this is one of the most demoralizing questions a missionary on home assignment ever gets. They know you mean well. You are probably thinking, You get to be away from the grind of ministry! You must be enjoying the advantages of home! 

But what they hear is: Wow, you get a six month vacation every couple of years. Must be a pretty cushy life. And that’s discouraging. Because a home assignment is a far cry from a vacation.

This is what is important to know: Missionaries have two jobs. One job is the one you are familiar with–their cross-cultural ministry. The other job is to build and maintain the partnerships that keep them in that ministry. 

Both jobs are incredibly important. A healthy missionary has a strong team of supporters behind them, and while overseas, maintaining those relationships is a part-time job. This looks like: Creating newsletters every month, sending out prayer requests weekly, maintaining a robust social media account, writing dozens of personalized thank you notes every year, answering supporters’ emails, buying gifts for supporters, and creating videos or filling out questionnaires, or joining in on Zoom calls. That’s on top of full-time ministry and navigating a cross-cultural life. 

And when home assignment (or furlough, or deputation) rolls around, that’s when this second job kicks into their full-time job. Home assignment looks like: Speaking at a different church every Sunday, meetings every day, lots of phone calls and emails. Preparing presentations, because each church wants something different. Lots of time on the road traveling. Following partnership leads, initiating relationships, hosting dinners and dessert nights. 

You won’t hear a lot of complaining. Missions must be a team effort by everyone in God’s Church, and missionaries feel incredibly privileged to be the ones that get sent out. Building those partnerships is vital and they are an incredible blessing that feeds the missionary’s soul.

But being on home assignment is a job, it is usually exhausting, and it is definitely not a vacation. In fact, many missionaries would say that coming stateside for home assignment is the part of their job that’s the hardest. Though it’s called “home assignment,” it doesn’t usually feel like home. The constant travel, feeling on display, and helping their kids navigate so much transition can be wearying. Missionaries often look forward to getting back to their lives overseas so that life won’t be so crazy! That means that when someone assumes they are on vacation, it’s disheartening. 

So what should you say to a missionary on home assignment? 

Hug them. Tell them something specific you enjoyed about their presentation. Mention something that stood out to you from one of their newsletters. Reassure them you are praying regularly for them. Ask them the non-spiritual questions. 

And if you really want to make their day? How about, I hope you’re planning a vacation while you are on home assignment. Would you like to borrow our cabin for a few days?

When your role changes and you wish it hadn’t

I’ve written extensively before about role deprivation when someone moves to the field. You are the newbie and trying to figure out where you fit and what your role will be. Though uncomfortable, this process is not unexpected.

But what about when your role changes because of a pandemic, organization shift, illness, or any of the other ways you may find yourself not doing what you wanted to do where you wanted to do it. (Even as I type this, I can feel myself wanting to stomp my feet.)

I reread something I wrote about role deprivation and people moving to the field, “Role deprivation is part of the incarnational process. Jesus laid aside part of his role as God. We know from Philippians 2:6-7

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.

When you move to the field you lay aside either all of or part of a role you have played.”

I want to say “BUT” and then push back with the difference between willingly choosing to move to the field and being forced to change plans. God smiles when I try to point out flaws in His logic.

When you consider yourself nothing and take on the nature of a servant, you can serve anywhere.

This is not to diminish loss, hurt, disappointment, or sadness. What I have been thinking about this week is how many of you are experiencing role deprivation without naming it as such.

Here are a few signs of you might be experiencing role deprivation:

  1. Your emotional responses out of proportion to the situation.
  2. You notice you are hustling for your worth. Do you sense yourself being defensive or questioning what others think about you or how you use your time? Your hustling might be related to role deprivation.

Role deprivation is unavoidable but not unnameable … naming helps us make sense of what is going on.

Transitioning from the field makes you aware of roles that had become so automatic you may not have noticed them in years.

When I transitioned to the mission field, roles I thought were meaningful and added to healthy self-esteem, were taken off the table for a while. And roles that I would define as “not very meaningful” suddenly took an inordinate amount of time.

Maybe you are in a season where roles that you found fulfilling have been taken off of the table for a while (maybe forever). And roles that you find to be “not very meaningful” are what fills your day. You know that you will adjust and you will have meaningful roles, but what to do about it today?

Make a list of six roles that you had at the beginning of 2020 that have either been altered or eliminated. Sit with Jesus and your list. Tell him what you loved about each role and what you miss. Then spend some time listening to what Jesus, the lover of your soul, wants to share with you in this season.

Role deprivation isn’t fun, yet I find that it is one of the most tender ways Jesus identifies with us.

