The Emotional Progression of a Home Assignment

The last four weeks leading up to our first home assignment were chaotic. It was our first return to our passport country after three years. Our to-do list was 38 items strong, some items as simple as “pick up extra cat food” and some as complex as “find a car.” By the time we had said all of the final goodbyes and boarded our first flight, the relief was palpable. We were finally on our way, and what was done was done. (And perhaps more importantly, what wasn’t done wasn’t.)

Our first day outside of our ministry location was blissful. I distinctly remember feeling as free as bird – and being slightly disturbed for feeling so very free. What exactly were those weights lifted that resulted in such a weightless feeling? At the end of our first week, I had identified three key cultural stress areas that had clearly been affecting me more than I realized, and the idea of entering back into those specific difficulties was more than I could bear. And so began the tumultuous emotional journey of our first home assignment.

Emotional resolution #1: I don’t think we can ever return.

Over the next couple of months, my husband and I talked extensively through these cultural stress areas. We also debriefed with our member care friend and with other close friends around us. Questions of calling began to arise. Were we serving overseas because we thought it was the most meaningful way we could serve God? Were we basically deceiving ourselves with a works-based mentality of earning favor with God? And, wow, if any of this was deeply true, should we even be doing this kind of work?

Emotional resolution #2: I don’t know if I want to be a mission worker anymore.

The ambiguity of our future increased because our return was uncertain for reasons outside of our control. And that caused us to question even more. Maybe we were not supposed to be living in that ministry area. Maybe we were not supposed to be involved in mission work anymore. We considered career changes, country changes, all of the changes. Maybe we should not be in ministry, maybe we are not qualified for ministry.

I began to tire of the traveling life of home assignment and of the lack of personal space for our family. I missed our friends and coworkers in our ministry area. All of the questioning and traveling and evaluating and discerning took a heavy emotional toll. And all of this transpired in the middle of seeking to honestly share about our life and work in our ministry area at churches, with partners and friends. The desire for my own bed and my own kitchen and my own routine was deep and strong.

My emotional resolution #3: I’m ready to go home…wherever that is.

We continued sorting through questions of calling. What did we even believe about God’s call on our lives? We talked more about God’s sovereignty and our own selfishness in making decisions and how God works in spite of all that. We talked through what we felt we were gifted at and what we liked to do. We sorted through the many needs that faced us and tried to discern where best to focus our time and energy. We began to feel renewed and rested, spiritually and emotionally, and refreshed in our roles as parents, as spouses, as mission workers. We began to regain the smallest sense of passion for the work we had been doing.

Emotional resolution #4: I think maybe God has called us to this ministry area.

Where God leads, he also provides sustaining grace. Had I not experienced so very much of God’s good grace over the last three years? Had he not sustained our family so well despite stresses and hardships? Our understanding of God’s calling matured, and our desire to serve him in ministry was refreshed, not from a place of owing God or working for him, but rather from a place of surrender of our lives, of committing to be part of the bigger kingdom work. All work is God’s work, and our role is to be faithful with the work he has given, where he has given it to us.

Emotional resolution #5: I am ready and willing, Father; use me as you see fit.

With some level of excitement, we anticipated our return, less than a month away now. The ambiguity of our return remained, but we felt confident God would bring us back to this work.

As God would have it, we received visas and the green light to go ahead back to our ministry area in March 2020. We arrived three days before our country shut its borders, with Covid enveloping the world.

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Our family has just returned to our ministry area after our second home assignment. We have now lived and worked in South Africa for over seven years, and there’s a sense of rootedness that comes with time and investment. Even still, I am grateful to have realized that there will always be an emotional progression on a home assignment. We will always need to do deep emotional work while away from our overseas home.

And while this second home assignment did not look exactly the same as our first home assignment, the stages were remarkably similar and had a sense of familiarity about them. Oh, I’ve been here before, my heart could say. In hope, I could look forward to God bringing my heart back around to willing service and obedience. And with gratitude, I can say that he did.

A Letter to My Sending Churches

To my dear Sending Churches,

We are coming to the end of our six-month furlough, and my heart is full. It is full of thanksgiving.

I am thankful for how you opened your homes and your lives to our family, loving us while we were here temporarily. Thank you for the boxes of winter clothes that awaited us when we arrived from the airport underdressed for the cold weather. Thank you for being willing to find us a car, research public school options ahead of time, and surprise us with food boxes at Christmastime.

Thank you for your love and support, which have spanned both the ocean and the years—your prayers, emails, and snail mail have been a lifeline for us. Thank you for welcoming our children into your Sunday school classrooms, embracing them with love and patience. We have experienced Christ’s love through you all.