If you happen to be on a planned or unplanned home assignment, furlough, or sabbatical, Global Trellis has a course that will be available until September 23rd (so not long!). The Sabbatical Journey Course adapts to any length of sabbatical and is divided into four quarters: rest, refuel, reequip, and refocus. Read more about it here.

In the comments share the six roles you had at the beginning of 2020 that have either been altered or eliminated. You’re not alone and it’s good to share and comment with others on this same path.

Photo by Jordan Madridon Unsplash

Furlough is Coming

 

‘Twas the day before furlough and all through the house,
Everybody was crazy, even the mouse.

With kilograms counted and carry-ons packed,
The dad will get asked, “Can I fit this last sack?”

With Ma on her IG and Pa on his Twitter,
They’ll update their close friends through one last newsletter.

Frazzled and frayed, the start of a furlough,
The family boards early with one last cold Milo.

Onboard entertainment will probably help
Pass the time and the sadness, and the little one’s yelp.

The children will sleep, if they’re any the wiser;
Jet lag comes for all, the great equalizer.

Arrival with greetings and baggage galore!
“Now pick up the kid sleeping on the floor.”

A welcome is waiting at somebody’s house,
Along with green grass and a bed without louse.

Selah

Awakened and rested, two weeks have now passed.
It seems like a dream the term that was last.

No VPNs needed! No guards at the gate!
And Grandma and Grandpa let parents go date.

“Another world that.” They’ll say to each other,
Debriefing and telling it all to the Mother.

Then shopping will start, making up for lost time,
Enjoying the produce and actual lines.

“The stores are so huge!” They’ll gasp and they’ll stammer,
With carts made for tonnage like fridges and jammers.
“All the things in one place?” A small child’s amused;
A TCK so he’s often confused.

The church is so clean, inviting and nice!
It’s also, turns out, surprisingly white.

The parks are amazing and so well maintained;
The trash is discarded and canines restrained.

Folks think that they’re on an extended vacation,
Relaxing and soaking up big adulations.

“Please Father forgive them, they just do not see,
The pressures and burdens of this ministry.”

The family will travel in borrowed van and,
They’ll tell all their stories and hope that you can,
Listen and care some, then get on your knees,
And join them in this work, their Life Overseas.

~~~~~~~~

I Just Don’t Want to Go

It’s been nearly five years since we accepted the position to serve abroad. We are now in our third year of our second placement and we are in the throes of preparing for our first furlough. By the time we once again step onto U.S. soil, it will have been nearly five years since we have seen most of our supporters.

I should be ecstatic to be going “home.” I should be counting down the days until I can once again hug all my family and my friends, with my favorite cup of coffee in hand. People are going to expect me to be over the moon. I even expect enthusiasm from myself.

But, to be honest, I am not. I am not ecstatic, excited, or enthusiastic. To be honest, I don’t want to go.

I feel weary. I’m weary of explaining why we moved to Africa with our babies. I’m weary of explaining why we delivered a third child here and didn’t go back to the States for his delivery. I’m weary of having conversations about hard things to people who haven’t been here and won’t be able to understand in a deep way, no matter how good-intentioned the listeners may be.

I feel afraid. I’m afraid of questions that people may ask that I might not have an answer for. And yet, at the same time, I’m afraid of shallow questions that don’t get to the heart of what we do and why we’re here – of why we love being here. I’m afraid of blending into the shadows in a place that doesn’t really know me anymore. Here, I’m seen and known; here, I have a community.

I’m afraid of who I become when I’m there. The old habits that are too easy to pick back up again; the complacency that comes naturally when I’m in a place where life is easy.

I feel anxious. I’m anxious about others’ expectations that I can’t – or just plain don’t want to – live up to. I’m anxious about our crazy, ridiculous travel schedule that will have our family moving nearly every day for six months. (We do have some rest and down-times scheduled in, but most of the time we’ll be on the go.) How will our family handle all that travel?

I’m anxious about being “homeless” once again. I hate not having a place where our family can just be. We love our parents deeply and are incredibly grateful for their generosity for letting us stay with them between the long road trips, but it’s very, very different from having a place to actually just be a family. It is painful to not have a home.

At the same time, I’m already grieving leaving our home here. When we return, we’ll be moving to a different part of our host country. We’re very excited about this shift and know that it’s the right thing for our family and our ministry, but I love our community here. I love our town. I love our house. I love my daughter’s dance class and all my kids’ friends. I love our church!

I’m grieving our routine and normalcy. I’m grieving all the things we’re going to miss out on while we’re away: another ministry milestone as more students graduate, Easter with our church family, my oldest being able to celebrate her birthday with her friends, the annual women’s conference. I’m grieving a life we’ve made here and one that we love!

And yet!

I feel hopeful. I am hopeful for all the beautiful things we will get to be a part of. I am hopeful for the wonderful family times and reunions we will have. I am hopeful that our kids will get to experience (and love) parts of our homeland. I am hopeful for times of rest and celebration.

I am hopeful that God will show Himself faithful time and again – and that is a hope that does not disappoint! His promise to go with us and before us is sure and He has proved Himself faithful over and over again in our lives. We can know that He will be faithful this time, just as He has all the times before.

We remember the truth of Isaiah 40:31: But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. Let our hope be in the Lord, and let us wait on Him today!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The writer and her family are both looking forward to this next phase of their life abroad and also grieving the past. They deeply feel the paradox that is cross-cultural living. She invites you in to hear the pains and joys of cross-cultural life. For those who are in this life, may you be encouraged. And for those who are receiving those who live cross-culturally, may you receive them well while extending grace on both sides.

To a Friend Nine Days before We Fly Out Again

Dear friend:

I’m so glad we got to say Hi a while back, but sorry we never made it to your house for dinner. When we landed three months ago it seemed like we’d be here forever, but then the time went by so fast. We’re all busy with so many things, and we had so many places we needed to be.

You asked about us getting together for coffee next week, but I don’t think I’m going to be able to make it. We’re kind of booked up with so many last-minute things to take care of, and then we’ve set aside a couple days to get away and catch our breaths before we head out. I’m afraid coffee will need to wait until next time.

And you wondered about seeing us off at the airport. That’s so nice of you, but we’re trying to get our goodbyes done before we pull up to the curb and have to fix our minds on tickets and luggage and passports.

Speaking of luggage, we’ve been making a lot of Wal-Mart runs for things we need to stock up on that we can’t get overseas. It’s going to be tight, as it always is, and we’re weighing our bags daily to make sure we don’t go over our allotments. So at this point, I’m afraid we’re going to have to turn down your other offer, to send back some gifts for the kids. (Don’t tell them we said that.) We so much appreciate your kindness and I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but we’re already having to leave some things behind. So sorry.

We’ve got a small send-off planned for after church on Sunday, so I hope we’ll be able to see you then. But if not . . . we’ll still be able to connect after we’re gone. I know that it’s hard to stay in touch when there’s so much going on and we’re so far apart. We’ll be sending out monthly newsletters. They’re not quite face-to-face conversations, but when you get one, you can always send us an email just to say Hello. That’s how we know somebody’s reading them.