Thank you for trying to understand our stories, for the times you asked open questions and let us try to find words to answer. Thank you for the invitations to meals, the conversations over tea, and the kite-flying birthday parties.

We are coming to the end of our furlough, and my heart is full. It is full of grief.

I grieve the painful conversations and moments of feeling judged as insufficient. Some questions reverberate in my head, leaving a bitter taste in my mouth. Comments like, “So what are you actually doing to fight poverty?” Or, “From your newsletters it sure seems like you focus more on communicating the gospel through deeds rather than the gospel in words.” And, “If your students do not become Christians, aren’t you just educating them for Satan?”

I want to answer graciously, lovingly, and patiently. I want to believe that you ask these questions out of love, that you still support us even if you do not understand our context or our methods. I want to try to help you understand.

But I am also exhausted. I am tired of being on a pedestal. Missionaries are not superheroes or magic-workers. We have no short cuts in solving the world’s problems. We are just trying to follow Christ, as we believe we are called to, in a different culture than you. We are figuring it out as we are going along, and surely messing up as we go—but we are trying. Please, believe that we are doing the best we can. We are on the same team—team Love Jesus.

When we share openly about our ministry, we’re not asking you to observe it with a magnifying glass, looking for errors. We’re not asking for a “grade” or a “rating.” We’re asking you to listen, to hear the pain as we share disappointments and heartbreaks on the field. We’re asking you to be patient, as we also are learning to be patient, and remember that we cannot force results. We’re asking you to be gentle with us, because we feel fragile as we prepare to cross the ocean again and re-enter all the painful realities of our other home.

Recently, a member care friend from our sending organization came to visit, and she brought two rubber duckies. A “yay duck” and a “yuck duck.” A pair-of-ducks. A paradox. We discussed the yays and yucks of life on the field and the challenge and invitation to hold them together.  I am realizing that this pair-of-ducks is not only for when I am in Indonesia, but also true for all of life. And definitely true of furlough. There are beautiful memories and painful memories. And as I think of these last six months, I will try to hold this paradox with open hands.

Thank you for loving us. Thank you for sending us. And please, keep learning about the pair-of-ducks with us.

As our furlough comes to an end and we say our goodbyes, please do not forget us. Know that your letters, your emails, your WhatsApp messages, and your times of praying for us are very important. Even as the years continue to pass and our sending churches change, it is important to us to know that halfway around the world, you care.

With laughter and tears,
until we meet again,
Anita

Cross-Cultural Skiing

My family arrived in the States for a six-month furlough in December. We eagerly awaited the “winter” weather, as my two boys barely have any memories of snow. But the winter weather seemed unpredictable and disappointing. 

One day, I was talking with my dad about cross-country skiing. He loves skiing and has a whole collection of skis in our basement that he can use whenever the weather in Virginia allows. My nine-year-old son piped up, “Are you going to go cross-cultural skiing?” 

I laughed. Apparently, my son really is a TCK. He is more familiar with the term “cross-cultural” than he is with the term “cross-country.” So I explained to him what his grandpa was actually talking about.

But the term my son used has stayed with me. We are, indeed, cross-cultural skiing.

Before furlough, we talked as a family about what we were looking forward to: Christmas presents, snow, grandparents (in that order). We talked about what was scary: a new school, different foods, leaving friends behind (“Will my friends forget me?” my son asked). Months of thought, preparation, and planning went into getting on the airplane to leave Indonesia.

But each time we furlough, I am surprised at what I forgot to anticipate— for myself and for my children.

This time around, before even landing in America, I realized my sons were not used to dry weather. Airplanes have dry air, as do winter months. My children, however, are accustomed to the humid air of tropical Indonesia. Licking his lips, over and over again, my eldest son’s face became red and painful. 

Don’t lick your lips! I explained. But he is from the tropics. This air is an unfamiliar dry. My youngest son’s skin also became dry and itchy. “I don’t want that slimy stuff,” he screams as I run after him with lotion.

How do we help our children when the air itself is different from what we are used to? How do we help our families navigate switching between cultures on this journey of cross-cultural skiing?

Some parts of this life are beautiful. My children are bilingual and can switch between languages with ease. “Hi, my name is Luke. I’m bilingual,” my seven-year-old son says when he introduces himself. But on furlough, we must work hard to make sure Indonesian is not forgotten. We scroll through Netflix movies and shows to find only what is available in Indonesian. We switch our bedtime story routine to reading in Bahasa Indonesian (we use the free app Let’s Read Asia to access hundreds of books).  

Sometimes this feels like a sacrifice, as the public library has an abundance of books in English that I would love to read. But I remember returning to the field after the last furlough; it took over a year for our son to start speaking smoothly in Indonesian again. We are working harder this time to help him remember, to keep him from forgetting.