We can talk over the phone, too. It’s pretty easy and we can do it for free. We can even set up a video chat if you’d like. Let’s do our best to communicate . . . but let’s not make any promises we won’t be able to keep. (I tend to remember those things, and it’s hard when it doesn’t pan out.)

I’ve talked with others in our shoes about how hectic it is before leaving, and they tell me it’s difficult to navigate for them, too. So is the guilt about the missed opportunities—from both sides. Having said that, though, we all don’t handle it the same way, and I surely can’t speak for everyone. Maybe somebody else will want a last-minute goodbye party at the airport Starbucks.

Thanks so much for listening. We’ve got a lot of emotions swirling around in our heads. On Sunday, if you see us crying, it’s not because we don’t want to go. And if you see us laughing, it’s not because we don’t want to stay. And if we don’t see each other at all, that’s OK. We know that you love us, and we love you. Thanks for caring so much, and for understanding, and for being a dear friend.

[photo: “coffee lover,” by Camila Tamara Silva Sepúlveda, used under a Creative Commons license]

The True Purpose of Home Assignment

by Krista Horn

“They were old-timers: they still called it furlough.”  We laughed a bit and listened to the accompanying story a woman wanted to share with us.  We are currently on furlough for the first time after finishing our first term on the mission field.  As we near the end of this time and prepare to head back to Kenya for our second term, I’m reflecting on all that it has been.  And all that it hasn’t been.  Sometimes more than we could’ve hoped for, sometimes less.  But always stretching and molding me.

Our organization calls it HMA (Home Ministry Assignment).  To make it slightly easier, our family just calls it Home Assignment.  Whatever you call it, time “on the home side” is an important part of this missionary life.

We’ve been told that Home Assignment is meant for rest.  We’ve also been told it’s meant for fundraising.  And for reconnecting with family.  And for sharing stories and photos at supporting churches.  And for finding new people who might be interested in our ministry.  And for reflection and prayer and rejuvenating ourselves before diving in again on the mission field.  And…and…and…

Even though we’d been told by multiple people what to expect or aim for, I didn’t know what all Home Assignment would entail for us.  Some things were obviously in the cards, like family gatherings and medical appointments, but others were harder to recognize until they slapped me in the face.  Home Assignment did mean meeting with people and fundraising and traveling and speaking and all those outward things, but it also meant a lot of inward things – a lot of heart work which I didn’t expect.

For us, Home Assignment meant things like finding a pediatric dentist to pull two teeth for our son.

It meant helping our kids adjust to staying overnight at yet another new place.

It meant trying to summarize our entire first term in a few sentences for those who wanted the quick version.

It meant flying halfway across the country to celebrate my birthday with my twin sister for the first time in over a decade.

It meant discovering all the new books we wanted to read, and then discovering how little time we had to read them.

It meant watching our youngest son play in the snow for the first time.

It meant sharing our hearts and being vulnerable with complete strangers.

It meant enjoying “Mama’s Night Out” with my best friend.

It meant indulging in easy-to-make food like frozen pizza and take-out Chinese.

It meant realizing how much I think about food.  Foods that I missed.  Foods that I’ll miss again.  Foods that I should take advantage of while I can.

It meant realizing my thoughts were not on things above, and acknowledging the idols still in need of tearing down.

It meant acknowledging my sin and repenting of it.It meant that despite all the glowing compliments from people at church services and reunions and Bible studies, that I am still just a woman saved by grace who happens to be a missionary.

And I am so thankful for that.  For that truth and for the reminder of it.

I am not an old-timer and I do not call it furlough.  But I think and hope it can be said across the generations that time away from the mission field, just as time on the mission field, is meant for further embracing our life with God.  It is meant for growing in our love for Him and awe of Him.  It is meant for humbling ourselves before Him again and again.  It is meant, as the author of Hebrews puts it, for fixing our eyes on Jesus so that, as we consider Him we will not grow weary and lose heart.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Krista Horn met and married the man who once took her on a date to go tree climbing, which just about sealed the deal then and there. After her husband slogged through seven years of medical school and residency (with Krista doing quite a bit of slogging herself between work, grad school, and becoming a mom), they left for the mission field with three boys 3 and under. Now they live and work at a mission hospital in Kenya. While her husband is busy on the wards, she stays busy with all the details of motherhood on the mission field.  When she’s not making meals from scratch or singing lullabies or chasing skinks out of the house, Krista loves to curl up with a book, bake chocolate chip cookies, and go to bed early.  Krista blogs at www.storiesinmission.blogspot.com.

Taking the Hypocrisy Out of Home Ministry Assignment

by Michèle Phoenix

Hypocrisy is a topic we don’t like to address in the missionary community—perhaps because of the unspoken reality that a little bit of deception has sometimes proven to be good for ministry. (I’m not condoning it, just acknowledging it.) But where does “putting your best foot forward” end and “misrepresenting yourself” begin?

The line is blurred in this world where personal relationships are often financial partnerships too.

If there’s one chapter of ministry that disguises the line even more, it’s HMA.

HMA (Home Ministry Assignment) is a necessary endeavor. It’s a chance for missionaries and their children to reconnect with their passport culture, to visit family and friends they haven’t seen in a while and to check in with churches and individuals who support their work.

Unfortunately, without careful management and execution, HMA can also teach observant children some unintentional lessons about relative honesty and incomplete disclosure.

We MKs learn the tricks of the trade by watching our parents.

We see them responding with a polite smile to people making comments they fiercely disagree with. We see them being more friendly with potential donors than they’d be with the grocer or a relative. We see them saying eloquent prayers in public that they’d never utter at home. We see them laughing with too much vigor or accepting offense with too much willingness—all in what we assume is an attempt to keep everyone happy…and generous.

Note: I don’t think most people set out to misrepresent who they are or what they think. It’s just one of the ways we can go off-track if we let the approval of others or fundraising mandates become the driving force of our HMA efforts.

Many MKs develop a flawed Philosophy of Furlough at an early age:

  • If supporters like us, they’ll support us.
  • If they don’t like us, they’ll stop supporting us.
  • If they stop supporting us, we’ll have to leave the field and Life-As-We-Know-It will come to an end.

Because a common MK trait is taking on the burdens of our world, we assume that the survival of Life-As-We-Know-It depends in great part on us.

So we enter into the HMA experience feeling the pressure to influence the outcome, even if that means being something other than our true selves. We try our hardest to be cute, winsome, talented, polite and well-behaved. We’ll eat the mushrooms we hate so as not to offend our hosts. We’ll recite John 3:16 in four languages any time we’re asked. We’ll do it all because we’re pretty sure we’re the persuasive props brought along for that purpose.

We live out the cynical premise that performance plus schmoozing equals getting to return home at the end of HMA.

Living in that distorted truth can be debilitating.

When I was sixteen, I sat in a service with my parents after a pre-church morning that had bristled with marital tension. I listened to my dad giving a heartfelt sermon while my mom still fumed in the pew beside me. I braced myself to sing the song that, in my mind, was supposed to “seal the deal” and ensure continued support. The responsibility was an anvil in my stomach as I got up to sing “There is a Savior” with sweet, practiced conviction. A couple ladies pulled out their Kleenexes as I finished and I felt a thrill of victory. My parents got up to make a final statement, standing close and smiling. The church applauded. Successful performance. Life-As-I-Knew-It had been preserved.

So wrong. So un-Christlike.

This mode of influence can be easily normalized in any field where image yields profit. In ministry, however, it takes on spiritual overtones…as if God Himself required it of us. When hypocrisy is attributed to God’s expectations for the sake of his work, it becomes even more sinister and destructive.

Marriage trouble? Don’t ever mention it. Missionary discord? Never refer to it. Ministry discouragement and attrition? Not something we discuss. Problems with lust, money-mismanagement, unethical behaviors? Nobody needs to know. Why? Because even we have bought into the myth that ministry requires that we present a certain image in order to fund our work.

The repercussions of this perspective on honesty and truth can be far-reaching.

If MKs have spent their childhood observing relationships in which approval (and its payoff) is obtained through something that looks like insincerity—or at the very least, careful image management—should we not be concerned about the honesty they’ll bring to the rest of their relationships? How will they find the courage and confidence to risk showing their flaws? And who will they lose to their inability to do so?

In my work with Missionaries’ Kids, I’ve encountered far too many who return to their passport culture to live long-term, believing that relationships will only be achieved through the same kind of selective self-revelation they saw in their parents on HMA. It’s a subconscious tendency that can lead to relational failure.

Early exposure to hypocrisy can affect our ability to be real with ourselves too.

We so keenly feel the pressure to live up to the expectations of others that some of us resort to hiding behind strategically crafted masks, berating ourselves when we let them slip.

We become fierce in our fakeness. Fearful too. And the habit can get so ingrained that we’re not even aware we’re living according to a destructive mandate to be something other than ourselves. It can prevent us from seeking help, maturing and finding an identity born of integrity.

At its worst, our hypocrisy—even just perceived hypocrisy—can eventually cause MKs to dismiss God, Christians and faith itself.

When the God of Truth is represented by envoys who rely on untruth to “get the job done,” it can cause a destabilizing disconnect that skews one’s outlook on all spiritual things. I’ve seen it happen. It is heart-wrenchingly tragic when it does.

How can we begin to reverse this trend? I’ll offer a handful of suggestions below, but please contribute yours too in the comments space beneath this post.

Change must begin with parents—they’re the ones who demonstrate authenticity and set the tone for HMA.

In everyday life:

  • Be real and vulnerable with people you can trust…especially in public. (Dare to defy the unspoken “be perfect or pretend” missionary motto.)
  • Demonstrate how honesty and vulnerability are healthy, especially when they lead to help, healing, and wholeness.
  • Set God’s expectations and grace as a standard, not a church’s or supporter’s approval.

During HMA:

  • Make sure your MKs know that you’re the adult, you’re the public persona, you’re the one shouldering the burden, the effort and the outcome.
  • Relieve your children of any responsibility for the results of your fundraising.
  • Tell your children what your financial situation really is, in terms they understand, so they don’t live in fear of immediate bankruptcy.
  • Validate your kids’ talents, but don’t use them as mere strategies and fundraising tools.