I love how my children view life in America with excitement and wonder. They see things with new eyes, helping me also to enjoy the small things: squirrels, cardinals, blue jays, and blossoming daffodils provide backyard entertainment. 

Other parts of this life are brutal. All the goodbyes in Indonesia, not knowing what things will be like when we return six months from now. Will our children’s friends remember them? Will our boys remember their friends? Will the ministry we started run smoothly without us, or will some crisis arise, plunging them into turmoil? Will there be floods, fires, deaths, or even eviction for our teammates and friends living in the slum community where we normally make our home? 

How do we embrace the comfort of life in America, while at the same time guard our hearts to return once again to the field? And how do we help our children do the same? How can we hold both the good and the hard together? How can we enjoy our time here and also prepare our children to return to where life seems a lot more difficult?

One morning in February, my boys looked out the window at six in the morning and started screaming: “It’s snowing! It’s snowing!” And, indeed, the ground was covered in about two inches of snow. They jumped up and down, shouting their excitement for everyone in the house to hear.

And as soon as it was light, we finally got to build a snowman and go sledding. My dad pulled out his cross-country skis and enjoyed skiing down the same small hill that we were sledding on. 

On perhaps his fourth trip down the hill, my dad noticed there was a log hidden under some snow. He tried to avoid hitting the log but lost his balance and took a dramatic fall. A trip to the ER revealed that he had not broken anything, though he was in pain for a few days.

This life of traveling between cultures can feel like that too. The joy and fun of reconnecting with relatives and old friends, eating food we’ve been missing, or simply wearing clothing that we don’t get to wear on the field can suddenly be replaced by feelings of grief and fear. We can feel like we have lost our bearings and might fall flat on our face. Our lips get chapped and our skin gets dry. We suddenly feel like foreigners in our own passport country.

As we struggle along on our journeys of navigating cultures, may we have grace for ourselves and for those on the journey with us – our teammates, our spouses, our children. May we have the grace to get back up when we fall down. The grace to keep trying. The grace to take risks and continue to choose to invest in relationships, to choose to love, even though goodbyes are just around the corner. May we embrace the good and the hard of this life as we go cross-cultural skiing together.

Home Assignment Is _________?

by Kayle Hardrick

Home Assignment is winding down. We are turning our sights towards preparing to return to our host country and to our work there. We are trying to fit in all the last visits we haven’t had a chance to make yet and purchasing the things we had been wishing we had in Cambodia with us the last few years. We are slowly starting to look at weight and space for packing our suitcases. I keep thinking about what Home Assignment is like. How do I describe it?

It is like packing up your family over and over to see people you love and feeling like each visit is not long enough with those people. It feels like fun family times in a car and new experiences because of generous friends and supporters—like driving an RV. It is getting to do things you never thought you’d get to do and being reminded of all the things you would be doing if you lived in your passport country. It is missing your host country and the things happening there while you are away. It is feeling at home in many homes because the people in each home love you like family.

It is buying groceries in many different grocery stores and cooking in a dozen kitchens. It is doing laundry in all kinds of washing machines and sleeping in so many beds of various sizes. It is hauling exhausted children to nine different states and being so proud of them for making friends, enjoying time with extended family, and having relatively wonderful attitudes throughout it all. It is meeting people you have never met in person and being so thankful they have lived this life and for the grace they have with your kids. They understand when your kids just can’t have the manners they should have that evening.

It is watching your kids feel safe and secure because they see and understand the vastness of the family of God. It is your daughter making friends in Sunday School at every different church you attend and opening up her world and her new friend’s world to more. Home Assignment is visiting so many different churches because people you love have found a community they love there, and you want to see it and engage with it. It is having conversations with your kids about all the different church traditions you have gotten to experience over your time.

Home Assignment is lots of coffee, trying old and new foods, and bonding with others. Home Assignment is encouraging others in their lives here in our passport country and being encouraged by them for our work in our host country. Home Assignment is lots of extended family time that you wish would last forever. It is finding a church you can just be in, rest, and enjoy. Home Assignment is being encouraged by the home office because you see more of the big picture within your organization. Home Assignment is far too long and far too short all at the same time.

Originally shared in a newsletter.

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Kayle and her husband Chris serve with Engineering Ministries International in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where they have lived for nearly six years. In addition to homeschooling their three kids, Kayle helps with onboarding and language learning at the EMI office, serves on the board of a small NGO-run school in town, and facilitates continuing education courses for cross-cultural workers around the world through Grow2Serve. She loves swimming, hiking, being outside even in the Cambodian heat, and spending time with people.

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 are 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.

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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!

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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.

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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.