  • Give them the option not to participate in your HMA meetings or attend youth classes. They need to know that they have some degree of control over their part of your furlough. (You may need to clearly express this to supporters and church leaders too, if they pressure your children to be more involved than they want to be.)
  • Make sure your MKs know that you don’t expect them to change in order to be liked by potential donors. The same behavioral rules that apply behind closed doors apply on HMA.
  • Demonstrate Who and what really motivates your exchanges with the people you interact with—God and relationship, not dollar signs.

I’d be remiss not to mention the role of The church in addressing this issue.

Missionaries who have dared to be real in public settings have sometimes been met with judgment and disapproval by people who think they should be paragons of strength, resilience, virtue and unblemished character. Expressing concerns about team discord or personal challenges on the field has too often been interpreted as being unsuited for ministry rather than prompting a collaborative pursuit of solutions and healing.

In order for missionaries to be real, churches need to allow them to be fully human. The following is an incomplete list of suggestions. Again—please add yours in the comments at the end of this post.

  • Give missionaries permission to experience struggles. (You’re supporting real people who are just as susceptible to sin and weakness as anyone else.)
  • Out of relationship, ask personal questions with loving intentions.
  • Offer a safe place in which they can voice their failures and find compassionate help.
  • When they visit you with their MKs, demand nothing from the children except that they be children accompanying Mom and Dad. Let the family decide how much they’ll be involved.

I can’t end without saying that I’ve seen countless missionary families who have lived authentically on HMA! I’d go so far as to say that a majority of them do, sometimes at the cost of being misunderstood. It takes courage to be real in the face of unreasonable expectations. Let’s affirm and support each other toward that goal for the sake of the children who are watching and learning.

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Raised in France by a Canadian father and an American mother, Michèle is a mentor, writer and speaker with a heart for MKs. She taught for 20 years at Black Forest Academy (Germany) before launching her own ministry advocating for TCKs. She now travels globally to consult and teach on topics related to this unique people group. She loves good conversations, French pastries, mischievous students and Marvel movies.

Visiting Home Might Not Be Everything You Dreamed

When I’m overseas, I dream about Target.  Everything I need, all in one place, at reasonable prices!  So when our furlough started a month ago, I visited Target the day after I arrived.

We’ve been missionaries for 13 years, so I should know better by now.  Target’s awesomeness can be a little too much to take in just 48 hours after leaving East Africa.  I was instantly bombarded with hordes of conflicting emotions.  Wow, it’s all so amazing!  Look at all this stuff!  Yeah, what’s wrong with Americans?  Why are they so materialistic?  That one pair of shoes could feed a family for a week in Tanzania.  And in just a couple of years, all these clothes will be cast off and end up in some market in Africa.  So why should I even bother shopping for them now?  Oooohhh….but I really like that blouse.

Emotional whiplash.  I couldn’t keep up.

And then when I finally did finish shopping, I felt like an idiot as the clerk tried to help me use the chip card machine.  Shoot, I thought I was doing well by just remembering how to use a credit card, and then they go and change all the rules on me!  “Sorry,” I mumbled to her.  “I’ve been living overseas a really long time.”

Ah, going home.  We dream about it.  We long for it.  We count the days until take off.  But when it finally arrives, the reality just doesn’t match up.  And we find ourselves in the midst of adjusting, all over again, to a place that we thought would feel like home.  We find ourselves struggling with disillusionment and discouragement.

So why can visiting home feel so hard?  Here are some thoughts.

People move on.  When you leave home for a just a few weeks or months, it’s easy to slip back into the same routines of life.  Friends, social events, and jobs all come back together just as they were before—just with more stories to tell.  But when you leave for years, life goes on without you.  In your mind, time stood still back at home, but in reality, your friends have gone through hard stuff and happy stuff, and you were not there to experience with them.  And all those people who sent you overseas with much fanfare?  They are a lot busier now, and might forget to roll out that red carpet you expected.

You are a different person.  Spending years in a different country changes you.  You’ve adapted to new ways of speaking, interacting, shopping, sleeping, and raising kids.  There are literally new pathways in your brain.  It’s not so easy to just drop all of that on a 14 hour flight and expect to become the same person you once were when you get back home.  You are not going to see the world the same way ever again.

Which leads to the next point:  You won’t be treated the same way you were before.  You’re in a different category, and even close friends might not know how to relate to you.  People often won’t be able to understand your life overseas, they don’t know what questions to ask, and you’ve entered a spiritual plane that is intimidating.

Your home country will not look the same.  You might go out to dinner, and find yourself feeling guilty about how differently that money could be used in your host country.  The people around you might appear more fickle than they did before you left, and you might feel a lot more critical of your home culture.  The barrage of new emotions can be disconcerting and disorienting.

And to top it off, Furlough never looks like real life.  During all those years overseas, you day-dreamed about your life back at home.  You imagined yourself back in your happiest of memories:  Christmases by the fire, family movie nights, Sunday lunches with grandma.  And though you may get to re-experience a lot of those things on your furloughs back home, you quickly come to realize that furlough life is nothing like your old life.  You are living in strange places out of suitcases, you travel constantly, you have to be an extrovert even if you aren’t one.  You get glimpses of your old life, but it’s never really the same.

But.  Before you despair, let me encourage you with this:

There truly are a lot of wonderful things about visiting home.  Absolutely.  You will certainly find an abundance of joy in reuniting with the people, the churches, and the food you have missed for so long.  And even Target, of course.  But adjust your expectations.  Don’t get your feelings hurt by people who have moved on.  Don’t expect the red carpet rolled out for you.  Don’t be surprised by bombarding emotions and know that not all of them will be happy feelings.  And do expect that the feelings of estrangement and isolation will increase with every progressive furlough.  Enjoy the wonderful parts of visiting home, but don’t be surprised when it’s not everything you hoped it would be.

Also, learn be content with where you are.  Don’t spend your entire time in your host country dreaming about life back at home.  Work hard to be all there, to fully immerse your mind and your heart completely in your new country.  Remind yourself that as much as you miss life back at home, that it was never perfect, and you’ll find that it’s even less perfect than you remember.

When a country is etched into your soul

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When I’m in Cambodia, I assume that I think like an American and that I act like one too — because in many ways I do. But then I return to America and discover I’ve forgotten some key facts about the way Americans live in America. Things like:

  1. Americans don’t throw their toilet paper in the trash can. (Oops.)
  2. Americans pump their own gas. (You expect me to do what?!)
  3. Americans give and receive objects with one hand, not two. (Still working on that one.)
  4. Americans inherently know how to use shower curtains. (Unlike my children.)
  5. Americans don’t point with their middle fingers. (Also unlike my children.)
  6. Americans don’t get offended if you motion them to “come here” with your palms and fingers pointed up. (I, however, now am offended by palms-up gestures. Even in movies.)
  7. On the other hand, Americans may very well be offended if you ask them their age. (Oops again.)
  8. Americans in America don’t worry over torn or ripped dollar bills and will use them even if they’re not in pristine condition. (Which is one less thing to worry about at the ATM.)
  9. Americans (in Suburbia) don’t lock doors and windows obsessively like I do.
  10. Americans don’t worry about shoes in the house. (Is it because of the vacuum cleaners??)

Much more deeply than these surface-level customs, though, there’s no getting around the fact that Cambodia has been etched into my soul. I’ve encountered God so fiercely, so intimately, and so many times in Cambodia that it’s been written into my heart.

In prayer, in Bible study, in worship, and in fellowship with other believers, Cambodia has marked me. It has been for me Bethel, the house of God, a gateway to heaven. It has been for me Beer-lahai-roi, the well of the Living One who sees me.*

It’s where I’ve found purpose and calling in writing and encouraging fellow sojourners. It’s where I’ve fallen deeper in love with God and with His church. How can I not love Cambodia??

Sometimes I love God so much in Cambodia that I forget He’s also in America. My first home assignment was really spiritually dry. Almost like a desert, in fact. It made me want to hurry back to Cambodia. It also made me nervous about returning to the States a second time.

And sure enough, one morning early in this current visit, I was out on my parents’ deck, discouraged and feeling sorry for myself. God, where are you? Why are you so hard to find in America?

In the midst of my pity party, Jonathan walked out. He listened to me complain about my circumstances. Then he told me, “Remember, if you can find God in Cambodia, then you can find Him here.”

Ouch! Exhortation received, dear husband. And thankfully, I’m here to say it’s true. This time, I’m finding Him here. I’m seeing Him and I’m hearing Him. He’s not silent. He’s not far away.  He is present. And He is good.

I miss my raggedy red couch in Cambodia; it’s true. I miss my palm trees and my early morning meetings with God, drinking my cheap coffee in a room thick with heat, street noise, and river dust.

I relish the comforts of first world living — the plush carpets and the comfy furniture. And I delight in the joy of meeting old friends. But I miss the pressure cooker of God’s love and the fellowship of like minds that I’ve found overseas.

I also know that in two months’ time, I’ll slide right back into my old, familiar routines. I’ll rise on the wings of the dawn and fly straight back to Bethel, back to Beer-lahai-roi. For the present, however, I’ll continue to meet God wherever and however He shows up.

*Genesis 16:14

How has your host country been etched into your soul?

Do have difficulty finding God when you visit your passport country? How do you deal with it?

6 Reasons Furloughs are Awesome (sort of)

6. A furlough is one of the best “weight-gain” plans out there. It’s sort of like pregnancy, but with furlough, the cravings occur every-mester. During furlough, scales become toxic and should be avoided at all cost. No worries, though, ’cause if you’re wondering whether or not you’ve gained weight, just get back on the plane and return to the foreign field. Your neighbors will poke your belly, tell you you’re much fatter than before, and smile. God bless ’em.
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5. A furlough is great practice for dying. No, really. You get the unique chance to look back on your life (or term) and justify your existence to anyone who wants to listen (or send you money). You get all things “in order” for your departure, making sure all will go well during your absence. You make sure pets are taken care of. You make sure all the important documents are up to date and easily findable. You prepare yourself and your loved ones for “a long journey” that will be worth it because, at the end of it all, there will be Chick-Fil-A. And grandma.
 
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4. A furlough’s like a really long vacation. Who else gets to take months off at a time? Actually, on furlough, you’re sort of like a backpacker, but without the dreadlocks. Or the pot.
 
3. Potable water (which, it should be noted, has nothing to do with the aforementioned pot). Clean drinking water is in the pipes, people! What kind of alternate universe are we in? On our first furlough, my son took a break at the public park, stating he was thirsty. When I pointed him to the water fountain, he looked at me incredulously and said, “Is it safe?” “Yup.” “For real? And it’s free?” “Yup.” “WOW! That is so nice!” I won’t tell you what he said about the toilet.
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2. You get to trade in friend-sets. With a furlough, it’s sort of like you get to have two lives, but without all the complications (and secrets, which make for great TV but bad newsletters). Want to reboot your friend-set to a prior decade of life? Simply hitch a ride on a big metal tube with movies and free toothbrushes and you’ll be on your way. But be warned, as with all time travel, weird things (like Miley Cyrus and self-checkout lines) happen.
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(And now for a serious one to justify the time you just wasted reading this list. Unless you’re reading this while on vacation, I mean, furlough.)
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1. You get to share (and listen to) the Story of Stories in your own heart language. Yes, the Gospel is amazing in any language, but when it’s your language, when those are the actual words you first heard when you first heard Jesus, something magical happens. The Gospel is omni-cultural, for sure, but it’s also inherently personal. And the honor of serving in the churches that birthed you, that sent you, that love you, well that’s something to write home about.
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Since I’m currently on vacation, er, furlough, I took
the liberty of adapting an old post from trotters41.com.

5 Thoughts for the Local Church

The local church and missionaries on the field should be on the same team, but often a wedge of misunderstanding is driven between the two.

There is a danger when missionaries feel entitled to the support of a local body. Many dig their own grave in destroying relationships with their sending churches.

Equally, misunderstanding can come within the body of Christ and be directed towards those on the field.

As a veteran of missions for over 23 years, here is my encouragement for the body of Christ about their care of missionaries.

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5 Ways the Local Church can Serve a Missionary:

1. Communicate
There are two forms of communication which are essential. Communication to us, and communication for us

Please communicate to us because it is often lonely on the mission field. I remember calling home collect in the middle of the night when I happened to find a phone. Now with technology, we literally are always available.

While it is primarily the responsibility of the missionary to maintain communication, a call or email from home asking how things are going or even updating us on church life is fantastic.

When we do return, please communicate favorably for us and about us. I recently sat in a church service where the phrase “deepest, darkest Africa” was used several times. This does not create a love for the nations, but a fear of them! Language like this makes us strange and difficult to relate to (not to mention what it says of the precious people in “deepest and darkest…”).

2.  Help us connect
Returning to your church after months or years away can be daunting. Times and people change quickly. Any assistance you can provide to help us plug-in and meet new people through small groups or BBQ’s would be welcome.

These connections do not need to be ministry oriented; allowing us to “share.” Relationships are what make home, feel like home.

3. Engage us when we return
A one word answer satisfies many people as to how things are going. It can be demoralizing to sum up your entire ministry with responses of “good” or “really well”.

While this conversation is the norm, please provide someone who can celebrate our successes and empathize with the struggles we face. Nothing beats a face to face with someone else in ministry. Even better, would be a conversation with someone who is familiar with the work we are doing.

A simple service to a missionary would be having a person who “understands us.”

4. Ask us the hard questions
Many meetings with the pastors involve recaps of our ministry. This is valid and necessary. But we desire and need more.

Please engage us on a deeper level about our ministry and our personal lives. Ask questions like:
– Have you maintained freshness in your vision?
– How is your walk with God?
– Are you dealing with the stress of missions in your marriage?
How are your kids responding to life in a foreign country?
– Are you making it financially? Can you set aside some money for the future?
– Do you rest regularly?

As a leader or missionary overseas, we may not have peers in our life asking these questions. Please make us uncomfortable for the sake of our long-term success!

5. Let us rest
Trips home are often busier than ordinary life. We are living in a house which is not our own, visiting all kinds of people, all while trying to bang the drum for generating support.

It is exhausting. And worse, our co-workers on the field think we are on holiday!

While still engaging us, please don’t run us ragged!

My church has often gone the extra mile by providing opportunities for fun, or even simple assistance such as a car or a bit of pocket cash for shopping.

This post is not designed to take any shots at our supporting churches. (Ours are fantastic!) My hope is to bring awareness from a missionary’s perspective and to engage us in a dialogue.

I invite pastors, missions boards, or people who support missionaries to comment.

What would you add to the discussion?

What are your pet peeves in the way missionaries respond or act entitled?

What other suggestions do you have to assist in the relationship between the church and a missionary?

What does a missionary need to know about the local church?

Let’s discuss!

Photo credit: In the Shadow of the Cross St Martha – paint via photopin (license)